Food is arguably the most basic need of man and as such, food security is a fundamental goal by all nations. Ensuring that people are protected from hunger that is often the consequence of poverty or drought is therefore one of the major ambitions of most governments. Over the cause of the last century, there has been a population explosion which has resulted in rapid population growth.
This growth has resulted in an unprecedented demand for food to feed the growing population. As a result of this, food security has become difficult to achieve in some countries; especially the developing ones. A solution to this problem has been necessary to avoid widespread starvation.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) have proved to be a feasible solution to the food problem and some people even hail them as “the miracle of seed science and fertilizers” (Coleman, 2005). However, the acceptance of GMO’s as the solution to the world’s food problem is not unanimously and there is still a multitude of opposition and suspicion of their use.
This paper shall argue that genetic engineering is the answer to the hunger problems of the world. The paper shall give arguments both for and against the use of GMO’s as advanced by authoritative sources. A thought provoking discussion on the matter will then be given so as to reinforce the claim that GMO’s if properly implemented are the solution to the world’s food problems.
A case for Genetic Engineering
Food safety concerns are the most paramount and one of the common fears of GM foods is as to their suitability for human consumption. Nelson (2001) shows that GM foods have been under thorough scrutiny for years and the safety of genetically modified food products has been examined by governments and scientists for decades. Even with these many years of research and tests, there has been no specific risk or harm identified from the genetic modification process itself.
Arguably the most appealing argument for GM foods is that they have been dispersed throughout America and the population has been eating these products for a decade without any adverse reaction. Coleman (2005) reveals that as of the year 2005, 60% of American processed foods were genetically engineered.
This figure can only be expected to have risen over the cause of the previous five years. This being the case, it can be authoritatively stated that GM foods do not have any adverse effect on human beings and as such are completely safe for human consumption.
McKinney and Schoch (2003) suggest that one of the most important contributions that genetic engineering has made is to increase the resistance of crops to insect and disease vectors. Considering the fact that one problem that has continually plagued man’s agricultural efforts is the problem of pests and diseases, this is a very significant contribution.
All over the world, communities have been known to suffer from hunger as a result of their crops being attacked by pests and/or diseases. While efforts in the form of using pesticides have been extensively used to deal with this problem, this solution has proved to be short term since pests have been known to become immune to chemicals over time.
GM on the other had can be used to create special strains of crops which have immunity over pests and diseases therefore reducing the need for pesticides. This has the double advantage of saving the farmer the money he would have used investing in chemicals as well as safeguarding the environment.
Due to the population explosion that has been witnessed throughout the world, the earth is truly busting at its seams and it is unlikely that man will be able to produce enough food to feed the entire population through traditional means. An increase in food production is therefore necessary for the food demands of the world to be met. GM foods are viewed as surpassing in significance the “Green Revolution” of 1960 which helped Asian countries tackle their food shortage issues.
This is because GM foods result in higher yields therefore giving nations a means through which they can feed their population. This is as a result of their special genetic make up which ensures that GM foods not only have higher yields but are also produced in relatively shorter periods of time.
As has been noted in this paper, the primary cause of hunger has been the population explosion which has created a strain on the earth’s resources. Land has been one of the resources that has been adversely affected both by the population growth as well as factors such as climatic change and global warming which have made land that was previously arable useless for agricultural purposes.
Genetic engineering presents a manner by which food can be produced under unfavorable conditions. By use of GM technology, crops can be altered to increase their tolerances to stresses such as drought, cold, heat, or high soil salinities (McKinney and Schoch, 2003).
This therefore means that land that could not be used for cultivation can be used for producing food which is needed to feed the population. By making use of land that could previously not be used for cultivation, GM will result in more food production therefore increasing the likelihood of eliminating hunger in the world.
A Case Against Genetic Engineering
A notable issue with GMO’s is that unlike natural organisms, some GMO’s cannot be reproduced naturally. Farmer who uses GM seeds will therefore be obligated to keep buying this seeds from the corporations which sell the same as opposed to the natural seeds which can be used over and over.
McDonagh (2005) quips that with such realities in play, the farmers will never own their food and will always be at the mercy of the corporations which cannot be trusted to have the farmers good at heart. This is not a baseless fear since with the prevalence of GM crops and the introduction of the Technology Protection Systems, farmers will become completely reliant on big corporations which produce the GM Seeds (McDonagh, 2005).
While most of the proponents of genetic engineered (GE) foods advance that the technology has favorable environmental implications, this is a stance that is questionable. McDonagh (2005) demonstrates that hybrids seeds which are produced by genetic engineering are “expensive and heavily reliant on fertilizers and pesticides.
This is a claim that is substantiated by Nelson (2001) who notes that despite the numerous claims that GE crops will help the environment, the current emphasis of biotechnology is the creation of herbicide resistant crops and pest and disease resistant crops.
The author notes that this results in the more extensive usage of pesticides with time due to the inherent resistance nature of the crops. Studies conducted on the relative usage of chemicals on GE crops revealed that while there was substantially reduced pesticide use in the first years, GMO required increased pesticide usage over time (Mcdonagh, 2005).
Proponents of GM assume that food problems in the world are solely caused by poor conditions that result in poor yields. However, this is not the case and Mcdonagh (2005) authoritatively asserts that “hunger and famine around the world have more to do with the absence of land reform, social inequality… than with lack of agribusiness super-seeds”. This being the case, it is evident that introduction of GM seeds in such an environment will have little impact since the core causes of hunger and famine (land reforms and inequality) will still remain prevalent.
To reinforce his claim, Mcdonagh (2005) reveals that one of the world’s largest food exporter, Brazil, has over 30million hungry people within its borders. As such, hunger is not due to a lack of food in the country but rather as a result of unequal distribution of food and resources therefore leading to a scenario where a large number of people are landless and therefore lack the means to produce food.
There is an assumption that widespread use of GE will result in the availability of food for all. This is at best a utopian notion since it is very unlikely that the available food will be distributed for free to the hungry poor.
The real cause of hunger in the world is in most cases the lack of money to purchase the food than the lack of food in itself (Hollander, 2004). As such, while GM may result in surplus productions, this will not guarantee freedom from hunger since only those who have access to money to purchase the food will benefit from it (Mcdonagh, 2005).
Coleman (2005) asserts that the war on hunger is a “grave and universal need”. He goes on to point out that in the year 2004, 10 million people died as a result of starvation. These bleak realities demonstrate that not only is a solution to the world food problems needed; but it is needed sooner rather than later.
While science cannot guarantee absolute certainty and indeed there may be some risks related to the use of GMO’s, a comparative analysis of the risks and benefits reveals that GMO’s have more benefits to man than the possible risk.
One of the issues which make GMO’s unacceptable to some is due to the fact that the process for their creation is “unnatural”. Coleman (2005) documents that “organisms have been exchanging genetic information for centuries”. As such, GM foods should not be discounted on this basis since the process can take place without the intervention of man. In addition to this, extensive research has been undertaken as to the suitability of GM foods for human consumption and it has been revealed that they are as safe as natural foods.
Both the opponents and proponents of genetic engineering alike agree that there is a real food problem in the world and therefore, solutions to this have to be arrived at soon (Easton, 2008).
While both parties do propose differing methods to solve the food problems of the world, proponents of genetically engineered foods offer the more feasible solution to the problem. Without a doubt, the danger of farmers (especially those from developing nations) becoming fully reliant on GMO seeds and therefore becoming dependent on the companies that produce the same is very real.
This danger is especially accentuated by the use of “Technology Protection Systems” which force the farmer to buy new seeds for every new planting season (Mcdonagh, 2005). Coleman (2005) argues that intellectual knowledge must be disseminated in a manner that promotes the good of all people and not only the profit interests of corporations. Only by doing this can the benefits that GMO purport to give mankind be fully appreciated.
There is no question that every nation in the world must take up measures to stop global hunger. At the present, genetic modification presents the best means to achieve this since it results in an increase in crop yields therefore giving nations the capacity to feed a growing population.
This paper set out to argue that genetic engineering is the solution to the hunger problems that the world faces. To reinforce this claim, this paper has provided a detailed argument both in support of GMO as the solution to hunger and against it. The features which make GMOs properly suited to help in the fight against hunger have been documented and the factors that may render GMOs unsuited stated as well.
From the discussions presented herein, it is clear that the benefits of GMO’s are great. However, this paper has shown that care must be taken to ensure that GM food production is not used to benefit only a section of the population. In addition to this, the need for tackling other issues such as social and economic inequalities that create poverty has been articulated. Only by doing this can genetic engineering assist in eradicating the problem of hunger which has continually haunted man for centuries.
Coleman, G. D. (2005). Is Genetic Engineering the Answer to Hunger? Retrieved 31 October, 2010 from: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=4027
Easton, T. (2008). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial environmental issues. (Custom 13th ed.).New York: McGraw-Hill.
Hollander, J. M. (2004).The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy. California: University of California Press.
Mcdonagh, S. (2005). Genetic Engineering is not the Answer. Retrieved 31 October, 2010 from: http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=4163
McKinney, M. L. & Schoch, R. M. (2003). Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Nelson, G. C. (2001). Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture: Economics and Politics. NY: Academic Press.