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GM crops are viewed as a revolutionary solution to the perennial problem of food scarcity afflicting billions around the world. At present an estimated 3.7 billion people around the world are malnourished and hundreds are dying every day due to hunger. The GM food is being presented as the potential solution to help combat the prevalent food shortage around the world. The advancement made through research in the field of bio-engineering claims to have found ways to drastically increase crop production while offering safety against pests at the same time. Other claimed benefits include less water and pesticide consumption as well as eliminating the need for till irrigation thereby reducing soil erosion. In a scenario where the world still grapples with food scarcity and malnourishment at a huge sale, the introduction of scientific techniques to produce food that is neither tested nor proven to be safe for public health seems to carry a great risk. While the idea itself lacks rationality to solve the basic problem at hand, the support for GM crops seems to be the ploy of corporate funded public relations initiative of bio-tech firms for whom the only goal is profit making in guise of helping the world in general and underdeveloped countries in particular fight food scarcity. Therefore, the GM food should not be taken as a savior or a possible solution to the problem of food scarcity and hunger around the world.
GM crops are not entirely a novelty since they have been in market for a long time albeit the public awareness level is low. In the United States 68 percent of the soybeans, 70 percent of the cotton crop, 26 percent of corn and 55 percent of canola are genetically engineered and G.M.O.’s collectively represent an estimated 60 percent of all American processed foods (Coleman). However, still the bio-tech industry needs to answer fears related to their usage and adverse impact on human health and the balance of eco system. Other hurdles to the acceptance of GM food on commercial basis include the grant of proprietary rights to grow GM crops which might adversely affect the interests of farmers. However, it is also argued that increasing crop production which bio-technology firms promise to deliver by introducing GM crops is not basically the real problem behind food scarcity around the world. On the contrary, the real problem is distribution. Inequality among societies, lack of education for local communities, unequal land distribution among people and lack of access to markets is the main problem.
The proponents of GM crops have failed to realize that the root cause of global food scarcity is nothing but distribution. There is enough food present in the world to feed each and every individual. Enough food is available to provide 4.3 pounds for every person everyday: 2.5 pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of meat, milk and eggs and another of fruits and vegetables (Altieri and Rosset). The only problem therefore is the presence of an efficient and effective distribution system. Lack of land reforms and education are the real problems impeding equal distribution of food and thereby eliminate hunger. Therefore, the basic premise upon which the strength of GM crops viability has been built is fuzzy, unclear or even false.
The second biggest fear associated with the idea of accepting GMO’s is the power and dominance corporations would enjoy over farmers and economically weak or underdeveloped countries. Since, the seeds for such crops can produce only once, the growers would be dependent upon corporations that manufacture these seeds for harvesting against. The seed would become a product in actuality patented by some bio-tech firms who had reserved rights for its manufacture and sale for the life of patent. In other words these corporations would control the food supply of these farmers and underdeveloped countries. This sound ominous since corporate greed can eventually persuade the corporations to exploit the interests of farmers for profit making purposes. Even if the real intent of bio-tech firms to combat food scarcity is accepted as real, their actions belie their words. There is growing feeling among the GMO opponents and the public in general that the sole purpose of such scientific ventures is profit only since the dissenting voices arising from within the scientists’ community have been subject to harsh criticism and negative propaganda by GMO proponents. Such incidents along with the general apprehension about GMO usage has made wary all and sundry.
The next most relevant fear against introduction of GM crops is the lack of knowledge regarding the affects of their usage upon human health and the eco-system. The scientific reports regarding adverse effects are glaring and suspicious. Scientific research studies by some eminent scientists have given very revealing information regarding the potential ill-effects of GMO’s. Studies by Dr. Arpad Pusztai and Dr. Hans-Hinrich Kaatz have raised alarm bells among the general public and the learned scientist community regarding the potential disastrous effects of GMO usage (Canizares). This gives the impression that the bio-tech firms are in a business where still a lot of research needs to be conducted to be fully aware of the potential risks and hazards of such innovations so as to fully control them before introducing in the market. This has also called for more regulation and making FDA stringent in terms of approving commercial production of such crops or food. Since GMO techniques involve the alteration of genetic setup or transgenic process as it is usually called, the results of such experiments could be unpredictable. At the same time, reports about the ability of such organisms to adapt into harmful bacteria and other virulent organisms are enough to scare an ordinary person. However, the authenticity of such fears is established while being backed by the experimental results of eminent scientists such as Dr. Arpad Pusztai and Dr. Hans-Hinrich Kaatz (Canizares). This is enough to create anxiety among general public about the GMO’s as unreliable and doubtful food products. Therefore, a lot of homework needs to be done in terms of regulation and precautionary terms to eliminate their potential risks before being introduced in the market.
The effect on eco system is equally puzzling, while some of the claims or benefits of GMO usage are also controversial the foremost being increase in yield or crop production. According to some experiments at different stages, the GMO usage did not result in increased crop production. A study by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service shows that in 1998 yields were not significantly different in engineered versus non-engineered crops in 12 of 18 crop/region combinations (Altieri and Rosset). Such a finding by a renowned agency such as USDA should be taken as genuine and with concern. Furthermore, the effects of the GMO technique on the eco-system are also adverse. Since bio-tech firms propose uniform genetically engineered crops across the globe, this would increase vulnerability of crops to pest exposure. It is established that uniform crops across an area of land are more prone to pest attack as it’s easy to target the same crop type by same pests. Moreover, the acceptance of GMO would also result in the loss of one of the most precious crop factors present in the natural eco-systems i.e. variety. As GMO techniques seek to cultivate same crop types at different locations across the globe, the local communities would lose the variety of crops available at present. Another fallacy inherent in the GMO usage is the exposure to pests. While bio-tech firms claim greater pest control and immunity, it is argued by the GMO opponents that the pest exposure would actually increase. Since GMO’s produce their own pesticides giving the pest chance to adapt and thereby become immune to the pesticide resulting in greater vulnerability of the crop. The truth might be different but the GMO community has not done enough to resolve such controversies.
Even though the world is still faced with hunger and scarcity of food, bio-tech firms have not fully been able to present themselves as problem solvers. Different apprehensions related to proprietary use, effects on eco-system, their potential adverse impact on health and the lack of regulation need to be answered before acceptance of GMO’s on commercial basis. Maybe the bio-tech firms need to do more in order to remove the fears and concerns of underdeveloped countries and opponents. The countries or nations facing hunger and malnourishment problem need to take GMO’s with caution (Coleman). The viability of GMO’s should not be out rightly rejected and should be kept as an alternative solution provided that the bio-tech firms clear the apprehensions related to them by complying to the new and fool proof regulations aimed at safeguarding the health related issues of potential GMO consumers. However, at present it seems to be a farfetched idea given the current practices of bio-tech firms and the lack of prudent and effective regulation.