Genetic Modification And Food Security

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Food insecurity is the lack of access to enough nutritious food, and is an occurrence that hundreds of millions of people face daily (P. Webb, 2006). Genetically modified crops provide great opportunity to improve food quality and to improve yields of crops without increasing the need for fertilisers and pesticides (R. Goodman, 2008). This suggests that genetic modification could help improve reduce the number of people facing food insecurity. Despite this potential there are still many arguments against GM crops, suggesting that there has been inadequate consideration regarding human health and environmental health (C.Marris, 2001).

Food security is often seen as an umbrella term, referring to the “availability, access, and utilisation” of food (C.Barrett, 2010). The former two of these pillars could indefinitely be improved with GM crops, as arguably the most major trait of GM crops is to be insect resistant, which could be the reason why the global area of GM crops has increased to nearly 150 million hectares by 2010 (R. Finger, 2011). Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is often a cause of crop death, which will inevitably reduce the availability and access of these crops, however over 40 variations of BT resistant genes within plants have been published since 1987 (V.A. Hilder, 1987). Alike the other advantages of GM crops, pest resistance will be most beneficial to small scale farms in developing countries due to their socio-economic constraints, as seen with BT cotton in India (M. Qaim, 2003). The increased yield of GM crops is one of the primary reasons for the development of new genetics, its suggested that the adoption of GM crops has increased yields by 22% and thus increased farmers profit margins by 68%, as they have not have to use more land (W.Klumper, 2014). Aside from the extra food produce, the profit can be reinvested into the GM technology further reducing food insecurity. As well as producing a higher yield of more calorific crops, GM technology has been shown to improve other, malnutrition related illnesses, as seen with India’s ‘Golden Rice’. This variety of rice has been developed to produce -carotene (pro-vitamin A) to alleviate conditions such as night-blindness and delayed growth in children (J. Paine, 2005). This goes to suggest that possibly GM crops could improve more than food security; especially as after 10 years of research on GM crops, no significant hazard could be found affecting people or the environment (A. Nicolia, 2014).

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As genetically modified crops are essentially a brand-new species, they could be classed as invasive species wherever they are planted which is where some concerns regarding GM technology forms from. The biggest fear is that of the unknown, the long-term impacts of GM non-native species introduction is difficult to predict (L.L. Wolfenbarger, 2000). When plants breed together it can be difficult to predict the likely phenotypic outcome when one plant is a completely new species; they could perhaps pass along unwanted characteristics into native plants. If the new plant species became out of control it could potentially be very expensive for the government, it’s estimated that $137 billion is spent a year in the US trying to control and prevent the spread of invasive species (L.L. Wolfenbarger, 2000). This money wastage could potentially have been caused by GM crops and therefore could have reduced food security by inducing genetic changes in native plants. Another related concern regarding GM crops is the potential to create new diseases that could wipe out anything. Viral diseases can occur under laboratory conditions between closely related strains of plant (Wintermantel, W.M, 1996). In spite of this, new GM crops cannot produce the coat proteins that causes the diseases as the genes do not exist in their genome (C. Jacquet, 1998).

On the other end of the scale genetic engineering can be carried out on animals as well as crops, this would include introducing foreign genes into the genomes of the livestock (R.J. Wall, 1992). The most common process of genetic engineering is that of transgene expression, where an exogenous gene from another organism is implanted to the genome of the original organism (J.Austin, 2001). An assessment on two lines of transgenic pigs was carried out to assess the long-term impacts and found that there were improvements regarding weight gain, and a reduced amount of subcutaneous fat in the carcasses (V.G.Pursel, 1989). This shows that the genetic modification of livestock could potentially improve food security as more useful meat came off the transgenic pigs. Genetic modification in livestock is not limited to the amount of meat they produce when they die; Bovine Mastitis is a disease of the mammary glands in cows (A.J. Bradley, 2002), genetic modification in this case, gave the cow resistance to the disease. This is to the benefit of the producer the consumer and the animal (E.A. Maga, 2005).

The biggest competitor for genetically engineered meat is the public acceptance of it; people may choose to boycott genetically modified animals for ethical reasons as seen with free range eggs or eggs from battery hens. This could mean that while more food is being produced, it is not being consumed and therefore not improving food security. Within the transgenic pigs’ genetic lines, long term impacts include gastric ulcers, arthritis and renal diseases, which will cause consumers to be concerned regarding the welfare of the animals and consequently not eat the meat produced (V.G.Pursel, 1989). As the consumer know very little about genetic engineering of animals, bad examples of modification will easily sway them against the product (L.J.Frewer, 2002). Rarely the benefits of genetic modification are expressed publicly, for example, the immunity to bovine mastitis and that’s benefits are little known. Another reason why genetic modification of livestock may not improve food security is to the increase it people becoming vegan or vegetarian. Aside from animal welfare a main reason people become vegetarian or vegan is because of the environmental benefits, it’s been shown that 70% of earths agricultural land is for livestock (H.Steinfeld, 2006) meaning that vegetarian and vegan diets are more sustainable as growing livestock uses more energy and land (D.Pimentel, 2003). This suggests that to comfortably achieve global food security, focus on plant genetic modification rather than modification of livestock due to the environmental sustainability of it. Especially as a third of land that could be used to grow crops directly for human consumption is grown to feed livestock causing soil erosion and deforestation (T.White, 2000).

Food shortages and insecurity have come in waves through human history from the great Irish potato famine to the Chinese famine that incited the one child policy to the food shortages in World War 2. History has shown us that there are two ways to improve food security; Reduce the people or increase the food. Genetic modification is an efficient way of creating a higher yield of crop and therefore potentially improving food security. However as the new estimate for population growth by the end of this century is now 88% higher than it was (L.Wolfgang, 2001), additional processes may need to be adopted. Genetic modification can potentially reduce the number of crops lost to diseases such as BT, therefore resulting in more food and more profit for farmers, hopefully inciting more food production and causing a snowball effect. Genetic enhancements can also result in a higher calorific content per crop, meaning more calories are produced without using anymore land or fertilisers. Animals and livestock can also be genetically modified to produce more meat, as seen in transgenic pigs who produce less fat and more meat per carcass. Livestock can also be bred to be resistant to common diseases they get, meaning that less animals die and are wasted and animals such as dairy cows won’t stop producing milk as a result of the disease, further increasing food production and security. However, the meat producing animals require more food to increased daily weight gain for meat and can have potential detrimental impacts on the animals’ long term, perhaps putting people off eating the meat due to the welfare of the animal. Consumers may also be put off as the long-term impacts of genetically modified meat upon humans has not been observed yet. The same issue can be seen with genetically enhanced crops, as many of the crops come with natural pesticides inside them that will kill the pest, people are deterred by the idea of them eating pesticides despite there being no health impacts on humans at all. In conclusion, genetic modification can only improve food security to some extent partly due to the public perception of it but mainly as there is no connection between hunger in a country and its population, the real cause of hunger and food insecurity is not the production of food it’s the inability to be able to buy it, as more food is being produced today per person than ever before, suggesting that equality of people is the most efficient way to improve food security (F.M.Lappe, 1998)

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Genetic Modification And Food Security. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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