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Genetically Enhanced Food Pros & Cons

Essay by review  •  February 11, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,304 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,689 Views

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Genetic engineering holds the key to feeding the worldÐŽ¦s growing population, curing our diseases and saving our natural resources. Welcome to the brave new world of farming, ÐŽ§Transgenic CropsЎЁ. Genetically modified crops or food is a very controversial subject these days, with statements ranging from, the cure to world hunger, to the creators of the super-weeds and pesticide resistant insects, to so called ÐŽ§FrankenfoodsЎЁ, it is no wonder that the average consumer is confused, or unaware of genetically modified crops, or ÐŽ§GM cropsЎЁ. Millions of acres have made the switch to transgenic crops just over the last two years, (see appendix A). With the numerous farmers making the switch, the biggest thing remaining is educating the public.

It is estimated that as much as 60-70% of packaged foods already contain ingredients from genetically modified crops or organisms. That means it is in grocery items ranging from canned soup to breakfast cereal. And no one has been reported to die from eating it. .

Just about every grain, legume, vegetable and fruit have already been genetically altered in the laboratories, along with many organisms that are used either directly as food, or in production. Just a few examples of genetically modified crops are: Maize, potatoes, soybean, yeasts, herbicide and pesticide resistant crops and modified food additives and enzymes. Even though the effects of genetically modified food will have both positive and negative impacts on the human population, they will impact every person differently.

For several thousand years, farmers have been altering the genetic makeup of the crops they have been growing by crossbreeding. They have made plants grow faster, hardier, produce larger seeds, or give them some other desired quality. In the last 20 years, with new technology, researchers have been given the ability to remove specific genes from one species and add them to another, making this process far more precise and selective than with traditional breeding. According to Gary Barton, a researcher at Monsanto, they have been field-testing GM crops for some 13 years now. Last year alone (2000), there were over 100 million acres of transgenic crops grown all over the world and in many continents. The benefits of this new technology are endless.

At the beginning of the century, the global population was approximately 1.6 billion. The United Nations estimates that the global population will reach 70 billion by 2030. Today, approximately 70% of the people on the planet grow what they eat. Researchers are estimating that produce output will have to double on existing land over the next 30 years if we are to be able to keep up with the expected population growth. In the next 20 years, the U.N. estimates that half the population will live in cities and need to be fed through different market systems. GM crops could be bioengineered to tolerate poor climatic and soil conditions, including acidic solids, drought, flood plains, and high salinity levels, conditions, which prevail in many developing countries. For instance, 43 percent of tropical soils are acidic, and 1/3 of the worldÐŽ¦s irrigated land has been lost to salinity. This would then increase the number of areas able to grow their own crops, which currently cannot feed their populations. In 1995, hunger and malnutrition were responsible for 6 million, or 54 percent, of the deaths in children younger than 5 years, stunting in 200 million children and clinical xerophthalmiaÐŽXa condition of the eye, caused primarily by a lack of Vitamin A.

We can increase the nutritional value of some food making them tastier, more appealing and possible lowering the amount of food a person needs to intake. GM food scientists have already developed a yellow rice, or ÐŽ§goldenЎЁ rice that is rich in vitamin A and iron and helps prevent anemia and blindness, especially in children. The bioengineers inserted genes from a soil bacterium and two genes from a daffodil. Even though itÐŽ¦s the main food for half the worldÐŽ¦s population, rice is a poor source of many essential nutrients and contains no vitamin A. Farmers in developing countries who adopt crops like this could help whole populations avoid serious nutritional deficiencies.

Transgenic crops have several environmental benefits as well. Farmers can produce better crop yields without more use of traditional herbicides or pesticides. Engineers can make the crops pest resistant. They insert a protein from the Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, bacterium, an organism that occurs naturally in the soil, into the plants. Bt is toxic to only to certain insects, e.g. the corn bore, and harmless to all other animals. In the United States, in 1999, cultivation of corn genetically modified with the Bt gene, reduced pesticide usage by 400 thousand hectare treatments (1 acre = .4 hectare). Production also increased by 66 million bushels of corn. It is estimated that cotton growers reduced insecticide use by 2.7 million lbs and made 15 million fewer insecticide applications per year since the introduction of Bt cotton. Net revenues are estimated to have increase by $99 million in 1999.

Pest resistant GM Plants can, by reducing the amount, and toxicity of pesticides, reduce accidental poisonings and other health problems affecting farm workers.

On the same token, bioengineers can make crop plants tolerant of specific herbicides. When the herbicide is sprayed it kills the weeds but has no effect on the crops. This allows the farmers to rely on one herbicide to control a broad spectrum of weeds without harming the current or rotation crops. The primary benefit of herbicide resistant crops has been a reduction in weed control costs, of $216 million per year in 1999. Roundup ready soybean cost $20/acre compared to conventional soybeans plus the combination of various herbicides cost of $30/acre. Growers also reduced the number of herbicide applications, by 19 million in 1999. This also reduces the amount of herbicides that are going into the soil, which also means, the less herbicides and pesticides are likely to get into our water supplies.

Another benefit of using the herbicide resistant sees is it allows the farmer to plant his crops on untilled soil, which eliminates the amount of topsoil loses, which is a bigger savings for us. The farmer can now plant his seeds, without tilling the soil, and spray for weeds when he needs to without hurting the seeds already in the soil. According to some estimates, the worldÐŽ¦s croplands are losing anywhere from 25 to 75 billion metric tons (27.5 to 82.6 billion tons) of topsoil every year. Some places have lost so much topsoil, that the once fertile land, has now become fallow, or deserts, and are no longer to able grow crops. Perhaps one of the biggest savings is



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