Should genetically modified food technologies be used to solve hunger issues?

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Genetically modified (GM) crops are those whose genetic codes are changed by injection of beneficial genes from other plants to get rid of weak ones. Around 10,000 years ago humans abandoned hunting and gathering practices to remain in consistent areas to cultivate crops and develop agriculture, because more food was produced with less labor. For the past few hundred years, we have altered the genetic makeup of our crops, transforming their shape, size, texture, flavor and yield. Hybridization, grafting or random mutation from radiation or chemical treatments has given rise to many of our current crops. Fast forward to 2019 and it becomes obvious that there are major flaws in international food systems. Currently over 55 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, social inequality and population growth are causing food prices to skyrocket, and climate change has caused an alarming loss of one third of the world’s land used to grow crops. Whether or not this chaos was triggered by cultivating crops and animals, meeting the hunger demands of the growing population is a critical challenge that humanity is currently facing.

As the climate changes, the development of crops that are resistant to punishing natural conditions such as heat, drought, and flooding are increasing rapidly. For example, rice grows healthy in standing water, but most varieties will perish if they’re plunged under water for more than three days. In south-pacific Asia, 4 million tons of rice—enough to feed 30 million people is lost every year due to flooding.

In a New York Times article Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Mark Spitznagel has compared the confidence about GMOs to the hopefulness about financial markets before the global financial crisis. He has pointed out misconceptions in the arguments of the pro-GMO camp, that there is no sign of harm triggered by GMOs. The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. The pro-GMO camp points to scientific consensus about the safety of GMOs, but Taleb has debated that the invocation of a consensus is not an effective scientific argument. Nature creates its products through a process where errors remain locally restricted while the damage done by GMOs would have global repercussions.

Risk of GM Crops
Environment: It is found that the production of GM crops causes hostile effects on the environment. GM crops are largely herbicide resistant and safe for consumption. However, the residues are left on soil, which indirectly affects the ecosystem when eaten by pollinating insects. Likewise, when the residue gets mixed with the water sources it affects aquatic life. The chemicals used during crop production stop affecting weeds as they develop resistance over time.

Health: GM crops are produced with the purpose of making them last longer and resist pest attacks along with making them taste better. This gives rise to various concerns regarding the health risks of consuming such foods.

The major powerful force behind the production of GM crops is money. Most people remain hungry not because of lack of food, but due to the fact that they can’t afford them. The main purpose of the biotech industry is to get control over the food market. Initially capitalism driven inventions might help lessen hunger, but in the long run, by supporting the production of GM crops, we end up supporting capitalists to monopolize one of the world’s biggest industries – the food industry.

The biotech industries can issue patents over the seeds and the chemicals used for production. They can also produce seedless crops and provide farmers with seeds which would remain sterile for a longer period of time. However, with this technology, the farmers, who have been saving seeds from one year’s yield for the next year might have to end up depending on the capitalists for seeds for subsequent crop production. Though the biotech industries have claimed to create a hunger-free world, it depends on the motives of large corporations which have control over the industries.

Five ways we can fight world hunger

  1. Vertical Farming: Vertical farming requires growing crops in vertically stacked layers. The crops are grown in a controlled environment which eliminates the need for pesticides or herbicides.
  2. Curb Food Wastage: An easy way to start fighting food wastage is to shop mindfully, keep your serving sizes in check, and save leftovers
  3. Genetically Modified Organisms: The debate for and against will continue in developed countries, but GMOs could be a boon for the developing world. Humanitarian organisations could use GMOs to address specific nutritional problems in developing countries, saving millions from death, disease and suffering.
  4. Grow meat in labs: Scientists are able to extract stem cells from cattle to grow them into full portion servings in petri dishes and has been accomplished by several in vitro meat companies. These companies assure that their products are healthier and tastier than conventional meat options. Growing meat in a lab instead of on farm reduces greenhouse gas emissions up to 96 per cent and uses 99 per cent less land.
  5. Overcome cultural taboos and eat new foods:  Changes in food supply will mean a change in what we put on our plates and that could have us venturing into unfamiliar food groups. While insects are typically rare in Western cuisine they are included in the diets of over two billion people in the world and have historically been included in some Asian, African, and Latin American cuisines, and even considered delicacies in some regions.

By the year 2100, the Earth’s population is expected to increase to more than 11.2 billion from the current 7.6 billion. If we continue with current farming practices, vast amounts of wilderness will be lost, millions of birds and billions of insects will die, farm workers will be at increased risk for disease, and the public will spend billions of dollars as a consequence of environmental degradation. Over 800 million people across the world, mostly in developing countries, go to bed hungry every night. They need the GMO technique, because this is the best way to improve the crops. With the GM method, plant breeding in a faster and precise way and it is safer than traditional breeding.