Agriculture and Genetically Modified Food in the Development of Third World Countries Pros and Cons Term Paper

Pages: 7 (1793 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Agriculture and Genetically Modified Food in the Development of Third World Countries

The term genetically modified foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is used to describe agricultural crops and plants which are grown for both human and animal consumption, through the use of techniques from the science of molecular biology. The plants or crops are modified or 'genetically engineered' to enhance essential attributes which ostensibly improve their value and resistance to diseases. These improvements include increased resistance to pesticides and herbicides as well as improved nutritional content. (Genetically Modified Foods)

The traditional approach to improved crops and other agricultural products has been through the process of breeding. However this can be extremely time consuming and genetic modification is a technique that substantially improves this aspect. There is also a level of accuracy and certainty in terms of the end result that cannot be obtained through conventional breeding methods. "Genetic engineering can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy. For example, plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. "( ibid)

The scientific discovery of the technique of genetic modification took place in the 1970s. This technology was immediately seen in terms of its potential and obvious advantage that it held for improving food supply in third world countries. Robb Fraley, co-president at Monsanto, one of the biggest biotechnology companies states that, "We are at the beginning of an industry transformation that in a few years will be looked at as greater than the computer revolution. Two years ago modified soya comprised just 2% of the U.S. soya market. By the year 2000 it will reach 80%." (Mitchell P. And Lee K. Concern, 1998.)

However the discussion of genetically modified foods has raised other issues and the debate still rages as to the possible disadvantages, as well as the advantages, of this technology. One of the better known examples of the potential of Genetic engineering is the use of B.t. genes in corn and other crops. The Bacillus thuringiensis, is ".. A naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. B.t. crystal protein genes have been transferred into corn, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the European corn borer. " (Genetically Modified Foods )

The prevalence of GM products is shown in various studies. The FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), states that there are more than forty GM plant varieties that are commercially acceptable in terms of their requirements. Statistics also indicate that the global biotech crops acreage for 2004 was 200 million acres (Global Biotech Crop Acreage)

In 1996, when the first biotech crops were commercially grown, 7 million acres of biotech crops were grown worldwide. In 2004, a total of 200 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 17 countries by 8.25 million farmers. In addition, 11 of the 17 countries planting biotech crops in 2004 were developing nations. (ibid)

The list of countries growling genetically engineered crops includes Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Mexico, Romania, South Africa, Spain, and Uruguay. However there are many other counties that have not been involved or where genetically engineered crops have had a limited impact. These include Argentina, Canada and China

Despite these impressive figures heated debate still surrounds the topic of GM products. In many third word countries GM products are associated more with big business and money and less with help for poverty stricken countries. Nevertheless, the prevalence of GM produce cultivation and usage is on the increase globally. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Genetically Modified Food Stuffs are common, but little notice, the author states that about seventy-five percent of all foods products in the United States contain some genetically modified content. (Genetically Modified Food Items Are Common...) "Nearly every product with a corn or soy ingredient ... has a GM element" ( ibid)

2. GM and the Third World

The following Charts indicate the countries involved in the production and of GM products. The charts clearly show that the primary use of GM products exists mainly in developed counties and not third world countries.

(Source: Related Information ISAAA Executive Summary: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2004 (PDF))

This is supported by another chart from the ISSAA Summary, which shows the relative paucity of GM cultivation in the underdeveloped countries of the world.

These charts suggest an anomaly in that there are fewer GM products in areas of the world that probably need them the most.

Source: ibid

The low level of GM products in these areas conflicts with the spirit of a recent publication by the WTO stating that the UN is in favor of genetically modified foods. The report encourages " ... The U.S. And the European Union, among others, to create incentives for their biotechnology industries to share transformation techniques and genomic data with public researchers, and to spend more money on public-research efforts. (UN Backs Gene-Modified Crops To Help the World's Poor Farmers.)

In the view of many researchers and experts, GM products are the key to the future of developing nations and countries. One of the obvious reasons is that

The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. genetically modified foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways:

(Whitman, Deborah B. 2000.)

Among the other advantage that GM products are quoted as having, particularly in relation to developing countries, is herbicide tolerance. "Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed." (ibid) Another positive benefit is that genetically modified crops can be more resistant to disease. Biologists are working on the possibilities of creating plants that are resistant to various crop illnesses. (bid)

A further aspect that pertains to countries like Africa is the role that GM products can play in assisting with drought tolerance and salinity tolerance. The central focus of the argument for GM products however is malnutrition. This is a serious and common factor in third world countries where often a single crop, such as rice, forms the only staple food. Therefore, it stands to reason that if rice could be genetically engineered so that it can be nutritionally enhanced, this would be of enormous benefit to those counties.

Despite these aspects, there is a large body of dissent and opinion against GM products in the third world and elsewhere. Much of this disagreement originates from developing counties, particularly in Africa. There are many reasons given for the opposition to GM crops. The central argument against GM products is that many feel that these foods have not been tested enough over a sufficient period of time. Many critics also see the use of GM product in third world countries as a form of experimentation. There is also a high degree of awareness throughout the word of the possible dangers of tampering with the genetic composition of foodstuffs. For example, one report from Germany indicates there free range eggs may be contaminated with genetically manufactured elements. This refers to indications of higher Dioxin levels in eggs. (Dioxin found in German eggs, 2005.) A researcher at Rowett Research Institute in Scotland recently stated that "... we are putting new things into food which would have not been eaten before. The effects on the immune system are not easily predictable and I challenge anyone who will say that the effects are predictable." (Mitchell P. And Lee K, 1998)

There are many experts who cast doubt on GM products. For instance, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, a world authority in plant chemicals research " believes in the benefits that genetic modification can bring to humanity, but says biotechnology companies are introducing the new technology too quickly and with insufficient research." ( ibid) There are numerous other objections to the use of GM products. Not least is that the last century has shown that in some case science can be wrong, as in the allegations against DDT. (Taverne, D. 2005) There are also numerous reports of large corporations and multinational corporations being more concerned with profit margins that helping to feed the world. A report in GMO Roundup (Nature Biotechnology, Vol 18, p 7, Jan 2000) states that corporations are " ... pursuing profit without concern for potential hazards, and ... failing to exercise adequate regulatory oversight. (Mitchell P. And Lee K, 1998)

All of these reasons are taken into account by authorities in developing countries, which has resulted in a large degree of distrust of GM products in the developing world. Furthermore, there are numerous ideological and political factors that cast suspicion on large western corporations dealing in genetically modified foods. This is the case particularly in Africa where GM companies are associated… [END OF PREVIEW]

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