Term Paper: GM Crops

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¶ … genetically modified (GM) crops. Specifically it will discuss positive and negative responses from scientists and the general public to genetically modified foods, and assess the potential of GM crops as a source of food. Genetically modified crops are already on the shelves in many supermarkets, but they are controversial at best. Should we use GM crops as a source of food both now and in the future? The future of genetically modified foods remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, it will be controversial to many people.

GM crops and foods are not brand new technology; they have existed for many years. In fact, studies into genetically modifying plant crops began in the 1980s (Goldstein, and Goldstein, 2002, p. 235). Most GM crops are crops that scientists and researches have genetically altered. Essentially, the plant's DNA, or very specific genes, are transferred between one plant and another to create special characteristics, such as hardiness, etc. This helps the plant grow faster, stronger, and better, and sometimes even repel pests and weeds. Some people call this process "genetic engineering." The scientists take the finest qualities of one plant and mate them with another, different plant to create a new sub-species or even species (Editors, 2005). To put it even more clearly, scientists "cut and paste" a gene from another organism into a plant's DNA to give it a new characteristic. The term GM most often refers to crop plants, but it can really refer to any living life form, "such as pets that glow under UV light to bacteria which form HIV-blocking 'living condoms'" (Pickrell, 2004). Some people equate GM crops with biotechnology, and the terms are often used interchangeably, but that is not correct, since biotechnology really involves many different types of research and development, of which GM crops are only one aspect.

Scientists hope to continue to refine and develop GM crops for a number of reasons. First, the earth's population is growing, and many scientists and researchers believe that GM crops are the hope of the future when it comes to feeding and ever-growing population. Authors Myrna Chandler Goldstein and Mark a. Goldstein note, "A 2000 article in Environment noted that about 15% of the world's population -- about 800 million people -- consume less than 2,000 calories per day. They are always hungry and live in a state of chronic malnourishment" (Goldstein and Goldstein, 2002, p.234). GM crops are often easier to grow, are more resistant to disease and pests, and could be the salvation of many third-world countries that currently suffer food shortages. Authors Goldstein quote, "The acreage devoted to herbicide-resistant crops has been expanding because planting them reduces the need to plow more ground, decreases the amount of herbicidal chemicals needed, produces higher yields, and can deliver a higher grade of grain and other products'" (Goldstein and Goldstein, 2002, p. 233). There are also different types of grains and enhanced cereals in production that could actually add more calories and nutrients to the crops, which would mean they could sustain more people and sustain them with more calories and nutrients than they are currently getting in their diets (Goldstein and Goldstein, 2002, p. 239). Thus, this could be one solution to warding off global hunger and avoiding starvation and hunger crises in the future.

In addition to hunger and population problems, the world faces a growing water crisis in many areas. Many of these areas, such as the American Midwest and West, are heavily agricultural, and their crops are suffering from drought as a result. GM crops could help with this impeding water crisis by developing hardier plants that can survive and thrive on less water. This could prove to be cost effective for farmers, it could produce more crops during drought conditions, and it could help feed starving people in Third World countries who have little access to irrigation for their crops.

While the use of GM crops in food is extremely controversial, there are many positive aspects to genetically modified foods. In Great Britain, the Botanical and Rotational Implications of Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerance (BRIGHT) Link project looked at two specific crops that had been genetically engineered to make them tolerant of specific herbicides. The crops were sugar beets and oil-seed rape, and they compared these with non-GM cereal crops grown in normal rotation. The project concluded that the "GM varieties used in this way did not deplete the soil of weed seeds needed by many birds and other wildlife," and thus were not at all harmful to the environment (Black, 2004). This is extremely important because many people charge that GM crops are harmful to the environment, and harmful to wildlife, as well, for the very reasons this study found they were not. Thus, many of the arguments against GM crops may not be well founded, and as more research continues, there may be more reasons to develop and plant more varieties of GM crops.

Another positive aspect of these crops is that many are already successfully in production, and have been for several years, indicating that they are safe and hardy enough to continue the planting cycle for many years, as well. Author Dave Toke states, "Many types of herbicide tolerant crop are available including corn (maize), soya, canola (oil-seed rape) and sugar beet. Herbicide tolerant soya has been the most successful, being grown by the U.S.A. And Argentina, the first and third biggest global soya producers" (Toke, 2004, p. 9). In addition, although consumers may not know it, GM crops have been added to a variety of consumer commodities available at most supermarkets around the country. Mark and Myrna Goldstein quote the FDA Web site, "Tomatoes, potatoes, squash, corn, and soybeans have been genetically altered through the emerging science of biotechnology. So have ingredients in everything from ketchup and cola to hamburger buns and cake mixes" (Goldstein, and Goldstein, 2002, p. 231). This indicates that while many people fear that GM crops can somehow be harmful to health and well being, they have been in production for many years and have shown so adverse signs in people or animals so far.

Clearly, farmers can benefit from GM crops. One major advantage of GM crops for farmers is that crops can be genetically engineered to resist weeds and pests, which enables farmers to decrease pesticide and herbicide use. This decreases their costs, but also makes the food safer for the general public to eat, and that is a win-win situation for both producers and consumers.

GM crops provide many advantages for the agricultural and scientific community, but they offer some specific public consumer benefits as well. First, if crops can be genetically altered to resist disease and pests, farmers will need fewer chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides. This will make food safer to eat, but it could also lower the farmer's costs, leading to lower prices on many important commodities. With supermarket prices rising in the last year, consumers are well aware that crop and transportation costs are creating dramatic price changes at the grocery store. With GM crops, at least some of these costs could be reduced, and that would be excellent news for consumers.

Supporters of GM crops say there is no evidence that modified crops cause illness in humans. In addition, they seem to actually be healthier for the environment, as well. Authors Goldstein continue, "The International Food Information Council maintains that because GMOs reduce the amounts of pesticide used by farmers, they are healthier for the environment" (Goldstein, and Goldstein, 2002, p. 234). In the long-term, this could prove to be extremely important in a world that is facing many environmental challenges, from global warming to water shortages.

There are many positive aspects of genetically modified foods, but many people feel that the negative aspects of these crops far outweigh the positives. Critics say the modified crops could "escape" and cross with wild plants, with unknown consequences. The Goldsteins state, "By combining the genes of dissimilar and unrelated species, permanently altering their genetic codes, novel organisms are created that will pass the genetic changes onto their offspring through heredity'" (Goldstein & Goldstein 2002, p. 241). There have not been as many studies on this aspect of GM crops, and so, there are not good answers to these questions, but they linger, and many consumers know about them, and worry about their own food safety when it comes to genetically modified foods.

Another argument centers on chemical usage. In some cases, more chemicals are used on some GM fields, and this can have a negative impact on wildlife. For example, the Bright study indicated that some types of crops can reduce the number of insects and seeds in fields, and this has a negative affect on birds and other insects, because they no longer have a major portion of their diets. Wildlife populations can decrease in this case, and then, because wildlife is always a natural predator to some other wildlife, the other species could grow… [END OF PREVIEW]

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