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Genetically Modified (GM) Crops are vegetations produced with DNA recombinant

technology or better known as Biotechnology for human and animal consumption


(Human Genome Project, 2006). It is also known as Genetically Engineered or
Transgenic Crops. These crops are plants which have been genetically modified in
scientific laboratory to boost desirable properties. Conventionally, desirable properties in
plants are obtained through manual breeding methods which are often time-intensive and
inexact. Crops obtained from Genetic Modification, on the other hand, can replicate such
results with shorter period of time and better accuracy. One of advantages of Genetic
Modification, not available in conventional breeding, is the ability to transfer genes from
non-plant organisms into plants and crops (Sakko, 2002).

Modern Genetic Modification only begun to take flight after the discovery of the
structure and components of the DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. Later
in 1973, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer managed to complete the first successful
genetic engineering experiment by inserting a gene from a toad into a bacterial DNA
(Burnell, 2004). However, it is not until 1977, when Agrobacterium tumfaciens was
discovered as a tool to inject useful foreign genes into plants (Pickrell, 2006). This
brought genetic engineering into a whole new field, with the introduction of many more
technologies such as electroporation and gene guns.

The main players in biotechnology are often the same giant chemical companies, namely
Monsanto, DuPont, AgrEvo, Novartis and Rhone-Poulene (Cummins, 2000). This comes
as no coincident as these companies sell chemical pesticides along side their pesticides
and herbicides resistant seeds. Monsanto’s products are the most popular compared to the
other companies with their Roundup pesticide and Roundup Ready GM seeds. In 2001,
Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean accounted for 54% of soybean acreage in the US
(Burnell, 2004). However, Monsanto has its own share of controversies, which include
lawsuits toward farmers who accidentally planted Monsanto’s patented seeds (Whitman,
2002). Another controversy is the appointment of Monsanto’s former attorney as US FDA
political appointee (Smith, 2004). The FDA political appointees had ignored scientists’
warnings and allowed GM seed manufacturers to market their products without going
through stringent safety studies.

Some parties claim that the introduction of GM crops is a vital step in reducing world
hunger as the world population continues to increase. However, there are oppositions
from certain parties which feel that GM crops are merely economic tactics of the first
world countries to take advantage of third world countries. This is the reason most of the
countries around the world have yet to accept GM crops. So far, only the US has
widespread use of GM techniques in growing human edible foods (Cummins, 2000).
These are the contradicting views which lead us to the question of whether commercial
cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops should be banned.

The research that has been done comprises materials taken from 16 different articles
publicly available on the internet. Care has been taken to ensure equal balance of both
supporting and opposing points. The paper will first present the arguments in support of
GM crops, then arguments against GM crops and finally the points will be analyzed and a
conclusion will be made.

The scope of this paper will include the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops.
Examples will also be presented to support their respective points and to give a better
idea on the controversies surrounding GM crops.

Arguments in support of Genetically Modified Crops

Chemical Resistant and Environment Tolerant

Crops can be genetically modified to withstand various chemicals and weather


environments. They can be genetically modified to include herbicide and pesticide
tolerant traits. This allows the plants to survive large amount of herbicide and pesticide
sprayed onto the fields to remove weeds and pests. For example, Monsanto’s Roundup
Ready GM corn, soybeans and canola are able to survive application of Monsanto’s
Roundup herbicide (Sakko, 2002). This greatly reduces damage and loss caused by wild
weeds and pests, indirectly increasing yield. Plants, like corn and potato has also been
genetically engineered to produce its own insecticidal toxic which is harmless to humans
to repel pests. Certain crop genes can also be activated or deactivated to increase
tolerance towards diseases (Whitman, 2000). Drought and cold tolerant traits can also be
added to crops to withstand harsh temperature and weather.

Improved Quality

Genetically modified crops can have increased nutritional content in it compared to


conventional crops. For example, in 2000 Zeneca successfully created GM ‘golden rice’
seeds that have increased quantity of beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A (Burnell,
2004). This can help reduce blindness and diseases in third world countries. Besides that,
pharmaceuticals’ medicines and vaccines have also been genetically engineered into
crops. This reduces the cost of producing vaccines and medicines. These vaccines and
medicines also have the advantage of being taken into the body as edible food compared
to conventional injectable vaccines (Whitman, 2000). This can ensure that people in third
world countries get their required vaccines to prevent wide spread diseases often
associated with the poor.

Increased Productivity

Crops grown from GM seeds have the advantage of increased productivity. They are
often genetically modified to have shorted maturation time (Human Genome Project,
2006). This allows the crops to be planted multiple times in a single year when compared
to conventional crops. Besides that, crops are also genetically engineered to produce
higher yield per unit area by adding certain genes into them (Whitman, 2000). The stress
tolerance advantage that GM crops have also helps increase yield and reduce loss in
droughts or floods which often affect food production in conventional crops. Another
advantage of GM crops is the shorter amount of time required to produce it. Desired
genes can be added to GM seeds in a short period of time to obtain desired traits in an
event like the spread of diseases (Chaundry, 2004). This provides a greater advantage
compared to conventional breeding as conventional breeding requires long period of time
with a lot of trial and error process in between. Thus, GM crops can reduce negative
impact on food supplies and also increase yield.

Overcome World Hunger

The greatest advantage of GM crops is to overcome world hunger. This is especially true
as many people around the world, especially in third world countries are still facing food
shortages. The only way to overcome this is to increase the world’s food supply, which is
to utilize GM technology (Shah, 2002). Through GM technology, higher yield rate can be
obtained with the same amount of land available previously (Whitman, 2000. Besides
that, malnourishment in third world countries can also be overcome with the added
nutrition in GM crops (Burnell, 2004). This can not only reduce deaths caused by world
hunger but also reduce diseases caused by malnourishment.

Arguments against Genetically Modified Crops

Health Risk

Genetically Modified Crops has been linked to many health risks. GM crops have been
known to cause allergenic reaction among certain people. For example, a soybean
modified with genes from a brazil nut was discovered to produce allergic reaction in
people with nut allergies (Wikipedia, 2007). This is dangerous and possibly fatal as
people can unknowingly consume food which contains genes that they are allergic to.
Genetically modified crops can also contain toxins which can be a threat to human health.
For example, in 1989, L-tryptophan, a dietary supplement which contains GM ingredients
killed 37 people with painful blood disorder (Cummins, 2000). GM crops have also been
linked to cancer. Certain crops which are genetically modified have been known to
contain foreign proteins that can be carcinogen to the human body (Cummins, 2000).

Gene Transfer

Gene transfer that can spontaneously occur will cause chaos and affect the stability of
many ecosystems. Gene transfer from GM crops to weeds will make them turn into super
weeds, which will be like their GM crop counterparts, resistant to herbicides (Cummins,
2000). Gene transfer which occur naturally as a result of transfer by bacteria from GM
crops into wild weeds will eventually defeat the purpose of genetically engineering the
crops to be herbicidal resistant. GM crops like corn when in the human’s digestive track
can transfer its gene into human gut bacteria cells (Smith, 2004). This affects the cells’
DNA and change the human stomach into a toxin producing factory. This is especially
fatal as toxins will be directly produced in the human body. Conventional crops have also
been contaminated with foreign gene as a result of gene transfer from GM crops. A
research done in 2002 revealed that genes from certain US crops have spread to
traditional maize variety as far as Mexico (Pickrell, 2006). This directly pollutes the
world’s natural gene pool.

Harm towards Non-pest Organisms

Genetically Modified crops can also have adverse negative effect on non-pest organisms.
Even though GM crops usually have herbicide and pesticide resistant properties against
targeted pests, non-pest organisms are also affected as toxins act indiscriminately
(Whitman, 2000). For example, in the spring of 2000, pollen from GM corn was
discovered to kill larvae of monarch butterflies (Chaundry, 2004). Pollen from GM corn
produces toxin which can kill the larvae and threaten the monarch butterfly population.
Besides that, roots of GM crops have also been found to release toxin into the ground and
dead crops still contain large amount of it. This can destroy lands previously planted with
GM crops as it would contain a higher concentration of toxins (Hanten, 2001). This
makes the land inhospitable to other crops planted in the future.

Economic Threat towards Third World Countries

GM crops pose an economic threat to developing countries. GM crops manufacturing is a


costly process, thus GM companies are working to ensure profitability in their investment
(Shah, 2002). In order to achieve that, GM manufacturing companies are often patenting
their new crop variants. This increases the GM seed prices and creates a condition
whereby poor farmers and third world countries are unable to obtain such seeds to
increase their productivity. This indirectly, widens the gap between the first world
countries and the third world countries, the rich and the poor. In a famous legal case, a
farmer was prosecuted for growing GM crops on his farm, though his explanation was
that the seed had accidentally blown onto his farm (Pickrell, 2006). This type of legal
suits and patents can create a disadvantage towards third world countries and instead give
first world countries an added technological advantage (Whitman, 2000). In other words,
GM crops may not help overcome world hunger as promised, but instead create an
economic gap between the rich and the poor.

Based on the points gathered, I firmly believe that GM crops should be banned definitely.
This is because the disadvantages strongly outweigh the advantages of GM crops. Health
risk surrounding GM crops can cause dangerous allergies and possibly death which can
counterweigh the advantages that it brings. Gene transfer is another horror that should be
avoided. Gene transfer between different organisms can cause gene haphazard and
possibly destroy nature’s gene pool, which is very devastating towards biodiversity. Harm
towards non-pest organisms can be costly too as certain wild flora and fauna may become
extinct with the introduction of new toxins. The most important point is the economic
threat faced by third world countries because of the monopolization by first world
countries and biotechnology companies. This may defeat the purpose of GM crops to
overcome world hunger altogether. If the advantages of GM crops itself can not be
achieved, then the disadvantages present would certainly call for a ban on GM crops.
Unless economic threat towards third world countries cease to exist, the continue
cultivation of GM crops in first world countries would bring little meaning. It is
recommended that GM researches donate their seeds and technologies to third world
countries or sell it at a discounted rate to increase food production and overcome world
hunger.