You are on page 1of 11


"#$%&'(' ' ' Genetically modified crops and developing countries Sporadic and unexpected rainfall hit a record amount for Zimbabwe this last January. Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and other countries of southern Africa are knowledgeable of climate patterns for the sake of harvesting. The combination of violent flooding with the annual peaking temperatures is leaving a trail of destruction for famers crops and, ultimately, their own livelihood. Nearly three months ago a farmer in the district of Mhondoro-Ngezi, Mr. Davison Mandizha, expressed his concern. "If the rains do not come in the next two weeks we are finished . . . We are likely to face food shortages if the rains do not return soon.1 Its now March and the shortage of maize, a major staple food, has hit significant areas of southern Africa due to deficient crops. In consideration of local famers this scarcity has a fearful price to pay. For the first time in years, Zimbabwes faithful maize-supplier, Zambia, has ceased all exports to Zimbabwe. Its reported that the Zambian governments Food Reserve Agencys losses have breached 25% due to the maizes spoilage and poor quality.2 The cost of maize per ton has risen from last years $260 to $380 US dollars.2 Nonetheless, well over 1.6 million Zimbabweans at this moment need help accessing food, the highest number Zimbabwe has seen in three years.3 Consequentially, this drop in agricultural production is cutting Zimbabwean cereal production by a third, with the presumption of food prices to rise through the following season.3

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 1 Zimbabwe: Dry Spell Takes Toll On Crops, 5 Feb. 2013, The Herald, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. Maize shortage renews debate over GM in Zimbabwe, 4 Mar. 2013, IRIN, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. Nkululeko Sibanda, Poor rains intensify food crisis in rural Zimbabwe, 11 Jan. 2013, Mail & Guardian, 10 Mar. 2013 <>.
3 2

!"#$%&')' ' ' On the other side of the globe, Europe is facing a much divergent crisis pertaining to sustainable development and food security. Known for their disdainful opposition toward the rumored Frankenstein foods, these adversaries of genetically modified crops may have to step down from their soapbox and take a hard look at reality. With a projected global population exceeding nine billion by the year 2050, risks of food shortages and increased prices are on the horizon for countries like France and Germany.4 In a recent comparison of Europes little supply to increasing demand with Brazils GM supply to assisted demand, Europe is expecting an increase of hardly 4% over the next ten years, whereas the latter by an expected 40%.4 Urging these countries to focus on the science rather than the politics of genetically modified foods, Senior Advisor for Biotechnology at the U.S. Department of State Jack Bobo makes a foreboding claim on the matter. My fear is that it will take a crisis. It will only occur when everybody sees and feels the pain of not having biotechnology and then they require it.4 Despite the fact that British farmers have reportedly warned supermarkets of their inability to feed chickens non-GM food by May, the UK continues to ban genetically modified ingredients in consumer products.5 Both conditions within countries of Africa and those of Europe compose a unifying issue. There is a significant amount of stress on the need for alternate innovations in agriculture, yet an impending uncertainty and a delicate trust in biotechnology with respect to food. Gary Comstock explains this global dichotomy within the genetically modified food debate. When we are in good health and happy with the foods available to us, we have little to gain from experimenting '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 4 Philip Case, Food crisis will prompt GM foods rethink, says US aide, 5 Mar. 2013, Farmers Weekly, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. Tamara Cohen, Time for Europe to let British farmers grow GM food, says environment minister, 10 Mar. 2013, Daily Mail, 10 March 2013 <>.

!"#$%&'*' ' ' 6 with a new food, and no reason to take a chance on a potentially unsafe food. The issue is not particularly about countries of excess food supply, but rather those in need. If one were to ask the one third of the population in the world with feeble food security, would the response be different from those countries of Europe?7 Those in good health that Comstock refers to are considering genetically modified crops out of indifference rather than necessity. More important than evaluating the risk of long-term effects from a global agricultural shift is the continual risk of starvation and malnutrition for many people whose voices go unheard. Genetically modified crops are the insured sustainability in agriculture due to their utilization for worldwide povertyreduction. There is substantial evidence that this form of agriculture could have potential benefits environmentally, economically, and nutritionally with respect to developing countries. The ominous threat of the global population peak has people concerned about our stress on the environment. Theres a compelling argument on the role of biotechnology with the genetic manipulation of the environment itself. Yet how monumental is genetic modification? Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins shuts down this devotion for all things natural along with a deep conviction from tampered foods. Almost every morsel of our food is genetically modified admittedly by artificial selection not artificial mutation, but the end result is the same.8 Dawkins goes on to claim that the unnaturalness of agriculture has been a weapon '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 6 Gary Comstock, Ethics and Genetically Modified Foods, Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology ed. Michael Ruse and David Castle (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002) 97. Statement on Benefits and Risks of Genetically Modified Foods for Human Health and Nutrition, 8 May 2012, International Union of Nutritional Scientists, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. 8 Richard Dawkins, Dawkins: An Open Letter to Prince Charles, Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology ed. Michael Ruse and David Castle (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002) 17.

!"#$%&'+' ' ' Homo sapiens will continually use against nature. If we want to sustain the planet into the future, the first thing we must do is stop taking advice from nature. Nature is short-term Darwinian profiteer.8 Arable land and natural resources are the two main ingredients for successful food production. Although this remains a somewhat manageable transaction for most of the world today, the numbers do not all add up to the same promising stability in the future. Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Terrascope 2014 Mission: How Do We Feed the Planet? expounds upon the risks of the environments future. The previously mentioned exceeding population of nine billion will diverge with the expectant decrease of arable land due to anthropogenic climate change and urbanization.9 Biotechnology insures a reversal affect of this with the application of genetically modified crops. Within the last century, an estimated 75% of the genetic diversity of crop plants was forfeited due to selective breeding for the sake of food supply.9 So while agricultural biotechnology seems like a mysterious risk to take, its important to note that agriculture of any kind affects the environment. Due to this, it is assumed that the new genetic technology will contribute to agriculture in a more pronounced and accelerated way. While many millions of people around the world have consumed genetically modified food since its birth in 1996, there are questions and concerns about their long-term effects. The problem with predicting long-term effects in this light is genetic variability.10 Cross-pollination could lead to genetic contamination and thus disrupt the ecosystem. A prime example of this is the 1999 Cornell study with genetically modified maize, expressing the bacterial Bt toxin against '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 9 "Food and Soil - Arable Land, Grain Production, Fertilizer Use, and Soil Degradation, The Global Education Project, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. Robert W. Herdt, "The State of Food and Agriculture, 2003-2004: Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor?" Agricultural Economics, 32.1 (2005): 109-10.

!"#$%&',' ' ' pesticides and its affect on non-target species. Milkweed leaves were heavily dusted with Bt corn pollen proving lethal to species other than corn pests. The test, however, exposed butterflies to unlikely doses of Bt, causing the experiment to be nullified and the toxin to be considered lowrisk for monarch butterflies environmentally. 10 Other indicators of environmental uncertainty with genetically modified crops are related to cases found in both herbicide and pesticide resistance in that of weeds and few pests. The growth of resistant organisms has been delayed by the planting of non-Bt crops near Bt ones.11 While this may seem like a conclusive factor to withstand genetic modification, this threat of biodiversity is apparent in conventional crops as well. Traditional pesticides and herbicides are known to bring significant damage to habitats, most notably in decreasing the number of wild birds, insects, and plants. Despite the mystery of agricultural biotechnologys potential magnification of genetic variability, there is knowledge in its overall decrease in environmental damage in comparison to traditional crops. The key argument is that of efficiency and the fact of the matter is genetically modified crops may relieve limited arable land sources.10 Beyond crop yield increase, the use of genetically modified crops has contributed to an improved sustainable environment. A study from 1996-2011 concludes an average decrease of 473 million kg usage of pesticides and, in 2011 alone, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 23 billion kg, as well as saving 108.7 million hectares of land.12 Another similar study examining the years 1996-2004 of genetically modified crops showed results with a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a 14% reduction of the '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 11 "First Documented Case of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton," 7 Feb. 2008,, 11 Mar. 2013 <>. Press Release: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2012, 20 Feb. 2013, ISAAA Brief 44-2012, 11 Mar. 2013 <>.

!"#$%&'-' ' ' 13 environmental footprint associated with pesticide use. It is a wonder as to how this mechanism for increasing crop stability and sustainable development has become, to some people, an opposing alternative to organic agriculture. One of the major incentives for genetically modified crops was to reduce the reliance on insecticides, of which poisonings report up to 300,000 deaths around the world each year.14 The healthy and safe intentions of genetically modified crops could even be paralleled with those of organic crops, with the difference possessing a progressive purpose rather than an antiquated one. Economically, the costs and benefits of genetically modified crops vary by location. One of the leading factors of this is pest pressure. Crops with low pest pressure are usually unable to make up for the expense of the genetically engineered seed on high yield alone. On the other hand, due to fewer insecticide treatments, lower costs, and less insect damage, theres a large profit for crops with high pest pressure. One example of this is seen in genetically modified crops of Arizona. With the reduction of insecticide by 70%, farmers saved over $200 million from the years 1996-2008.13 Despite the many success stories, economical opposition toward genetically modified foods are highly scrutinized on the economic scale. Large agri-businesses, such as Monsanto and Syngenta, fuel the biotechnology industry and are often accused of narrowing the liberalization in agriculture. Large and few corporations enforcing patents, regulations, and high prices seem to portray their lack of incentive to negotiate for the needs in poverty. According to development ecologist Michael Lipton, the trade off from public to private funding proves that crop research is more directed toward the demands of wealthy farmers and '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 13 Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact The First Nine Years 1996-2004, 2005, AgBioForum, 8(2&3), 187196, 11 Mar. 2013. Pamela Ronald, "Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security," 1 May 2011, Genetics Society of America, 11 Mar. 2013 <>.

!"#$%&'.' ' ' 15 their corporations rather than the poor and their staple foods. However, more recent studies show economic evidence that transgenic crops [do not] benefit only large farms; on the contrary, the technology may be pro-poor.16 Raney goes on to claim that the evidence in her study does not support the fear that the multinational biotechnology firms are accumulating all the transgenic crop value. After studying several seasons of production in Argentina, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, all resulted in higher yields and revenue, even with the intellectual property rights (IPRs) of Monsanto.16 The most notable results were those of Mexico whose Bt cotton increased the economic value for farmers by 83%; proving the economic benefits of high institutional capacity incorporating effective innovations on developing countries.16 As of 2012, developing countries are planting 52% of the worlds genetically modified crops contributing to the $98.2 billion increase in crop production value since its beginning in 2006.12 ISAA also confirms that the growth rate for genetically modified crop adoption in developing countries was at least three times as fast, and five times as large, in developing countries, at 11 percent or 8.7 million hectares, versus 3 percent or 1.6 million hectares in industrial countries.12 Co-inventor of golden rice, Ingo Potrykus, responds to criticism in an open letter to Greenpeace, If you plan to destroy test fields to prevent responsible testing and development of golden rice for humanitarian purposes, you will be accused of contributing to a crime against

'''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 15 Michael Lipton, Reviving Global Poverty Reduction: What Role for Genetically Modified Plants?, 28 Oct. 1999, CGIAR, 10 Mar. 2013 <>. Terri Raney, Economic impact of transgenic crops in developing countries, 2006, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 12 Mar. 2013 <>.


!"#$%&'/' ' ' Currently awaiting approval by national regulators, golden rice is termed for its

genetic additive of beta-carotene and iron in the grain. The incentive for the release of golden rice on the market was to reduce nutritional deficiencies, particularly that of vitamin A. Were still losing one generation after another to malnutrition and this just shouldnt be happening anymore, says CGIAR Micronutrient Project coordinator Dr. Howarth Buis.18 According to the World Health Organization, over 250 million people worldwide are vitamin A deficient, with an annual cause of 3 million deaths per year.19 The most prevalent areas of vitamin A deficiency are in rural, poverty-stricken regions where theres a high dependency on staple foods. Globally, those below the dollar-a-day poverty line consume half of all staple foods.15 These poor sources of key mineral nutrients are directly linked to mineral deficiency diseases mainly from lack of iodine, iron, and vitamin A. Since 60% of the earths nitrogen fertilizer is used for growing the top three staple crops (wheat, rice, maize), it is projected that 50-60% more staple foods will be needed to feed the worlds population in 2025.20 With 90% of the estimated population peak to occur in developing countries, it is no wonder the Father of the Green Revolution Norman Borlaug notoriously warned, "If we fail to keep agriculture moving in less-developed nations, '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 17 Ingo Potrykus, Golden Rice and the Greenpeace Dilemma, Genetically Modified Foods: Debating Biotechnology ed. Michael Ruse and David Castle (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002) 57. Ronald P. Cantrell, Rice: Hunger or Hope? Abolishing Poverty in Asia, 1991, International Rice Research Institute, 13 Mar. 2013 <>. Matin Qaim, "Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops for the Poor: Household Income, Nutrition, and Health," 30 Nov. 2010, ScienceDirect, 13 Mar. 2013 <>. Nand Kumar Fageria, Virupax C. Baligar, Charles Allan Jones, Growth and Mineral Nutrition of Field Crops (Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2011) 11.
20 19 18

!"#$%&'0' ' ' poverty will continue to grow and the social upheaval that will ensue will become a global nightmare.21 Any decent person would agree that the need for improved nutrition security and production stability is dire in many parts of the world. The controversy over genetically modified foods is no secret. In fact, the entire setback of the mechanism is due to the negative public attitudes toward GMOs. Qaim considers this issue a fundamental obstacle, and overall limit[s] public investments into GM crop research.19 In short, there are safety regulations being done on genetically modified foods but the key is moderation to prevent the frivolous spending on technologies with overregulation.19 The most fearful aspect of the negative public outlook is that this demographic involves scientists with the ability to use deceiving and inaccurate publications. In 2010, Dona and Arvanitoyannis were accused of that very act from their 2009 publication, Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods. Biotechnology director at CropLife International, Craig Rickard, wrote a detailed response to their invalid claims on genetically modified foods toxic harm, decreased protein nutrition, lethal use of antibiotic-resistant genes, adverse effects on lab rodents, and even their choice of adjectives as incorrect and misleading.22 In response to a particularly common suspicion of allergens sourcing from genetically modified foods, Rickard emphasizes the honest truth. A weight-of-evidence approach to evaluating the allergenic risk of food proteins has been widely accepted by regulators and toxicologists worldwide. The safety of commercial GM crops has arguably been investigated more rigorously '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 21 Ministry of Agriculture, His Majestys Government of Nepal Kathmandu, Feb. 2002, Nepal Development Forum 2002, 13 Mar. 2013 <>. Craig Rickard, Letter to the Editor, 2010, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 13 Mar. 2013 <>.

!"#$%&'(1' ' ' than the safety of any non-GM crop variety ever developed, and to date, there have been no proven instances of harm to animal or human health from GM crops. In their review article, the authors ignore the Codex Alimentarius Commission (2003), the most recent and relevant guidance document pertaining to the allergy assessment of novel foods. No single factor has been recognized as predicting a food allergy in humans . . . The current safety assessment approach for predicting potential protein allergenicity has been 100% successful and there have been no perorated cases of human allergic responses to any approved agriculture biotechnology product.22 With over 870 million starving people on the planet why is it so difficult for us to take the chance on genetically modified foods?23 The answer is simply the fact that it does pertain to food: our sustenance, health, and wellness. Comstock reminds us that Our tendency to take precautions with our food suggests that a single person with a negative view about GM foods will be much more influential than many people with a positive view.6 Why risk our well-being when we can afford to any other alternative? Its a different story for those dealing with up to 60% in crop losses each season and unable to recognize the title Whole Foods Market as a backup option.19 Genetically modified crops hold promising potential in poverty reduction, with some already materializing today. As of last year, a record of 170.3 million hectares of genetically modified crops was grown, a 6% increase from the year before.12 Its a sound belief to depict this fact as a reflection of our society installing trust and utilization in agricultural biotechnology. Rather than occupying opposite ends of the spectrum, Dr. Pamela Ronald of UC Davis asserts a theory of modern agriculture as a union of organic farming and genetic engineering for modern society. Fourteen years of extensive field studies have demonstrated that genetically engineered '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''' 23 2012 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics by World Hunger Education Service, 2012, World Hunger Education Service, 2 Mar. 2013, <>.

!"#$%&'((' ' ' crops are tools that, when integrated with optimal management practices, help make food production more sustainable. The vast benefits accrued to farmers, the environment, and consumers explain the widespread popularity of the technology in many regions of the world. The path toward a future sustainable agriculture lies in harnessing the best of all agricultural technologies, including the use of genetically engineered seed, within the framework of ecological farming.14