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Genetically Modified Foods

Sciences or principles behind biotechnology, precisely genetic engineering for this context, have the potential to improve agriculture production within the framework of sustainable development. In fact, biotechnology has a proven track record of application in assisted breeding and genetically modified or engineered crops. Despite a constant debate on genetically modified foods, especially in African and European countries, millions of small and large-scale farmers in both developing and industrialized countries have continued to increase their production of genetically modified crops. It is because biotech or transgenic crops offer significant multiple benefits. The high rate of adoption is a strong indicator of acceptance of GM foods, reflecting farmer and consumer satisfaction. Some of the notable benefits brought by genetically modified foods include optimizing land usage, increasing the quality and quantity of yield, as well as minimizing the cost of using herbicides (a weed-killer). This paper focuses on GM foods as one of the solutions to sustainable food production and consumption in a contemporary global food system. In this respect, the paper explores the basis and benefits of genetically modified foods in the framework of sustainable development.

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Motivation and benefits of genetically modified foods in the frameworks of sustainable food production and consumption

Overview of GMOs.The World Health Organization (WHO) defines genetically modified organisms (GMO) as organisms (microorganisms, animals, and plants), in which their genetic material has been altered or engineered deliberately (James 1; World Health Organisation). The underlying technology is often known as gene technology or genetic engineering (European Commision 115). According to Food & Water Watch (3),  it allows carefully selected genes to be moved to another organism. Inferring from the above definition and concepts, genetically modified foods refer to such that are produced from or using GMO. With respect to agriculture, the development of biotechnology continues to gain support in an effort to increase productivity of crops by reducing the cost of production. In 2011, significant benefits of commercial biotech crops rose by 12 million hectares, 8% up in the previous year (James 8).

Motivation behind GMOs. The underlying motivation behind the production and marketing of genetically modified foods is as follows. They have some benefits to either consumers or producers of these foods. The most convincing case for genetic engineering and more specifically transgenic foods is their potential to contribute to self-sufficiency. It entails optimizing production and productivity of scarce arable land. Food security has no specific source. Hence, most national programs are focusing on self-sufficiency or sustainability. Biotech crops have the capability of increasing the productivity of transgenic foods, thus, contribute to the global food security with benefits to farmers, consumers, chemical industry, and the society. In reference to food safety and sustainability, the production of these foods is meant to transform into inexpensive products, low production costs, and greater benefits.

The challenges and scarcities facing the global food system interact and multiply with each other in unpredictable and complex ways (European Commision 34). They are not understood quantitatively because of a limited set of scarcities interaction, for instance, between climatic features (CO2, temperature, and precipitation increase) and between a climatic change, land and water use change. Both regional and ultimately the global system of biodiversity, the water cycle and climate continue to move out of the historical ranges. The European Commission (34) notes that the complexity and unpredictability is due to the following fact. The experience from the past may not avail a foundation for the solutions of the future. Therefore, the world urgently needs the best alternative and engagement of political and social sciences. Primarily, the developers of genetically modified seeds must focus on innovations that benefit farmers directly and the global food system too.

Benefits of GM foods

Increased Crop Yield and Land Optimization. Gene technology increases crop yield and promotes the land optimization. The production of GM foods uses a significant size land and other natural resources. The optimal utilization of land is a critical issue. The global population is projected to rise beyond 9 billion by 2050 (European Commision 26). In the same context, arable land is expected to diminish due to urbanization and anthropogenic climate change (European Commision 103). The projected growth in population and increased food consumption in populated countries such as India and China calls for efficient use of land with respect to food security. As a long-term plan for food security and sustainable agriculture, transgenic crops should be adopted because they yield more food under less land. Conserving arable land for the food production is a need complimented by GM foods.

Ecological Conservation. The production of transgenic foods conserves biodiversity through land-conserving technology (less land high yield). Biodiversity benefits consumers from the utilization of a variety of crops. Besides increasing the crop yield, the production of GM foods requires a minimal amount of pesticides and herbicides, thereby preventing a considerable ecological damage. Transgenic crops are designed to produce the toxins. In addition, endotoxins exhibit degrade quickly. One of the objectives for engineering food crops based on genetically modified organisms is to enhance crop protection or resistance against diseases and extreme climatic conditions (Carter, Moschini, and Sheldon 10). As of this writing, the genetically modified crops in the market have been mainly engineered to increase the degree of crop protection and resistance. It has been managed by introducing genetic resistance against viral diseases and insects.

According to Carter, Moschini, and Sheldon (36), Herbicide tolerance has been managed by introducing a resistance gene from a bacterium. In scenarios where the weed prevalence is high, such crops can result in the reduction of  quantity or cost of herbicides applied. Pest resistance has been managed through the incorporation of a gene for toxin generation into the food plant (Carter, Moschini, and Sheldon 38). The gene has been induced from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (World Health Organisation). As noted by the World Health Organization, this toxin is certified to be used as bio-insecticide in agriculture because it is safe. Biotech crops that produce it naturally have been proved to need considerably lower amounts of insecticides in controlled environments. For example, it may occur where pest frequency is high. Enhanced virus resistance makes food crops less susceptible to various virus-based diseases. Ultimately, high crop yields are achieved.

Increased Food Yield and Productivity. The production of GM foods also increases stability of food production and productivity by minimizing losses during famines. Further, they mitigate some of difficulties associated with a climatic change and reducing greenhouse emissions (James 3). The benefits are noted in terms of enhanced crop fortification and from the values attached to food security. Genetic engineering can also be used to address deficiencies in nutritional minerals such as iron and zinc. Golden Rice is an apt example of the transgenic food fortified with provitamin A (Carter, Moschini, and Sheldon 74; Food & Water Watch 6). The GM foods in the market as the time of this writing have passed. Safety assessments are carried out by national authorities and international organizations such as FAO and WHO. The evaluations entail the assessment of either human or environmental health risks. Typically, food safety assessments conform to the standards of Codex Alimentarius Commission (World Health Organisation).

Challenges Facing GM Foods. Despite the numerous benefits noted, there have been several challenges and many controversial discussions and research on genetic engineering or biotechnology issues over the first decade of the 21st century. Unfortunately, most of this has encompassed accusations, repetitions, and polarizations with a little respect to tangible scientific progress. As noted by Josh Shore in his documentary titled Genetically Modified Food, Panacea or Poison, one of the reason behind this is the following one. To an extent, the biotechnology or genetic engineering industry has by nature been pressurized to provide commercial products with an aim of getting returns on its expensive investments instead of focusing on the detailed impact studies as well as regulatory processes and policy development. Further, deployment and impact research have been given a little attention alongside financial challenges for developing cooperation, particularly in agricultural research. There is also a concern that the range of varieties of chemicals produced for seed markets may narrow to genetically modified crops.

Conclusion

Genetic engineering and GM foods are a versatile and essential approach to sustainable food production and consumption. Gene technology enables new varieties and species to be designed quickly. Therefore, it is overwhelmingly logical to adopt genetic engineering in agriculture. It may help animals and crops adapt to the rapid changes of climate and human demographic ones. Sustainable food production and consumption is possible in the present day world. In spite of the significant benefits offered by biotech crops or genetically modified foods, there is no easy and definite solution to address a scarcity challenge. A hybrid of approaches and a mix of agricultural skills is needed, alongside fundamentally effective governance of resource allocation and pollution reduction from domestic to local and international levels. This mix may result to a complete transformation from the current resource-intensive agriculture to an innovative way of exploiting natural resources and landless food production. Despite facing a couple of challenges genetic engineering, GMO for that matter will continue to include food crops with improved resistance against drought and plant diseases. Further developments are also expected in terms of fish species with enhanced growth features and crops with improved nutrient levels. For a non-food use, GMO may include animals or plants generating the pharmaceutically essential proteins for new vaccines within and beyond the agricultural sector.

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