The Global Politics of FoodEngineering Crops in a Needy World

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4. Could GM crops reduce world hunger?

Pro-GM: Through GM seeds even the smallest subsistence farmers can produce bigger, more reliable crops. GM seeds will help poor farmers grow more food for themselves and more profitable crops for the marketplace. Nutrition-enhanced GM crops now in development can directly address the effects of malnutrition, both for the farmers who grow those crops for themselves and for poor consumers in developing-world cities.

In the long term, GM crops may be the only way to ensure that worldwide food production keeps pace with the growing population—which may double to 12 billion by the year 2050. After decades of dramatic increases in food production, the rate of growth has declined in the past ten years. The last round of increases came from “green revolution” methods such as high-yielding hybrid seeds and intensive use of fertilizers, irrigation and chemical pesticides. Those technologies can’t produce the food production growth that’s needed in the coming decades without doing severe environmental damage. GM crops can.

Anti-GM: The real causes of hunger are poverty, inequality, and lack of access to food and land. Bioengineering will do nothing to alleviate these problems. Most GM crops available so far do not address the needs of food production in developing countries. They offer conveniences to the farmer—the ability to apply more or less pesticide spray—but do not produce higher yields. Adoption of GM crops by farmers in the developing world will actually increase hunger by making poor farmers reliant on the few multinational corporations that control the market for those seeds. A better way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers is to teach them ecological farming methods by which they can grow better crops without the expense associated with GM seeds.

5. Should food products made from GM crops be labeled?

Pro-GM: Labeling would incite fear and needlessly hinder public acceptance of these products. The US Food and Drug Administration requires labeling based on food content and nutrition but not on the process by which the product was created. That policy is appropriate.

Anti-GM: Consumers have the right to know whether the product they are purchasing is genetically engineered or contains ingredients from GM crops. Consumers may object to consumption of GM foods on the basis of health, religious, or ethical concerns. Lack of evidence proving that such products are not safe should not be taken as proof that they are safe.

6. Who benefits from GM crops?

Pro-GM: Farmers benefit from GM crops that deliver enhanced production traits. For example, pesticide resistance reduces the need for the farmer to mix and apply dangerous chemicals. Consumers will soon benefit from GM products offering traits such as enhanced nutritional content, taste, and shelf-life. If it's allowed to flourish, GM technology will eventually provide widespread benefits for virtually all people, including the poor, as well as the global environment.

Anti-GM: Biotech companies themselves reap the benefits of GM technology. Farmers pay a premium, a “technology fee,” when purchasing GM seeds. Crop yields are not greatly improved. In the future, because of wariness by consumers, farmers may not find a market for their GM crops. Consumers get no benefits and are all but forced to eat foods with uncertain long-term health effects.

7. Should patenting of GM crops be permitted?

Pro-GM: Protection of intellectual property is necessary to foster the research and development of new, beneficial products. Patents also encourage dissemination of new discoveries—of genes and bioengineering processes, for example—by giving inventors an incentive to share their discoveries.

Anti-GM: Patenting of life forms is unethical and offensive on its face. Furthermore, it encourages bio-piracy, that is, the virtual theft of natural resources from developing countries. A biotech company may take a plant from a public seed bank, for example, a seed variety that's been saved and protected by the stewardship of local farmers for many generations. After introducing a new gene into the plant, a biotech company can gain a patent on its “creation” and profit from it. Developing countries, especially, should ban the patenting of seeds.

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