A Discovery that Can Help Solve World Hunger: Genetically Modified Foods

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For the year 2019, until October there have been 110 million births and only 46 million deaths. The life expectancy of humans is also steadily increasing and it has more than doubled from the last 2 centuries! As of 2018 the average life expectancy worldwide was 70 years for males and 74 years for females. A study led by scientists from Imperial College London estimated that by 2030 the life expectancy would be 79.5 years for men and 83.3 years for women.

The world population, aided in part by increasing life expectancy, is growing at a rapid speed. In only 20 years the population has grown by 1.64 billion people. At this rate, by 2030 the population is estimated to be at 8.5 billion and at 9.7 billion by 2050. Such a large population means that problems regarding food and water shortage will only be exaggerated in the future. Even though we produce enough food for 9-10 billion people, 795 million people are left hungry and another 2 billion are expected to join them by 2050. Reasons such as poverty, war and conflict, climate change, economy, inequality, water paucity, deterioration of soil conditions and food waste will result in 2.8 billion people suffering from hunger out of 9.7 billion!

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The problem of world hunger and food shortage needs to be attacked from various sides in order to address the issues identified above. In this article, we focus on how GMOs can assist in solving this mammoth issue facing humankind. A genetically modified organism is any organism such as a plant, animal, food or microorganism whose genetics or characteristics have been modified or altered through their DNA to achieve a desired trait. This allows particularly selected genes to be transferred from one organism to another. (Diaz, and Fridovich-Keil)

GMO has real potential to lower the cost of food by virtue of its ability to be more resilient to weather and pests, add more nutrients to food as well as its ability to bring better crop yields. Like any solution, it comes with a host of socio, economic, political and ethical issues. The article discusses some of these pros and cons below.

Genetically Modified Foods Can Grow in Harsh and Extreme Conditions

As climate change is starting to become more of a reality and is bringing misery on humankind more frequently with uneven seasons, floods, drought, rising water levels and extreme weathers, Genetically Modified Foods have emerged as one of the key options to ensure robustness of our food supplies. One of the major reasons is because GM foods can grow in many harsh conditions whereas ordinary crops which need favourable climatic conditions cannot. Strands of GM foods are being used and developed to withstand severe climatic conditions like drought, severe cold, etc.

For example, various parts of the US have seen severe drought conditions from time to time. This set scientist and food-related companies in developing drought-resistant corn GMOs. DroughtGard Hybrids were the first drought tolerant biotech corn introduced to market in 2011 by Monsanto which is a company that is a major producer of pesticides and GM crops. The product was designed to help corn plants resist drought tension and to decrease the risks related to the weather. These were used in Missouri during the 2012 drought and proved the success of this GM food. Crop yields were much higher during 2012 drought as compared to the drought that Missouri faced during 2002-2004. 

Decrease in Pesticides Use

Pesticides can be extremely harmful to the human body, they can cause damaging and harmful effects after a one-time exposure. Whether it is ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. The symptoms are evident slightly after- usually 48 hours. Headache, sore throat, eye and skin irritation, vomiting, nausea, extreme weakness or seizures are some effects of pesticides.

Since pesticides are used in agriculture and food production almost as an “insect repellent” to keep pests away, pesticides are always present at low levels in a lot of our diets. We are only at the start of this new development and Genetically Modified Foods are already making a big difference! GMOs have reduced pesticide use in our food by 37% and increased farmer profits by nearly 68% and they are only predicted to increase.

Less pesticide use means that more money is being saved by farmers because pesticides are extremely pricey. In 2015 pesticides cost 66 USD per acre which further decreased in 2016 as 64 USD per acre. This shows that progress is continuously being made and considering that the world population is only growing and food demand is increasing farmers are saving money and food prices will become more economical. (Schnitkey)

This graph shows the reduction of insecticide use on Bt corn crop over a span of 18 years. This graph shows that in 1996 when there was a 0% Bt corn insecticide use was 0.2 kgs per hectare and in 2010 when there was 63% Bt corn, there was almost no insecticide use. This graph suggests that the use of Bt corn has made the use of insecticides unnecessary.  

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