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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Genetic Engineering and Agriculture: Would Genetically Modified Crops Alleviate or Aggravate Hunger?

I. Introduction - As the British Prime Minister noted, “tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us and it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations.” (Stringer) The present and forthcoming hunger are the factors that inspired biotechnology and genetic engineering proponents. Solving the food problem of the world’s growing population made the proponents of genetic engineering (GE) introduce genetically modified (GM) crops in farming. It was 1994 when the first genetically modified food was commercially grown. It was the Flavr Savr tomato. Since then “genetically modified food have been a topic of controversy” (Chase) Even though proponents of genetically modified foods claim that their products would be beneficial to world, aside from alleviating hunger, genetically engineered (GE) foods have “enhanced taste and quality, and increased resistance to disease” (Chase) who really know the truth? These pronouncements are viewed by many as simple advertising strategy and rhetoric used to promote GE crops and foods.

Given the problems in verifying the positive and advantageous claims in favor of GM foods and crops, or, in discovering their unhealthy and negative effect, how safe the world can be? Would modern agriculture adopting GM crops survive long? Would humans stay healthy consuming GM foods? Would plants itself and animals survive? Is GM agricultural cropping economically, ethically and environmentally feasible? There are a thousand other questions that need to be asked and answered for public awareness and discovering what really biotechnology and genetic engineering is. A lot of research and study must be done and massive public awareness are necessary to evaluate realities concerning food and crop genetic engineering.
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It should be noted that the science behind biotechnology and genetic engineering are very complex. Thus, with one news article read or one book reviewed related on the subject is not enough to judge the possible outcomes of these two. Misinformation is a dangerous thing that needs to be avoided at all times. This paper examines major factors related to genetic engineering of foods and crops and will eventually conclude a stand about it. Mainly, vis-à-vis genetic engineering, these factors need be examined are sustainability of agriculture, political and economic, nature and ethics, health, and positive and negative effects.

II. On Sustaining Agriculture and the World’s Food Supply
The obvious way in which humanity can continue to survive is through continuous consumption of food. Moreover, It is understandable that without agriculture, in this modern world, the humanity will starve to death. Thus, a sustainable agriculture is the solution to an uninterrupted food supply bridging the breaths of millions of individuals that continue to multiply in this earth.

One of the major pathways in sustaining agriculture is through inheritance. Families of farmers do not stop farming after a single generation but pass the knowledge and properties to their descendants In fact younger generation farmers have applied innovations to the traditional farming, seeking ways to improve the process and harvest in greater volumes.

Although elements of obligation and tradition thus informed these farmers' entry into farming, they did not simply continue farming in the same ways their ancestors had done. Rather, these farmers made a series of changes, including reducing the amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers used and/or shifting to organic farming methods, as well as introducing new crop varieties, marketing and distribution techniques. (Maxey)

True enough, as what Maxey have stated. There is nothing wrong with farming improvements yielding in greater amounts and producing for a million or more mouths. However, consequences of this action must be taken into considerations as well. When farmers, especially the commercialized corporate farmers, dream big on yielding much and gaining profit, this is the door that opens to biotechnology and their use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) of genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Given the premise that modern farming is better with GMO/GM/GE crops, lets us examine their effects in terms of sustainability.
a. Pollution of native crop varieties and other wild or domesticated plant varieties
Mostly tested for herbicide tolerance, transgenic crop varieties available in the market are maize, soy beans, cotton, canola and potato. Other crops promoted are rice and wheat for their large market. It is observed that transgenic pollution is a real problem existing among GMOs. In fact, to acknowledge the possible disastrous pollen pollution “government regulators have had access to lavish funds to support the needed fundamental research on transgenic pollution” (Independent Science Panel) preceded both field testing and commercialization of the transgenic crops.

Aside from the obvious environmental impact of transgenic pollution of GMOs, another problem is on the side of small scale and organic farmers "who are afraid it might “adulterate” their produce, and with producers and farmers of GM seeds, who are not eager to have someone else profit from their investments" (Goklany 45)

b. How much more do you harvest with biotechnology?
Abundance is the good side of using GM crops. Who does not want to gain more output from inputs? All farmers dream of a greater harvest. As one Philippine Bt corn farmer noted, “we hardly use pesticides and the yield has improved” he further stated ““Maybe those people whom oppose biotechnology do not know all the good things it has done for us.”(Conversations about)
With increased used of fertilizers and pesticides yields are either decreasing or leveling off. With this phenomenon, most farmers, especially in commercialized agriculture believe that "yields are leveling off because the maximum yield potential of current varieties is being approached, and therefore genetic engineering must be applied " (Altieri)

c. The golden food in Asia: Rice
As a staple food, especially in southeast Asia rice is very important. With its lack of vitamin A however, rice eaters are prone to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and the idea of Golden Rice is supposed to solve VAD problems. Golden Rice would be one of the "bio fortified foods, crops genetically engineered to produce important nutrients in large quantities." (Baggott)
“Unfortunately, there are no natural provitamin A-contatining rice varieties.” (Golden Rice)

d. Too much food may cause hunger. How?

On food security

III. Political and Economic Outcomes
“The elements of value to the new authorities were labor and produce and, from the yield of these, revenue. Taxation made farmers produce cash crops or hire their labor to local or remote enterprises. The resultant monetization created demand for new goods and services to entrench the new economic system. (Brookfield 218)

With due fairness to government agencies, not all simply allow the cultivation of GM crops without proper research and investigation. This can be observed in the case of Golden Rice.
The tale of why Golden Rice has taken so long is not one of nefarious forces, although the effect might amount to as much, but of entrenched and uninformed hostility to genetically modified (GM) foods and NGO-EU politics. Golden Rice could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year, if only the international community, particularly the European Union, will let it. (Baggott)

a. Will poor farmers survive the competition?
When seeds are patented farmers would be forced to purchase before planting. This impact of seed patenting is very harsh to small-scale farmers and this would make them eventually surrender to the hands of commercialized agriculture . With "open-pollinated varieties, the farmer could keep part of his harvest as seed corn for the next crop " (Goodman, and Redclift 103)
Faced with farming difficulties, options would be to se
b. American farmers on genetic engineering of crops
c. The international economc effects of modern farming and agricultural monopolies
d. The polity on genetically modified crop proponents and seed patenting
e. Conventions on the use of GM crops
IV. Damaging and Bypassing Nature and the Question of Ethics
a. Loss of biodiversity
b. Genetic erosion and hampered pollination

One of the harsh effects of biotechnology in modifying genes species is genetic erosion. What is this term all about and how does it harm nature?

The Free Online Encyclopedia defines genetic erosion as a term used to describe a process where an already limited gene pool of endangered species of animals or plants diminish even more and when individuals from the surviving population die off missing the chance to meet and breed with others within their endangered low population.

Genetic erosion have been happening long before this problem was given attention. Thus the estimate of damage done “tend not to take on a reliable quantifiable form” (Hogg 4). It is as well not fair to blame all the genetic erosion problems to modern farming and to the proponents and patrons of biotechnology and GMOs. Moreover, Hogg further states that “since World War II, virtually all of the local wheat varieties in Greece, Italy and Cyprus have been abandoned and most of the indigenous sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) races of south Africa disappeared after the release of high yielding Texas hybrids.” It is therefore not correct to assume that the if a new variety is used, the old or traditional varieties vanish.

In terms of agricultural diversity, genetic erosion includes the loss of particular combination of genes or gene complexes as well as the loss of individual genes.

The major driving forces behind the genetic erosion on crops are variety replacement, overexploitation of species, land clearing, population pressure, overgrazing, environmental degradation, and policy of changing agricultural systems. (The Free Online Encyclopedia)
However, the main factor that can be attributed to genetic erosion in agricultural diversity is the replacement of local varieties of domestic plants and animals by high yielding or appealing and salable exotic varieties or species imposed by the development of modern agriculture for commercial purposes. .
c. Herbicide overdose
d. What are superweeds?
e. Bt crops, what are they?
i. Soil erosion
ii. Resistance

Some transgenes might escape to nontarget plants of the same or different species and perhaps yield unwelcome ecological outcomes, such as conferring herbicide resistance to weeds (Avise 32)
iii. Effect on non-target species

V. Human and Animal Health and Existence Aspects
Some GMOs, especially plants, have health impacts when taken/eaten by humans and animals. To prevent this problem from persisting regulators in the US and Europe collaborate in developing a “harmonized list of important nutrients and anti-nutrients/toxicants for each major food/feed crop that could be analyzed to confirm substantial equivalence for a biotech crop. " (Nickson, and Hammond 156)

a. Transgenic crops impact on human health
Not everyone is informed about GMOs and GM foods. Thus, to many, what is the difference between GM and no GM food as long as it tastes good and can be eaten?

b. Animal health
Humans are not alone when it comes to susceptibility of health problems with GMOs. Animals have their fair share of health challenges with GE. “Some GM plants may pose risks to human or animal health, such as in generating allergic responses. (Avise 32)
VI. Worth Noting Monsanto and Other Cases

a. The false promise
One major aspect of biotechnology and genetic engineering is the commercialization of agriculture. With much promising profits awaiting big and multinational farming and agricultural corporations, the proponent of and those who have potential earning capacity from these modern agricultural processes would never stop convincing the world the good side of having genetically modified organisms or planting and consuming genetically modified crops and foods.

The majority of the world may believe all the advertising strategies promoting the use of biotechnology. one of the Associate Professor and Associate Entomologist at the University of California Berkeley, Miguel A. Altieri, have noted in his book Genetic engineering in agriculture the myths, environmental risks and alternatives:

For me a key problem facing the public is that the biotechnology companies and associated scientific bodies are making false promises that genetic engineering will move agriculture company from dependence on chemical inputs, reduce environmental problems and solve world hunger.

VII. Deciding Factors
Known names and political figures and their opinions regarding
a. The Pros of GE
b. The Cons of GE

VIII. Conclusion

Tackle alternatives such as agroecology, and organic farming. Discuss who greatly benefits from biotechnology

Books (Cited)

News/Magazines CIted

Journals Cited
1. Golden rice - bagott

Internet sources
Works Cited
Book Sources
Altieri, Miguel A.. Engineering in Agriculture: The Myths, Environmental Risks, and Alternatives 2nd ed.. Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2004. Google. 7 May 2008
Avise, John C. The Hope, Hype & Reality of Genetic Engineering : Remarkable Stories from Agriculture, Industry, Medicine, and the Environment /. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Questia. 8 May 2008 .
Brookfield, Harold. Exploring Agrodiversity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Questia. 7 May 2008 .
Goklany, Indur M. The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environment Risk Assessment. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2001. Questia. 7 May 2008 .
Hogg, Dominic. Technological Change in Agriculture: Locking in to Genetic Uniformity. New York: Macmillan, 1999. Questia. 7 May 2008 .
Nickson, Thomas E., and Bruce G. Hammond. "Chapter 7 Case Study: Canola Tolerant to Roundup® Herbicide." Genetically Modified Crops: Assessing Safety. Ed. Keith T. Atherton. London: Taylor & Francis, 2002. 138-163. Questia. 8 May 2008 .

Journal Sources
Maxey, Larch. "Can We Sustain Sustainable Agriculture? Learning from Small-Scale Producer-Suppliers in Canada and the UK." The Geographical Journal 172.3 (2006): 230+. Questia. 7 May 2008 .
News and Magazine Sources
Internet Source
"Genetic erosion." . . 7 May. 2008
Chase, Brad. "Study Reveals Genetically Modified Foods May Be Dangerous" The Free Library 13 December 2007. 07 May 2008 .
“Golden Rice is part of the solution.” 8 May 2008.
“Independent Science Panel”. 7May 2008 < http://www.indsp.org/Transwheat1.php> .
Stringer, David. "World Food Program warns of 'silent tsunami' of hunger" The Free Library 23 April 2008. 07 May 2008 .

I need a 20 page research paper on sustainable agriculture. The paper must include footnotes/endnotes and a 35 source bibliography including 10 books/chapters from books; 10 newspapers/magazines; *10 scholarly journal articles; and 5 internet sources.

Thesis undetermined (something like Costs of using GM/transgenic crops, are GM crops sustainable?

*biological effects on land and other living organisms (bees, butterflies, humans-(taco shell contamination, corn allergies) human effects from consuming GM food, how much testing done on possible human effects? Can it lead to anti-biotic resistance in humans or other problems? How are GM crops adversely effecting biodiversity of organisms? (Mexicos corn)

*ecological effects of GM use on the environment (desertification, pollution, use of pesticides, are we using more pesticides along with GM crops)
*crop yields (organic farming vs. pesticide use and GMOs)

*Health effects on small farmers (India/U.S./Central Amer) including mental health, suicide

*security- also in terms of democracy/ethics of seed patenting. U.S policy makers and department workers also work for Monsanto and other pesticide and seed companies? Other nations policies on GM use. Cartagena protocol, other agreements.

Attached is a working list of some sources that should be included in the research paper. So far it is just journal articles and newspapers/magazines. The list does not include 10 books/chapters from books and 5 internet sources as is required of the assignment.

I think I want the thesis to explore the question of sustainability with using genetically modified organisms in crops. Are GM crops sustainable? According to the 1990 Farm Bill, the definition of sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

* satisfy human food and fiber needs;
* enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
* make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
* sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
* enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

USDA National Agricultural Library
6 May 2008

More details:
What are the implications of seed patenting
Human health
Socio-economic effects on farmers in India, the U.S. and elsewhere
Environmental impacts
Biodiversity of corn in Mexico and other crops
Are insects building immunity and causing more use of pesticides?
Arguments on GM crops as a way to feed starving people
Crop yields of GMs vs. organic farming methods

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