Sample Position Paper on Genetically Modified Foods
The debate on genetically modified crops has gained traction in recent years as scientists seek non-conventional ways to increase crop yields without having to rely on the use of additional chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When scientists first began to champion genetically modified crops, they relied on two main arguments. First, GM crops would be more resistant to pests and the effects of herbicides. Secondly, usage of GM crops resulted in increases yields, thereby playing a key role in feeding the growing world population. So far, GM crops have not lived up to their promise of increasing crop yields significantly (International Food Policy Research Institute 2). According to an article by Sarich, some countries in Western Europe such as France that do not subscribe to GM crops have adopted technological advances in the cultivation of conventional crops and recorded significant increases in crop yields while also reducing the use of pesticides. As a result, technological innovation is the most potent solution to feed the growing world population, unlike genetic engineering of plants.
The rising world population, currently standing at 7 billion people, is poised to reach the 9.8 billion mark by 2050 (United Nations 1). As the world population continues to rise, especially in the developing countries, there is a dire need to feed the growing population. A growing population requires the development of infrastructure such as roads and housing to accommodate the population, which, in turn, has seen agricultural land in developing countries shrink. Accordingly, there is a looming crisis of having to increase food production on less land to feed an expanding population.
One of the noblest means of increasing food production, especially in the developing countries, is by embracing technological interventions. To gauge the success of technology in agricultural production, there is need to enhance and increase crop production compared to when the technology was not in use. According to Gillisnov, most of the agricultural innovations focus on the production of high quality and high-yielding seed varieties and the judicious application of suitable technologies (n.p). Such technologies aim to ensure value addition to agricultural production. Moreover, the application of suitable agronomic practices has also been shown to increase crop yields.
Claims that GM crops give higher yields than conventional crops are quite controversial, with GM species giving an average of 20% more crop yields than conventional crops (Sarich 1). The United States introduced genetically modified crops two decades ago, and since then, there has been a decline of at least a third in the use of pesticides on crops like soybeans and corn (Gillisnov n.p). Moreover, the use of herbicides on the same crops has increased by 21 percent (Gillisnov n.p). Considering that herbicides are used in higher volumes compared to pesticides, this is hardly an improvement in the use of GM crops. For instance, in France, where GM crops have not yet been embraced, the country has managed to reduce the use of fungicides and insecticides by 65 percent, while there has also been a 36 percent decrease in the use of herbicides (Gillisnov n.p). All this has been made possible as a result of the adoption of advances in technology in the form of high-yielding and insect-resistant crops.
In the United States where GM corn has been under cultivation since 1986, Heinemann et al. (78) report that between 1986 and 2011, the country recorded lower corn yields than those reported in Western Europe over the same period, where conventional corn was cultivated. Their paper further reveals that GM soybeans and corn grown in the United States do not differ significantly in terms of yields from the conventional varieties under cultivation in Western Europe. This finding reveals that GM crops should not be prioritized over technological innovations as a tool to help us feed the rising world population.
An article by Mercola outlines how we can increase agricultural production eight-fold through the use of high-performance agriculture (n.p.). This can be achieved by optimizing nutrient application and soil composition. The article further notes that strong soil biology and adequate mineral nutrition are the two key factors upon which the foundation of healthy plants hinges. With this technique, there would be no need for GM crops as they cannot match the yield. Most studies that campaign for the introduction of GM crops fail to consider the effect of agronomical practices on crop yields, such as the use of irrigation and organic fertilizers. For instance, often, studies on GM crop harvests report higher yields than is the case because GM seed companies often sponsor such studies. For instance, in India, GM cotton was shown to have performed well regarding yields, but then it declined. However, a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute has since shown that the actual yields of GM cotton reported were significantly smaller than had been claimed.
Hakimoct notes that initially, GM crops were meant to be resistant to certain insects, hence reducing the use of pesticides, or resistance to herbicides. However, the U.S Department of Agriculture reports that there has been a significant increase in the amounts of herbicides used in the cultivation of soybeans, one of the leading GM crops under cultivation in the United States. In this case, the use of herbicides in soybeans has increased by 2.5 times over the past two decades. Although the use of herbicides in corn was on the decline prior to the introduction of G.M. crops, it had increased by two-folds by 2010 (Sarich n.p). Later, however, it leveled off. Weed-resistance problems have triggered the increase in the overall usage of herbicides in such crops.
One of the major challenges facing scientists in the agricultural sector is how to feed an increasing global population amid the shrinking of land meant for crop production to make way for the construction of infrastructure. The introduction of GM crops more than two decades ago was meant to solve this problem because they are high yielding as well as resistant to pests. This was meant to minimize the use of pesticides which cause undesirable health effects on humans, and have been linked to cancer. However, GM crops have been over-rated, both in terms of reduced use of pesticides and increase in crop yields. It is, therefore, easier pursuing other cheaper and effective means of increasing crop yields such as advances in technology in the form of production of high quality and high yielding seeds, and judicious agricultural practices like optimizing nutrient application and soil composition. These have been shown to increase crop yields by as much as seven-fold.
Gillisnov, Justin.’With an Eye on Hunger, Scientists See Promise in Genetic Tinkering of
Plants.’ November 27, 2016. Web. The New York Times.
Hakimoct, Danny. ‘Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops.’
October 29, 2016. Web. The New York Times.
Heinemann, Jack, Melanie Massaro, , Sarah Zanon Agapito-Tenfen Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand; Crop Science Department, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, Brazil and Jiajun Dale Wen Third World Network, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International
Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 12.1(2014). Print.
International Food Policy Research Institute. ‘Measuring the Contribution of Bt Cotton Adoption
to India’s Cotton Yields Leap.’ April 2012. Web.
Mercola. ‘High-Performance Agriculture Can Increase Your Garden Yield Eight-Fold.’ 22
September 2013. Web.
Sarich, Christina. ‘New Study: GE Crops Don’t Increase Crop Yields.’ 12 April 2015. Web.
Natural Society. http://naturalsociety.com/new-study-ge-crops-dont-increase-crop
United Nations. World population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in
- 21 June 2017. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world