Do we need GMO foods?
Since 1994 the FDA has approved GM “Canola” with modified oil composition, herbicide resistant soybeans and cotton, and the GM foods sold at your supermarket (without label requirements) potatoes, carrots, strawberries and eggplant with much much more in the works.
What is the driving force behind GM foods? Right now there a 3 primary challenges the global population faces that are driving this technology train.
- Population Expansion – The 2015 revision of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/ Population Division World Population Prospects determined that although the worlds’ population growth rate has slowed in recent years the current global human population is approximately 7.35 Billion (2015 revision figure) with this rate projected to increase by a annual addition of 83 Million. Imagine in just 12 1/2 short years the year 2030 the anticipated population will reach 8.5 Billion and by 2050 the increase reaches 9.7 Billion human inhabitants on the planet. Expansion of the populace is one of the major contributing factors of Undernourishment around the world. As of 2016 the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projected that globally 795 Million people are suffering from malnutrition. Right here in what everyone believes is the land of plenty for every ten people one of them is malnourished 1 in 10! It is not a what if situation it is an everyday occurrence all over the world especially within developing regions. This situation is definitely alarming and is only going to grow. Currently the crop yield rate of increase is 1.7%, yet the annual yield needs to be 2.4% to meet population growth demands, nutritional improvement demands and the decrease in arable land availability. Scientists and researchers are exploring achievable optimization of crop genetics combined with improvements in management of the Agricultural system.
- Arable Land Decrease – Arable Land is defined as land that is able to be ploughed or tilled and regularly used to grow crops implementing a crop rotation method. With the FAO predicting a decrease in the amount of arable land for food production dropping from the current 0.242 ha (hectare) or 2.471 acres to 0.18 ha or 0.4447897 acres per person by 2050, population growth and malnutrition are a confounding issue. Our ability to cultivate additional acreage is limited as land suitable to food crop growth is dwindling at a pace that is soon to be intensified which is forcing the need to generate a larger yield per acre. This is achieved by using greater agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer, water, pest and weed control and/or genetic “improvements”. All of this however comes with several complicating factors that have to be examined; 1- Increased demand for biofuels and feedstock production; 2- Accelerated Urbanization; 3- Land degredation, decertification, and salinization; 4- Altered land use from staple food growth to pasture which is being driven by socioeconomic considerations; 5- CLIMATE CHANGE (Yes it is real folks); 6- Limitation of water resources.
- Conventional and Modern Breeding Bottleneck – Conventional breeding relies on sexual crossing of one parental line with another in the hopes of expressing some desired property – for example disease resistance. To do this breeders select the best progeny (plant or animal) and back-cross it to one of its parents. This process is an arduos undertaking, usually requiring several years depending on the generational time frame (ie: wheat has a time frame of 10 – 15 Years) before actual expression of the desired trait can be analyzed and any further expansion by conventional breeding to what would be useful commercial numbers. Now looking at the facts that in addition to the inherently long generation times limiting the developement of conventional breeding, prior to breeding stratagies must find the existance of an available genepool manifesting the desired trait and the sexual compatability of the organisms with those traits. The exclamation point to this is that now a days the genetic variety has dwindled and as a result we operate in a restricted space for improvement. Modern methods can increase this space by using chemicals or radiation to introduce new mutational variations, however, much like fitting a square peg into a round hole these are blunt instruments leaving the results in improved traits to random chance and luck. A a matter of fact, the non-selectivity of these methods are probably the reason for the extended breeding timelines.
Ultimately the emergence of biological technologies and developement of GM foods has the potential to dramaticly reduce production timelines of new strains with the hope of being able to provide optional avenues to meet the need of sustainable global food security.
Altering what is naturally occuring within an animal or a plant genetically may have its merits, but don’t we also have to consider and address the potential harm? There are no long term studies being conducted with human participents to determine what ill effects these modifications may present in the future. Shouldn’t this be part of the required process? Tell me what you think in the comments, I would love your input.