Genetically Modified Foods Will Not Solve the Problem of Hunger
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Genetically modified foods (GM) have been emphasized as the solution to the problem of growing hunger problem in the world but this may be a misplaced conception because they may become a part of the problem rather than solving it (Eston, 2004). GM foods are foods that are derived from genetically modified organism and are considered to be more productive and more resistant to change in weather conditions compared to organic foods. They are foods that had undergone change in their DNA through genetic engineering process to achieve the intended purpose of increased productivity, higher nutrition or pest resistant. The fact that they arise from the precise process of mutagenesis raises a number of ethical issue and concerns that they may have severe impact on health and the environment, making them another component of the hunger problem rather than solving it. As the world population topples 6 billion, there have been concerns that the world may not be able to meet the food needs of the population and therefore underpins the need to implement some technologies that will improve food production like genetic engineering to ensure that there is enough food for people to eat (Vasilikotis, 2010).
The rate of population growth is higher than the rate of resource generation but this does not mean that the world has outgrown its capacity to provide food for the population. Hunger in the world has been perpetuated by unequal distribution of food resources and the growing poverty especially in the developing due to governance issues and other natural disasters. This implies that the proposition that GM foods will help solve the problem of hunger in the world may be displaced in context and inaccurate in different ways. Genetic Engineering is therefore contradictory. The ethical issues arising from genetic engineering makes it objected by different people on religious or other grounds. The objective of this essay will be to discus the economic aspect of GM foods. The essay will review the economic situation and how it has affected availability and access to food to prove that production of GM foods will not solve the problem of world hunger.
GE foods and world hunger
Those advocating GE foods argue that GE technology will produce new, valuable crops that are likely to solve the problem of world hunger. First, it is important to understand the problem of hunger is not related to inadequate food production. There is enough food to meet the need for every person in the world, about 4.3 pounds for every person everyday including 2.5 pounds of grains, beans and nuts, 1 pound of meat, milk, eggs and 1 pound for fruits and vegetables (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). The problem is access to these foods. There are various scientific studies which have shown that GE does not increase food production by producing new crops and increasing the level of production of existing food species. Genetic engineering mainly aims at achieving a given aim and one of those aims has been increasing crop yields for more food production. One study that was conducted by Benbrook (1999) a chief scientist at Organic Center, showed that genetically engineered foods like soybeans do not lead to increased yields.
The report which was reviewed by more than 8,200 research trials revealed that the GM soybeans yielded between 7% and 10% less yields compared to the natural varieties. This study also revealed that farmers were using more herbicides for the Roundup soybeans compared to the conventional species. Another study that was carried out by Union of Concerned Scientists after reviewed a number of peer-reviewed studies showed that there was no yield increase on two GM species, soybeans and maize. This report revealed that genetically engineered herbicide tolerant soybeans and maize does not have any increased yield at national aggregate level. Maize which was engineered with Bt insect resistance genes led to increased yield by 3% to 4%, but some farmers may have experienced a more than 10% in some seasons (Matim, 2003). This study showed that in United States, there are other agricultural methods that have lead to increased food production at national level than genetic engineering. Genetic engineering may have contributed to only a half of increase in maize production in the country since it was commercialized in 1990s (Gurian-Sherman, 2009).
The above studies reveal that the hype about increased food production by GE may not be correct. It is possible that GE does not lead to increased food yield at national level although it may show increase production at experimental levels. There is no guarantee that GE will increase food production because conventional methods have also a similar rate of productivity when proper technologies are used. If proper techniques of conventional food production are applied, they may increase yield more than genetic engineering (Herren, 2010). This means that considering the ethical and cost issues that are involved in genetic engineering, it would end up being advantageous to produce foods using conventional methods as compared to genetic engineering.
The traditional method have been tried and proved and have shown consistency with improved techniques. World Food Program acknowledges that to keep up with the growing population, the rate of food production must increase but this increase doest not necessarily encompass having GM foods on the market. As the global population hits 6 billion, the need for increased food production cannot be ignored (Vasilikotis, 2010). There is already so much pressure on the natural environment that most countries have risked destruction of natural environment in pursuit of increased food production. But this has been attributed to poor farming techniques especially in the developing countries using conventional farming method.
In the last 40 years, the world has experienced exponential growth rate in population. This has come with increased food demand but there are many factors that have conspired against increased food production. While the focus has remained entirely on the faming methods, there are other conspirator factors like shift in type of food produced and the change in climate pattern that have affected food production (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). Experts have hurriedly pointed out the need for increased food production without tackling changes in food production pattern that may have lead to decreased food production. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa evidence shows that there has been a great shift in production of foods plant species that were adaptable to the climate in preference to modern species. Foods like sorghum, yams, cassavas, and other traditional foods that were well adapted to the climate have been ignored in preference of modern food species.
This means that rather than food production, there are other factors that have conspired reduced food production and focus should be on addressing these factors rather than sneaking in GM foods as solution to decreased food production. Biologically, food shortage will always lead to decrease in population as the health of population deteriorates and productivity decrease (Cunningham, 2008). Food shortage can also lead to a shift in source of foods. For example in Sub-Saharan Africa, a great shift in food consumption has been evidenced with decrease in production of staple foods. Communities living in Great Lakes have changed their reliance on fish due to decrease in fish stock and embraced consumption of other foods. In reference to these factors, it is important to consider the economic factors and how they relate to change in food production patterns in the world.
Statistics shows that there are more than one billion people, or a sixth of world population that live on less than one dollar a day. This means that the a sixth of world population lives below the UN identify poverty line, which is one dollar a day. This means that these people have to live at expense below one dollar for food and other expenses as well. In comparison, there are people who take one meal worth more than five dollars. This brings out two aspects as far as economics of food shortage is concerned. First, there is high level of inequality in the world (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). World pattern of economic inequality can be correlated to the patterns of hunger. In the developed world, there are very few people who live on less than one dollar a day and to some extent there may be none compared to the developing world where majority of the world poor are concentrated.
Most of the people living below poverty line are concentrated in the developing countries. This means that economic inequality is one of the major factors that have contributed to food shortage in the world. The main reason behind food shortage in the world is not food shortage but rather poverty. When there are millions of people dying from hunger in the developing nations, there are stocks of food that goes to waste in the same countries. In the developed world, maize (corn) is used for animal feeds while there are millions of people dying in developing world. This shows that there not only unequal distribution world economic resources but also unequal food distribution chains. Tons of foods go to waste in the developed world while there is scarcity of the same food in the developing world. If there was fair distribution of foods produce in the world, no one would go hungry. Second, the relative cause hunger therefore pertains to affordability of food (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). For those earning below one dollar a day, they may only be able to have one meal a day or sometimes may not have any meal at all because they have to meet other expenses as well.
In connection with the above point, proponents of GE claims that GM foods are cheap compared to conventional foods (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). The cost benefit of GM foods is counted on the reduction in the use of pesticides because most farmers will not require applying any pesticides which is through to bring the cost of food down. Initially, the cost to the farmer and the consumer may be small but in the long term, it may end up being costly. To produce GM foods, modern equipments and qualified people are required which will bring the cost of production up. In addition, farmers will be required to buy GM every time they have to plant compared to conventional foods where farmers can recycle the seeds produced in their farm. At the end, GM foods end up being more costly for farmers compared to the traditional foods. In reference to the reduce cost of pesticide, this is initially thought to be true although research shows that farmers are required to use pesticides even when they have planted GM foods. In addition, there is still fear of mutation of common pest which means they will be able to attack these foods after a period of time, eventually brining the cost of food up. Analysis of food prices for the last two decade have shown that food is not cheap, whether GE or conventional foods.
The actual cost of foods remains high for most low income individuals. There are other factors like transport and storage cost that pushes the cost of food up making it out of reach for most people (Sakko, 2010). In the last few decades, there has been an evidenced rise in food price orchestrated by a number of factors. Unless there are efforts to increase income or lower the cost of food, it will be difficult to fight hunger even with GM foods that are thought to be cheaper. It is to be observed that even in developed countries, there are times when national food production is depressed but hunger is rarely experienced because the average income of the population is enough to meet the cost of imported food. Globally, there has been increased cost of grains due to competition between food use and biofuel use. Amid the crisis, strong opposition and demonstration on increased food prices has been experienced in developing countries alone but not in developed countries. Efforts should therefore be geared towards tackling poverty which will make it possible for all people in developed and developing countries to afford foods.
As was highlighted earlier, agricultural practices have played a major role in reduced food production in the world. Agricultural practices in developing countries, that have experienced cycles of hunger leaves much to be desired (Sakko, 2010). Prioritization in food production shows a preference for commercial plants rather than food plants (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). The basis argument here is that there has been continuous misuse of land for production of crops that have no food value rather than food crops. There are plantations of cash crops like sisal, tea, cotton, coffee, tobacco, cocoa, and others which have marginal profits relative to the cost foods. While this trend was set in early twentieth century when these crops had higher market value, they have continuous lost their market value and the income farmers get annually from an acreage of these crops is barely enough to meet the food needs of their families.
For example, organizations like Oxfam and others which have been fighting for ethical food production chains have exposed to the world how coffee farmer in Ethiopian Highlands have been exploited by middlemen who pocket all the profits while the farms languish in hunger year in year out. This implies that after a sizable part of land that could be used for production of food crops is taken by coffee, farmers cannot use the revenues they get from coffee foods for their families (Altieri and Rosset, 1999). At the end, the solution narrows to reducing the total acreage under coffer and introduce food crops. Basically, the shift in agricultural use of lands in the world could have a larger implication on the ability of most countries to meet their food demand.
Before the world thinks of going into trial and error method of food production through genetic engineering, there is need to redistribute the agricultural land to prioritize production of food value crops. Cash crops are important because they are meant to bring in revenues for farmers to be used in purchase of other needs like education, clothing, and others but when farmers cannot get the economic value they want from the cash crops, they should redistribute this land and commit it for food production so that it will be easier to meet their food demands. Bottom line is the fact that there are major improvements that can be made on conventional methods of food production and increase the food available instead of jumping to GE. Increasing the acreage under convention crop production and use of appropriate techniques will lead to increased production of safe food without ethical, health, and environmental concerns.
As world population continues to increase, demand for food has also increased. It is postulated that the world population is growing at an exponential rate in relation to generation of resources. In the last two decades, the world has witnessed cycles of hunger especially in developing world where dozens have died due to hunger. However, hunger in the world is not related to short in food production but rather in design of world economic system. There is massive inequality in distribution of economic resource such that in one corner of the world, one individual is able to eat a one time meal worth more than twenty dollars while there is a personal in the other corner who lives on one dollar a day. Distribution of land for agriculture is skewed towards cash crop production more than production of food value crops. This means that GM foods will not be solution to world hunger because the root is related to design of global economics rather than food shortage. Instead of driving the world on a GE lane, efforts should be made to improve equality in access to resources and redesigning food production system to use modern techniques of food production under conventional methods.
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