Most of the crops grown in the United Kingdom originated from distant parts of the world. For example, Wheat first came from the Middle East over 3000 years ago and potatoes started in South Africa in the 16th century. Over time foods have been crossed to produce variety, improved and varied flavour and resistance to some diseases. By changing the crop slightly it has allowed farmers to farm in different conditions. More crop yield per hectare has therefore been produce because of fertilisers and herbicides which help gain the correct conditions for the crop allowing it to been grown all over the world. However this has reduced wildlife due to the removal of woodlands and hedgerows to make room for the crop.
Over time the awareness and knowledge of the environment has grown and projects to maximise the yield but minimise the environment destruction have been put to test. This is called Integrated Crop Management (ICM). Some of the techniques currently used are:
* Rotating the crop yield to avoid disease
* Preserving the soil structure and creatures
* Using the correct amount of fertilisers and nutrients
* Diversity of Flora and Fauna
All of the above points need to be ore commonly practised but for this to happen more financial support to keep to the environmental farming systems is needed.
Organic farming emphasises environmental protection and animal welfare. The ACOF looks after the organic farming that happens in the UK. Their job is to exclude synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and growth regulators. They rely on crop rotation as some of the chemicals kill insects and birds but lots of the organic farmers are hoping for new equipment to help them farm. About 35% of all organic produce on sale are grown here in the UK. The rest is imported from over seas. For example, Bananas. Organic farming s thought to be more natural and healthier but not necessarily better. However it does improve the environmental issues.
In all living organisms it is the genes that control the traits which are passed on. A plant cell has up to 50,000 genes, which can make the process of GM plants very difficult. Scientist find the gene they are looking for whether colour, height, etc. and extract it from the plant. They then make an exact copy of gene and insert it into another organism. Then the offspring of that organism will have the trait that was put into the plant as a gene. This type of science can be used to transfer traits between different species of micro-organisms. This process may sound very straight forward but it takes lot of hard work to find the correct gene, and it took years of trials to get the process exactly right before it could be used as a large scale development. There are many different views on genetic modification as some people see it as a refined extension of traditional breeding but others see it as fundamentally new technology with unforeseen risks and serious consequences. Some of the more positive effects of this though are that it has brought important changes to healthcare, for example:
* Drugs to reduce viruses
* Production of insulin and blood clotting proteins
* Animals emphysema could help cancer
* Help cure Cystic Fibrosis, Huntingdon’s disease and HIV/AIDS
Genetically Modified Crops current developments are:
Sometimes 25% of crops grown are lost through insect attack. That’s enough crop to feed over 1 billion people. By using genetic modification crops have been helped to make them resistant. This then causes the insects to die but instead 12 million hectares of GM maize can be grown.
Maize Maize genetically modified to Bt protein kills the
produce Bt protein corn borer insects
In Africa many crops such as sweet potato, cassava, papaya and squash were all attacked by disease but due to genetic modification 2/3 of the crops have been saved. It is mainly vines that kill these plants but GM has managed to stop them.
Weeds are a serious threat to any other plants. They are often controlled by weed killers. However limitations on how much and how often these can be used have to be taken into account. Some weed killers are only used when the plant is still under the ground but once it has emerged from the soil different pesticides are used which do not damage the plant. Unfortunately these aren’t as effective on the weeds either.
By genetically modifying crops to cope with different environments farmers are able to extend the season in which they grow the yield. The number of places that they be grown in also increases. Water availability is a limiting factor nearly everywhere plants are grown but in the UK GM might make the crop plants more able to establish themselves beyond the fields in which they have been planted.
Not only has GM improved the crops and increased yields it also has some environmental benefits such as, Energy saving. This occurs because fewer chemicals are used to herbicide tolerant and insect resistant GM crops. This in turn saves energy that would have been used to produce and transport chemicals. Reduced soil erosion is also another environmental benefit. With non-GM Soya, weeds are cleared before seeds are planted. With Herbicides this doesn’t happen as they can be dealt with at a later date. GM seeds are planted in undisturbed soil because this conserves moisture, soil fauna and flora, reduces water and wind erosion.
Some other benefits are also for the customers as GM foods provide longer lasting fruit and vegetables. This is because it can slow down softening to produce fruits that last longer. This is also an advantage when transporting them. Foods are also higher in vitamins and minerals because they contain higher nutrient levels. Golden rice has been developed in Zinch to improve Vitamin A, which is essential to reduce the risk of blindness and Dying prematurely. Soya and Maize have also been modified to enhance the amount of protein in animal foods. It is also essential to stop malnutrition.
Some examples of crops that have been developed are:
* Oilseed rape
A question that many people ask is “Are they safe?” Before any of the products are sold they are thoroughly assessed however not enough about it is known to guarantee that there are no unforeseen risks or problems. But only the gene for the trait required is used so therefore no problems should arise. In 1996 GM Soya was first grown in USA and no sustained case of harm arising from consumption has ever arisen. Therefore GM foods are classed just as safe as any other foods.
Overall Genetically Modified Crops are seen as a way up in scientific developments and good care and precision is taken to ensure the best safety of the environment and customers.