With the current global population growing with a rate of over 1% the population is at the highest it has ever been. This new population calls for a need of new agricultural strategies and practices to meet the growing nutritional demand of developed and developing countries. The solution proposed has been to use genetically modified organisms and crops that are more resilient against current climate change and dwindling resources. Genetically modified crops however have many adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
They damage the digestive system, expose people to long term risks and deplete the environment of natural resources. The plentiful negative effects of genetically modified organisms and crops largely outweigh their benefits especially when more viable methods exist. Organic farming preserves the environment while also maintaining similar yields. It leaves a smaller carbon footprint and is able to sustain itself many generations into the future.
One of the main risks associated with GMOs are their negative effects on human and animal health.
GMOs have been recorded to have negative effects on the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, hematology, reproduction and fertility in animals. Research conducted on the effects of GMOs on gastrointestinal tract showed that “Rats fed with flavrsavrTM GM tomatoes, while GM potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis (GNA) lectin induced proliferative growth in their stomach which is of particular importance if one takes into consideration that glomerular stomach erosions can lead to lifethreatening hemorrhage, especially in the elderly and patients on nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents (Pusztai et al., 2003)”[ 2]. The genes inserted into GM tomatoes and potatoes caused inflammation which can lead to serious injuries such as hemorrhoids, pain and difficulty eating.
The chronic inflammation caused from GM plants may lead to more serious ailments such as developing cancer and constant pain. Reduced kidney sizes were also observed in a study in which rats were fed GM corn 1507 (MacKenzie et al., 2007), GM soybean showed impact on pancreas by exhibiting changes in pancreatic acinarcells of mice and a high low amounts of αamylase (Malatesta et al., 2003). Rats given a diet based on GM rice showed enlargement of the lymph nodes indicating that an immunotoxic reaction occurred (Poulsen et al., 2007). The symptoms observed highlight the dangers of genetically modified crops. They cause inflammation and degradation of the lining of organs and the intestinal tract. Immune systems were weakened and some allergic reactions occurred. This large compilation of research highlights a few of the many adverse effects of genetic crops on organisms. There are many negative short term effects but also long term effects.
A few long term studies have been conducted and they have similar results. “One tGM soya can alter the cell structure and functioning of the liver in mice reversibly (Malatesta et al., 2002; 2003; 2005)…and the protein profile of the liver in rainbow trout (Martin et al., 2003).”
Research shows that GM crops can drastically alter the functioning in an organism. Soya damaged the ability of mice liver to detoxify foreign contaminants by changing the cell structure. The proteins in the liver of rainbow trout also had similar complications. The salmon were observed with similar malnutrition and lower functioning of the liver. Larger skull sizes and lower fertility rates were also seen. Not much research is available about the long term effects of genetically modified organisms but the available research further strengthens the arguments for using less GMOs in the future. Genetically modified organisms exhibit similar destructive effects. The consumption of milk from cows injected rbGH leads to an increase in IGFI in humans. According to Chan (1998) the elevated levels of IGFI can “effectively stimulate the proliferation of cancer cells. The increased levels of IGFI in humans predict increased rates in colon, breast, and prostate cancer, since they stimulate the indolent slowly growing tumor cells that appear in an aging individual resulting in clinical cancer necessarily old”. RbGH triggers an increase in IGFI levels in humans. Sustained high levels of IGFI have correlations to causing rapid cell growth and development of cancerous tumors. The threat of rbGH has caused a decreased of its use in recent years. Many large grocery store chains no longer carry milk from cows treated with rBGH. A United States Department of Agriculture survey conducted in 2007 found that less than 1 in 5 cows (17%) were being injected with rBGH”. As a result of the dangers of rbGh it has been avoided by many consumers and rightly so. Many of the thought to be ‘safe’ genetically modified crops and organisms may not be accurately depicting their risks. Some of the current GMOs are evaluated on a concept of substantial equivalence. Substantial equivalence states that genetically modified crops should be as safe as its traditional counterpart. Millstone et al. (1999) describes this system as “being created to provide an excuse for not requiring biochemical and toxicological tests.”. There are flaws to this system because it doesn’t account for any long term effects or chronic symptoms. Since GMO are relatively new there is little research on the long term effects of the crops on human health. A proposed method says that “GM foods should be subjected to the same testing and approval procedures as medicines (i.e., clinical trials) since they must be adequate to ensure that any possibility of an adverse effect on human health from a GM food can be detected.” There are not enough parameters in substantial equivalence and with something as important as human welfare a more stringent and meticulous method must be used. There is also the risk of mutagenesis in which the genes can mutate causing the crop or organism to not have to desired trait and potentially become more dangerous. Genes account for only a part of the control of the biochemistry of organisms since there are other interacting factors such as exposure to different nutrients, chemicals, weather and animals. Genetic engineering can be unpredictable and inconsistent with expressing the desired phenotype. Genetically Modified Food Effects on Hunger and the Environment Some detractors argue that GMOs are a solution to end world hunger because they can produce more yields, withstand a more harsh environment and are cheaper produce. The world however is able to produce “enough food in the world to f eed 10 billion people. That means that we actually have an excess of food.”. The population will also eventually reach a max of over “10 billion and taper off due to not enough resources being available to feed the population”. In order to alleviate hunger a sustainable method of farming needs to be achieved in order to for crops to continue to yield enough food for 10 billion people. The growing population leaves a greater carbon footprint which needs to be reduced. “Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agricultural sector account for 10–12%… Emissions by deforestation due to land conversion to agriculture, which account for an additional 12% (Metz et al., 2007) of the global GHG emissions, can be additionally allocated to agriculture. Thus, agriculture production practices emit at least one quarter of global anthropogenic GHG emissions and, if food handling and processing activities were to be accounted for, the total share of emissions from the agriculture and food sector would be at least onethird of total emissions.”. With the large contribution of agriculture to GHG emissions, the choice of food production practices can be a problem or a solution in addressing global warming. Green America states “one variety of corn has been bred for drought resistance, but it is likely to only be effective in 15 percent of US corn fields and is not effective in severe or extreme drought”. A lthough GM products may withstand a more harsh environment it is unlikely to perform consistently and effectively as compared to conventional crops. GM products are also not impactful in reducing hunger globally because “T he vast majority of GE crop production does not go towards direct food consumption; rather, it is used for the production of animal feed and ethanol. These are crops engineered to withstand, work in partnership with, and selfgenerate pesticides. ”.Genetically modified food products are not created for the purpose of feeding people but for use low quality animal feed. The crops are also being used as biofuels and aids in the production of ethanol. Genetically modified crops however do have higher yields but the merit of those yields are ruined by the numerous negative externalities. The negative externalities of GM products include water pollution, pollinator loss, and soil degradation. GM farming has not been effective in using less water and nitrogen supply as it promised and leaves the same carbon footprint as farming methods before. This continuous and massive application of the agrochemicals causing degradation of environment in terms of reduction in soil fertility, water pollution and indirectly significant contribution to the global warming, climate change and ozone layer depletion According to the “National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSSLUP) 21.97 million hectare (mha) of land is degraded in terms of acidity and alkalinity /salinity (Bhattacharyya et al., 2005).” The indiscriminate use of the fertilizer directly affects the soil health in terms of productivity and mineral composition. Genetically Modified organisms require similar application levels of pesticide which contribute the degrading the environment. Hunger is also not completely dependent on food yield. Hunger is an issue of politics and justice. “There is currently enough food in the world to f eed 10 billion people. That means that we actually have an excess of food. Despite that, there is still a shocking number of people who are hungry, 791 million (the majority of which live in developing nations). The World Bank estimates that there are over 1 billion poor people in developing countries. Continued hunger leads to continued poverty as those suffering from chronic hunger are unable to perform manual labor (the most common source of income in developing countries) and increase their standard of living.” Hunger is caused by poverty because in developing countries many people are unable to afford food. The less food they eat the less energy they have to do labor and the cycle repeats itself. Much of this poverty is caused by pre existing economic inequity as a result of current political systems that favor those with higher incomes. There needs to be a change in the political and social systems of these hunger stricken countries in order to reduce poverty. Once poverty is lowered people will be able to afford food. The current industrial food system also doesn’t benefit the situation. It “emphasizes the need for countries (regardless of size) to export food crops despite the local demand for basic nutrients. If poverty and livelihoods are not improved it will not matter how much food is produced if the poorest, and in turn hungriest, do not have the financial ability to access it”. There is also the issue of transporting food into the countries with more hunger. Only so much food can be stored and transported at a time before the food gets spoiled into these developing countries. If a more efficient way of transport and conservation is created more food can be delivered fresh to struggling countries. Hunger can further be alleviated by reducing the amount of food waste. The US “wastes 40 percent of its food” [ 4] and “In western countries, grocery stores throw out a lot of food and will not purchase unattractive produce. ” Food is wasted because it is either visually unappealing or goes uneaten. If more people become more responsible for their food waste then more food could be supplied to struggling countries. There is not a deficit of food and more than enough for the whole population. A potential solution is to develop organic agriculture to provide a sustainable way to supply the future generations with food.