Discuss The Likely Advantages And Problems Arising From The Introduction Of Genetically Modified Agricultural Crops (standard essay style) The process of genetically modifying crops involves the transfer of selected genes from one crop to another in order to enhance the plant characteristics for economic advantages. The genes can also be from bacteria and viruses. In this essay I will discuss the advantages of using and breeding genetically modified (GM) crops, the disadvantages/ problems arising from this, possible solutions and also a personal opinion.
GM crops can have many advantages. One of these is better nutritional content within certain foods. The nutritional content of food can be enhanced to meet dietary requirements and therefore people will have more healthy and balanced diets meeting nutritional guidelines. 1An example of this being done is the genetically modified “golden rice” which has been modified to have higher levels of provitamin A. This is also an advantage because malnutrition across the world can be improved by introducing modified foods that provide required nutritional content. There may also be the possibility of producing foods with less fat to tackle obesity.
The use of GM crops can also be of economic advantage because certain plants have certain soil and climate requirements which limits where each crop can be grown. By genetically modifying certain characteristics it would mean that they are more tolerant in conditions they usually wouldn’t be in. the result is that more plants can be grown in more areas and it is also not restricted by times of the year. 2Examples of this could be making a crop less dependant on fertiliser, salt tolerant, and tolerant to drier conditions.
In most cases herbicides and pesticides have to be used to kill weed and pests that inhibit crop growth and damage crops. But the use of these can sometimes harm the crop as well. GM crops can be made to be insect and herbicide tolerant. This reduces the amount of chemicals being used and therefore it costs less and also leaves soils more healthy.
GM crops can be modified to be of better quality, for example, in terms of longer shelf lives. 3Examples of such foods include apples that are resistant to attacks from insects, coffee with a lower caffeine content, and melons with a longer shelf life. 4One example of these foods being released on the market is the “flavr savr tomato” produced by an American company. The gene that makes the tomato go “off” or soft and rotten was replaced with a gene that stops this enzyme being produced in the tomato and therefore the tomato stays fresh for longer. This was found to be safe to eat and was released on the market but was taken off due to public concerns. This example shows that GM foods provides benefits such as foods with a longer shelf life.
As GM foods can be grown in more areas, this means that more crops can be grown and therefore the ever increasing world population can be fed and also the third world, without fear of food shortages. This could tackle the problem of poverty and starvation. Farmers have more control over genes in this way because you control what breeds with what and what genes are exchanged, this is a much faster and cost effective process. Traditional methods means that selective/cross breeding happens anyway but it is limited because it takes much longer and certain crops don’t breed with others and the outcome may be unknown. Artificially modifying crops is more efficient and more controlled.
Even with such advantages GM foods still present problems and have disadvantages. Only short term effects have been assessed but there is no knowledge as to how these will develop in the years to come, and they can effect the environment and wildlife because they could be poisonous to wildlife that eat them.
5Eating GM foods could pose a problem of anti-biotic resistance. GM foods contain antibiotic resistance genes which could be made effective in humans, therefore new diseases resistant to antibiotics may develop. The issue of gradual resistance to antibiotics is already present because the body becomes resistant to them, therefore this could further increase the problem. 6GM crops using DNA from bacteria and viruses could also develop new diseases.
Although GM crops are beneficial to farmers, they may not be as beneficial on the market because consumers will feel uneasy about eating such products because they don’t know what exactly they contain and the long term effects are unknown and there is debate about the short term effects. 7GM crops are surrounded by controversial issues as outlined by The Guardian special reports. Such reports are very useful in keeping the public up to date about latest issues and findings surrounding the use of GM crops.
There is also the problem of resistance, if a crop has been made to resist a certain herbicide, what if it develops resistance to every herbicide over years? Can this herbicide resistance be passed on to weeds? Plants may develop resistance to things that weren’t intended, this could be a problem if they “escape” into the environment. There have been some solutions to the problems associated with the use of GM crops. These include the following Government permission is required before GM crops can be planted, this means that some degree of control is being implemented
Food has to be checked thoroughly before it can be sold and consumed – therefore control is being implemented again. There are strict labelling requirements and guidelines which state that all GM foods have to be labelled clearly so that consumers know what they are buying. After assessing the arguments for and against the use of GM foods, my personal opinion would be that GM foods provide great benefits and with more developments in the future they will have greater potential.
I don’t see them as a bad thing as long as the associated problems are recognised and addressed. I feel that if GM foods are to be used, tight controls are needed and constant research should be carried out into long term effects and consumers should always be kept informed. But in the meantime, the labelling requirements means that people can make their own informed choice about whether to use GM products or not.
Boyle, M. and Senior, K. (2002) Biology Second Edition, HarperCollins Publishers, London