Throughout the years farmers have exposed their crops and plants to different elements trying to maximise their quality and value. Farmers have exposed their crops to fertilisers to enhance growth; they've controlled pests and weeds by using pesticides and herbicides.
Genetically modified foods first began in the 1900s. Genetically modified foods are of which their DNA has been modified or reasons to benefit the consumer. Genetic engineering does not only relate to plants but animals too. Re-designing their DNA to become resistant to certain pests or other harmful factors.
Modifying their DNA is actually the insertion of genes or removing of genes in their DNA strands, which determines the organism's characteristics.DNA from another species can be added to the plant's DNA strands to modify them for the better. Methods of inserting genes consist of inserting the gene into a virus and exposing the living organism to the virus. The gene can also be physically inserted into the plants' DNA strands by means of a very small syringe.
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Recombinant DNA technology is a number of procedures followed to join or recombine segments from 2 or more different DNA molecules. Once the molecule has been recombined it can enter the cell and replicate by itself or once it has been put into a chromosome.
In 2009, America was recorded to be the country with the most distribution of GM crops, with 64 million hectares used to grow these crops, such as: Soybean, Maize, Cotton, Canola, Squash, Payaya, Alfalfa, and Sugarbeet. It was also 2009 that Brazil and Argentina, both producing GM crops such as: Soybean, Maize and cotton used around 21.4 million hectares of their land.
In 2010 it was recorded that 148.6 million hectares were used to produce genetically modified crops world wide. This was the year that farmers in Pakistan and Mynamar first planted insect resistant Bt cotton. Sweden and Germany also planted a newly modified high- quality starch potato and was approved to be sold as a food source.
South Africa ranks 9th in the world, with 2.1 million hectares used to produce GM crops such as Soy bean, Maize and Cotton
The most popular modified crop is that say bean and the most popular reason for modification is tolerance to herbicides.
Various types and their uses:
Soy beans are just one of the many crops that have been genetically modified. The genetically modified soybeans, known as Roundup Ready soybeans, have been designed to be resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate or glufosinate. This gene causing resistance was taking from bacteria and inserted into the soy bean. The bacteria used were obviously resistant to these herbicides resulting in the soy beans being resistant. Although these soy beans are genetically modified, farmers claim that the crop yields have not increased. 77% of the world farm these modified soy beans. Soy beans have many uses and are often used as a healthy alternative to some meats and milk.
Another example of GM crops is Golden Rice. It contains a high vitamin A source. This vitamin A is converted from the element in the rice, which was modified, known as beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is what makes carrots orange, hence the GM rice being golden. 3 new genes were implanted into this rice in order for it to produce beta-carotene: 2 from daffodils and the 3rd from a bacterium.
The first GM food to be introduced for consumption to the public was the long lasting Tomato (1994). Strawberries, pineapples and bananas have also been modified to stay fresh for longer. Theses crops have been modified so that they don't produce as much of the substance which causes them to rot, thus making them stay fresher for longer.
The crops are productive and the time they mature in is faster.
Because the crops are in favourable conditions, the farmer can plant and maintain more crops and it is more cost effective.
Modification allows for better nutrition and flavour
Crops may be produced without the factor of allergies
Crops become resistant to pests and weeds
They will thrive in harsh conditions and regions, such as poor soil and climates they are not able to survive in.
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Because they are resistant to pest, less herbicides and pesticides are used which makes them more environmentally friendly.
Shelf life and ripeness of the food is pro longed which enables the food to be stored for longer or allows the producers to ship the food far away without it going rotten before it gets there.
These crops can be grown small scale which helps to fight the hunger of the growing world population.
New product and growing techniques are introduced.
Exploitation of natural resources.
Countries that are still developing become dependant on industrialized nations for the GM crops.
Domination of world food production by only a few companies.
Biodiversity of some insects will be reduced due to all the resistance in the plants.
The gene being modified or inserted can also land in a place that was not intended and thus causing harm.
The plant may be exposed to an unstable virus when the DNA is being modified, thus resulting in an unexpected and harmful outcome.
Although some crops will aim to eliminate allergies, some may bring up allergies for the consumer.
When the plant is pollinated, instead of the plant pollinating another of its species it may cross pollinate with another, causing a super-weed which becomes destructive and resistant to herbicides.
One of the greatest concerns is that of "playing God". It is unnatural to a human to create another living organism, which is why it is considered wrong in the views of some people.
Because nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. A mistake in this case can result in bad, inferior creations, causing more harm than good.
Genetic modification could also be used destructively in ways which living organisms could be created to wipe out another species or just be destructive to other species, disturbing the natural cycle.
Another factor to be considered is the violation of the natural organism's intrinsic values
The tampering with nature by mixing genes from different species is also to be considered.
People may object to consuming animal genes in a plant or plant genes in an animal.
Health issues must also be considered. In 1989 a GM food was introduced and as a result 37 deaths and approximately 1500 people in America were disabled. Allergies from one food product can be transferred with the gene to the modified gene resulting with implication affecting the consumer's health. Viruses can also be introduced into the food and then the consumer due to modification. Some foods were modified with a substance that was resistance to antibiotics and the people who consumed it thus became resistant to antibiotics which made it very difficult for doctors to fight infectious diseases. Interior toxins are also to be considered. When the plants are modified to be pest resistant, it contains an internal toxin to fight the pest which is being consumed by humans which could have an effect on health.
There are environmental factors to be considered too. When GM trees are grown, the crops are sprayed from the air with a substance which kills everything but the GM trees, killing all the other tree life. GM pollen carried by wind too affects all living organisms around it and will evolve in order to adapt.
Political and Social factors concern the rights of the consumer to know what they are eating. Some GM foods are not labelled as GM foods thus leaving the consumer unknown to what they are eating.
Implications of introducing GM foods into Africa
With Africa not being one of the richest continents of the world, there are implications within bringing GM crops into Africa. By brining these crops into Africa, it will cost a lot of money that is not available. Although it is very expensive, GM foods will have a positive effect on the hunger status in Africa, as well as other factors such as employment.
Will GM crops stop World Hunger?
We have being consuming GM crops for over 10 years now, and although it has helped tremendously, it has not yet solved the problem of world hunger. GM foods have been developed and crated in 1st world countries, which is not mainly where the problem lies. It is the 3rd world countries that are struggling daily with hunger. GM foods and the technology involved costs money and this does not help those who are starving as they do not have the financials to sustain themselves. If the people suffering from starvation manage to get supplied with GM crops it will help them to survive as they will not need to spend extra money on pesticides and the crops are very productive and nutritious.
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There is also the factor of the groups such as 'Greenpeace' who are anti-GM crops and will try stopping the government of distributing such crops.
Another factor to consider is that food that is being exported is for the feeding of animals or it is to other 1st world countries, ignoring the real problem of starvation in the other countries.
After much research on genetic modification of plants I have my own opinion. As the world continues to grow with new technologies in many ways, everything needs to keep up with it. As the world of cyber technologies grow, so does biotechnology. The evolving of such things is not to bring harm but pure benefits to the people of the world. By creating GM foods, scientists are striving for "a better tomorrow". GM foods may be the answer to world hunger, we do not know, but by allowing for the technologies of GM to further, we are opening the doors to new creations and technologies that will benefit us. We cannot remain ignorant to technology as it will help further our knowledge in the world of tomorrow and help find cures and solutions to many problems faced today.
As a Christian, I do believe that genetic modification to an extent can be seen as playing God, such as cloning, but the other factors out weigh the negatives, such as solving world hunger through genetically modified foods or finding cures to diseases or stem cell research. Without following the course biotechnology chooses to take us we will not find things such as cures and answers to the problems. I believe that scientists should not take nature into their own hands, but merely uses the resources it has given us to keep up with the ever changing environment and to solve the problems we are faced with everyday.
Genetically Modified Food