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Should we continue to produce genetically modified food?
Genetically modified (GM) food is food item with altered deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) by genetic engineering to produce products with more desirable characteristics (Pandey et al., 2010).It has great impact on global food supply because it is becoming one of the major technologies in food production. However, there are different opinions on whether we should continue to produce GM food and consensus cannot be reached in academia up till now. The supporters argue that GM technology enhances nutritional value of food and promotes the productivity of farming activities (Bouis, Chassy & Ochanda, 2009; Leyser, 2014; Ricroch, 2012; Qaim, 2009). However, there are opinions criticize that it will cause great risk to the environment and human health (Le et al, 2004). Moreover, GM technology may greatly reduce the control of traditional family farmer over their farming business (Uzogara, 2000). By examining different evidence of the argument, this essay holds the view that the benefits outweigh the possible risks and shortcomings of GM technology.
In the aspect of environment, there are criticisms about the possible adverse effects of GM food on ecosystem and biodiversity. Le et al. (2004) point out that super weed will be created and the usage of herbicide is facilitated by GM food production. The crops may become much stronger than their competitors and lower the number of types of other species in the environment. Also, the development of herbicide-resistance crops encourages farmers to rely more on the toxic chemicals in farming. The argument mentions the environmental risk of GM food. However, a possible criticism of the argument is that these problems are not directly related to GM food but with the usage of herbicide and weed killer. Problems may still exist even we stop producing GM food if the farmers improperly use the chemicals in agriculture. Hence, this argument is not highly relevant to the GM food issue and not regarded as the major concern when considering whether to produce food continuously using GM technology.
In contrast, Leyser (2014, p.e1001887) advocates GM food production and argues “It is necessary to move on from the well-worn logical fallacy that anything natural is good, and anything unnatural is bad.” Many environmental concerns are not wholly due to GM food. For example, it is weed control that reduces biodiversity in nature but not GM food. In fact, GM food production helps improve the environment such as reducing the frequencies of ploughing and hence the chances of soil erosion. This argument seems more valid because reducing the needs of ploughing helps preserving more nutrients and minerals in the land and hence improving the quality of soil. Moreover, it is difficult to avoid manipulation while performing agricultural activities. The most important is to establish a stable and reliable way to grow crops and keep poultry. The technology is always being modified to raise its safety level. Therefore, this argument gives strong support in producing genetically modified food.
Nutritional value is also one of the major concerns about GM food. Ricroch (2012) has reviewed many studies which show harmful effects for GM crops on health and reproductive function do not exist in rats tested. The purposes of these studies are actually to prove that there is no negative impact in nutrition of food. Indeed, some GM food is even genetically engineered to increase its nutrition content. Bouis et al. (2003) note that there are different types of GM food with higher vitamin and mineral content developed to alleviate malnutrition problem, especially in developing countries. The above research findings claim that GM food can probably help solving food supply problem over the world. The studies are done with different types of crops and length of experimental time. Also, most of the subjects used in the research are rats which have similar metabolic mechanism with human. Therefore, the aforementioned arguments provide strong evidence to show that GM food is generally safe for consumers.
However, there are also opinions which indicate the worry of the danger for people taking GM food with altered nutritional value. Le et al. (2004) argue that it will be harmful to consume excessive vitamin and minerals which is easy to happen when eating GM food as we may not know the exact amount of the nutrients. Yet, this argument is only based on the assumption that there is no clear nutrition labelling of GM food and does not apply to all situation. In fact, many places have implemented GM food labelling policies including European Union and some of the developing countries such as South Africa and China (Gruère & Rao, 2007). This shows that the possible risk is rather less influential in current society.
Farmers are one of the major stakeholders of GM food issue. Some critics argue that GM food technology brings adverse effect to farmers, especially those performing farming activities in developing areas such as African and Asian countries. Uzogara (2000) points out that the patenting of GM food forces farmers to purchase seeds constantly from the multinational corporations. The farmers then loose the control of their farming business. The argument indicates the problem of additional cost paying for the royalty of using GM technology to produce food. The earnings of traditional family farmers may then decrease and leads to the decline of the conventional farming industry. Yet, this argument may be limited as it only focuses on the royalty expenses in farming but fail to take the overall agricultural productivity into account. There are many other factors affecting the development of farming business including the usage of chemicals such as herbicides and fertilizers, crop yield per unit area of farm land and labor cost. Hence, this argument is not comprehensive enough in analyzing the influence of GM food to traditional farmers.
Instead, some advocators propose that GM technology helps promoting the development of farming business. Qaim (2009) argues that although there is additional expenditure on seeds, many farmers still keep using the technology to produce crops. This is because GM technology helps reducing the usage of herbicide and labor force. Moreover, it helps enhancing the efficiency in managing the farmland. As a result, many of them have been benefited instead of incurring loss on growing GM crops. This argument seems to be stronger than the previous one because it takes an overview and examines the overall influence of the GM food production technologies towards the traditional agricultural industry and eventually comes up a conclusion that GM technology in food production generally brings benefits to the farmers.
As the arguments mentioned above, the analysis shows that the benefits of GM food outweigh its shortcomings. Although there are criticisms showing the possible negative effects of GM food on the biodiversity, human health and traditional farming industry, there is evidence indicate that those effects are not directly related. On the contrary, it is proved to be effective in improving the environment and enhancing the nutrition value of food, as well as the productivity of farming activities. Yet, the possible risk of GM food production has to be minimized while enjoying the benefits. The government should strengthen the regulation on the usage of herbicide and GM food nutrition labelling so as to reduce the possible adverse effects on ecosystem and health. The research community should also continue conducting more studies on the long-term effects of GM food production in order to ensure its safety to human health and the environment. In this way, global food supply can be maintained stably and sustainably by utilizing GM technology.
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