Genetically Modified crops have many different advantages to the environment and in agriculture such as them generating a better outcome on crop production, producing a finer quality crop and using less harmful chemicals in order to produce them. However, there is a lot of research about whether they are entirely beneficial in the production of them as they have many negative aspects such as on the environment and on nature. Examples of these disadvantages are the hazardous compounds they contain which have negative impact on the environment and the reduction of biodiversity in agriculture. These advantages and disadvantages together produce the outcome of whether consumers and farmers choose to produce the crops and whether they are beneficial in keeping them for future generations.
This report will look at and outline the different views on genetic modification of crops from farmers and the consumer. The effects on the environment will also be discussed such as the damage to plants and insects as well as the effects on soils.
The purpose of this report is to have an overall insight of how and why Genetically Modified (GM) crops are used and whether it is beneficial to produce them.
GM crops are foods that have gone through characteristic changes artificially to make an improvement in their quality such as their size, colour, and their taste and to improve a higher yield of crop. (FOE, 2003) There are many different advantages and disadvantages to this and these will be looked at in the report.
3.0 An outline of Genetically Modified Crops and their Current and Future State
3.1 What are GM crops?
Genetic modification is the genetic change in characteristics through modern biotechnology. Biotechnology is the use of living things to create products. (Biotechnology Online, 2010)
For many years, farmers across the world have genetically modified crop plants to improve their characteristics such as, their taste, size, colour and their resistance to diseases. This ensures farmers produce the best yields of crops. (FOE, 2003)
GM crops are produced by selecting specific genes from different species of crops to make the ultimate produce.
For example, rice can be genetically modified to contain higher amounts of vitamin A called ‘golden rice’.
“In agriculture, genetic engineering allows simple genetic traits to be transferred to crop plants from wild relatives, other distantly related plants, or virtually any other organism.” (DEFRA, 2006)
3.2 Advantages of GM crops
“It is claimed that GM crops could solve many problems faced by farmers and bring environmental and agricultural benefits.” (The Food and Drink Federation, 2000a)
Having a better yield of crops helps farmers become more competitive producers and therefore gain a better position economically. This happens because if farmers produce a better quality product, consumer intake will increase boosting farmers’ income.
GM technology mainly aims to use less harmful chemicals that affect the environment. This is only applied on some crops. Many farmers respond to this as the environments’ state is in urgent need, therefore helping this situation.
Genetically modifying crops, which makes many of them resistant to diseases, means less crop losses, creating a higher food supply. This helps the consumers get enough produce and therefore brings money into the economy.
For example, “worldwide, 7% of the annual maize harvest is destroyed by the European corn borer, up to 20% in some areas.” (The Food and Drink Federation, 2000b)
Energy savings can also be made when producing GM crops. This is because GM crops use fewer chemicals so there is less transport needed of the chemicals and also less energy is used to produce them, decreasing energy use.
As GM crops are more resistant to disease, less fertiliser is needed to be sprayed by machinery, therefore saving energy and reducing carbon footprints.
GM crops, such as “Golden rice” help meet the needs of the increasing population. Providing a sustainable food supply is challenging but farmers who produce GM crops can tackle this situation. Some GM crops have a cold tolerance and therefore are less likely to be destroyed meaning a greater food supply.
Also, malnutrition in third world countries is a common problem. However, rice can be modified to contain more vitamin A, decreasing the chances of blindness. This is a great advantage as it can give people in poverty better nutrients.
3.3 Disadvantages of GM crops
GM crops contain compounds in them that can be hazardous to the consumer, therefore, questioning the safety of these crops as they could be toxic. Halford, 2003 believes “No scientist will ever describe anything as completely safe”.
Also, GM crops could lead to an increase in allergenicity as some GM crop products contain amino acids and properties which are classed as allergens, contributing to the unsafe aspects to the consumer. (Action Bio Science, 2010)
GM crops contribute to the reduction of biodiversity in agriculture. This is because plant breeders have less diversity available to breed and create different breeds of crops. This is an economical problem also as the farmers will have less to produce and sell.
“Critics of the technology claim that GM crops could pose many threats to the environment” (The Food and Drink Federation, 2000c)
GM crops use less herbicides, but other herbicides will be used in replacement which could be so toxicant that it will kill many plants, birds and living organisms. This shows that GM crops can lead to harming the environment as harmful chemicals are used to produce them.
GM crop production can also affect soil. This is because the use of broad spectrum herbicides affects the breakdown of residue of crops into the soil. This can lead to unwanted build up of crop breakdown material increasing labour time which is a disadvantage for the farmer. However, in contradiction, it can improve organic matter of the soil.
Another disadvantage is that the genes that are put together to produce the GM crops could transfer to pests that attract to the plant meaning pests could become resistant to the pesticides as well as the crops are. This means the pesticides become inefficient and crops will get destroyed.
3.4 The Future for GM crops
“The public reaction in the UK, coupled with the results from the farm scale crop trials, means that it is unlikely that GM crops will be grown in the UK in the next few years.” (NERC, 2010)
It is estimated to take from 20-40 years for there to be entire acceptance of GM crops by consumers. (The Food and Drink Federation, 2000d)
This could reduce GM crop production as there is not a great market in the GM crop industry. Until GM crops are accepted fully, the market will not grow.
Consumer’s fear of the negatives that follow in the production of the crops as described in paragraph 4.
Scientists are going to try and improve any complications that occur, but this change could happen in many years to come.
According to James (2004) the number of small farmers from developing countries that produce GM crops is estimated to increase drastically to meet food and crop demands of their flourishing affluent populations.
World Consumer Views
Over the last ten years consumers in the United States have raised alarm over GM crops.
Many consumers believe that their food should not contain additives or chemicals as it not natural and not meant for the human diet. However, some consumers choose the cheapest option and most cheap produce contains pesticides and additives due to the extension of shelf life.
Worldwide consumer response toward food products made from genetically modified (GM) ingredients has been largely negative. (Curtis et al, 2004)
The production of GM crops has had a negative effect on many consumers in the European Union. This is due to the alleged health concerns that follow the consumption of GM crops.
The author believes this shows that GM crops are not widely accepted and that consumer’s views is predominately negative.
3.6 Farmers Views
Farmers are upbeat about genetically modified crops, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). (Science Daily, 2008)
Some farmer’s interests lie in whether the GM crops can help their produce become more profitable to them and attract a wider market. Therefore, they believe that because GM crops are produce of certain perfection and offer a better quality, the consumption will increase, rising their income. This making the use and consumption of GM crops an admirable option.
Although crop production has increased crop production significantly to provide the requirements for the rising population, it is clear that the biotechnology, GM crops, have proved too many challenges such as their environmental negative effects and the reduction of biodiversity to have the full acceptance of consumers. Consumer knowledge is limited in the details of production of GM crops and this could contribute to the lack of development of the biotechnology in the future.
However, there are many advantages to the production of GM crops and the development as it can provide a stable food supply for developing countries as well as offering a sustainable way of food production. GM crops are cost effective to farmers as better quality crops can be produced and guaranteed.
For GM crops to have a future in development and for the scientific procedures to improve, consumers need to accept them.
Overall, the general attitude towards genetically modified crops is negative.
The farmer’s opposing view plays a strong part as they are the producers of the crops, but without consumers there is no business to play on.
Gm crops need to be improved significantly to meet consumer requirements and to also provide a safer consumption and production to consumers and to the environment.
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