Developing Countries and GM Agriculture
The literature dissertation was focused around developing countries and genetically modified agriculture. The purpose of the literature dissertation was to: expose the similarities and differences between related studies and explain the causes of these, to detect the gaps in current knowledge and research and to help to clarify these under-explored areas.
The literature was gathered using sub headings to break it up into specific topics which needed to be focused on. The articles were selected from reputable sources both offline and online and then scrutinised for scientific validity rather than opinion.
A systematic search of literature was completed and within all topics there were fairly consistent findings, which both argued for and against the use of GM agriculture in developing countries. It was found, however, that there were regular gaps in the research, where further work was required. This mostly occurred in the area of the long term effects of genetic modification, since there have not yet been enough long term studies to deduce the effects of GM in future generations and organisms.
Thus, the final assessment of the overall evidence is that GM crops would be largely beneficial for developing countries, in terms of productivity, economic considerations and as a method of improving the quality of life. It was noted, however, that the support of other countries was of great importance and that research into the effects of GM has to continue to be extensively examined.
The objectives of this literature review are to: expose the similarities and differences between related studies and explain the causes of these, to detect the gaps in current knowledge and research and to help to clarify these under-explored areas. The field of distinctive interest is that of developing countries and genetically modified (GM) agriculture. It will be interesting to analyse the different key topics which surround this issue, as well as weighing the advantages and disadvantages in detail. A further potential reason for reviewing this literature is to pool this information into one place, to be able to draw distinctive conclusions. This is an important process, to determine where further research is required.
A developing country, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary (2013), is “a poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially”. Genetically modified crops are those which have had their DNA genetically engineered in an attempt to help these counties and allow them to achieve all that they wish to.
This topic has received a relatively large amount of attention, since it has been a subject of much debate over time. This attention has not solely been under a positive light, however, there has been much debate in terms of ethical considerations, as well as general scientific arguments. An example of this is The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) reports (1999 and 2004) on the social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetically modified crops (Weale, 2010).
The intended structure is to split the subject matter into various topics and explore the resources that provide this information for each section. The selection criteria for the scope of the literature used and reviewed, will be to choose references which are as recent, peer-reviewed and primarily-sourced a possible.
Initially, a broad range of materials was collated to enable subtitles to be formed that summarised the main topics concerned with GM agriculture that needed to be addressed by the main body of the dissertation. The main topics of interest that were chosen were: insect and pest resistance; disease resistance; herbicide tolerance; heat stress tolerance; cold stress tolerance; drought stress tolerance; waterlogged stress tolerance; salt tolerance; improved nutrient content and production of biopharmaceuticals.
The primary subtitles chosen in the mini project draft were: insect / pest resistance; disease resistance; crops that can withstand environmental stress; herbicide tolerance; improved nutritional value and biopharmaceuticals. However, these were soon altered slightly to allow the dissertation to flow better, using both sub headings and sub-sub headings (in the case of tress tolerance and resistance).
Literature was then searched in a more targeted way, breaking up the information found into the different topics. The information was found using books both personally owned and from the University of South Wales library and online. The main databases searched online included: FINDit, Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, PlantPhysiology.
The search strategy used involved the usage of complex Boolean Operators to help find specific and relevant keywords and phrases. If only part of a journal was able to be accessed, the Library catalogue and eJournal services were used to see if the university had a subscription to that particular journal. If it was still not available, an Inter-library Loan was allowed to be requested.
Once the articles were found, each was scrutinised to ensure it was from a valid scientifically-based source, rather than just an opinion. If this was the case, the literature was excluded from the main body of research, since it did not aid to accurately support the data.
At first, this information was pooled in the format of a draft of the mini project. It included the subheadings with bullet pointed notes which summarised the main research into the area. Each bullet pointed note either had a + bullet point or – to signify whether it supported or opposed the prospect of developing countries using GM agriculture. This was to allow more efficient reviewing of the information at a later stage.
The information was then written up, collected together and analysed.
Table 1: GM and Stress ToleranceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Today 99% of GM crops are modified for resistance against herbicides and pests. The importance of these crops should not be exaggerated, however, since they have not revolutionised input traits. These first generation GM crops have restricted technology in the number of crops used and their application. Furthermore because of the association with companies that are perceived as unethical (e.g. Monsanto), ethical considerations about the manipulations of organisms and the lack of benefits to consumers, these crops can be shunned, meaning that they are not grown in the EU (With, perhaps the exception of some Bt maize in Spain).
Insect and Pest Resistance
The work of Grimaldi (2008) suggests that genetic modification is used advantageously to increase resistance to damaging organisms, such as insects and other pests. An example of this is that 50% of the cotton grown in China in 2002 was genetically modified to produce substances toxic to cotton bollworm (a cotton crop pest). This meant that fewer pesticides had to be used. This is an important development because they can be damaging, even to humans. Since the farm owners of developing countries have less money, they are more likely to rely on subsistence farming and labour-intensive methods, rather than mechanisation. Thus, this reduction in toxic pesticides would be better for the health of the workers (Grimaldi, 2008). This opinion was opposed by Guecheva et al. (2001), who said an example of these pesticides is copper sulphate, which was highly toxic (472mg/kg LD50), non-selective and harmful to humans if ingested. Furthermore, even pesticides with low toxicity can be harmful because of accumulation in the food chain. One example of this is DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which is able to stick to leaves and is difficult to wash off, meaning it is able to remain in the environment, causing a reduced strength in the eggs of raptors. However, it could be said that genetic modification is not needed as a replacement for pesticides, because the biocides themselves are being improved and developed. An example of this is the fungicide vinclocin, whose toxicity is >1,000mg/kg, meaning that a very high dosage would be required to cause any damage.
A further expressed potential advantage of a decrease biocide usage is that of increased yields and profits for the farmers. This is because if there are fewer pests, there would be a greater yield because less is being wasted on sustaining these organisms. This would have increased the farmers’ profits because if they had a greater yield, they would be more likely to have surplus crop to sell to others. Regardless, it could be said that this is a general advantage of using less biocides and so is not specific to the use of genetic modification.
It has been agreed by Hemingway and Ranson (2000) and Hemingway et al. (2004) that the use of GM crops actually increases the problem with pests. An example of this is that mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).
A further concern that the Union of Concerned Scientists (2000) have, is that it is unclear what the effects of GM crops are later in the food chain This is because it is inevitable that some of the crops with the pesticide resistance would be eaten by pests and some would eventually survive, after building up a tolerance to it. An example of this is the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Rice strain, which has the Cry1Ac (crystalline protein) gene for resistance against the Stem Borer Insect. The insects eat the cry, which becomes active from within the insect. It signals the insect to stop eating, resulting in starvation and causes the gut lining to be attacked, resulting in septic code, as the contents of the gut enters the body. This effectiveness means that only a small amount of the protein is needed to kill the insects, resulting in decreased damage to the plant being consumed. A further advantage of Bt rice is that it is non-toxic to other animals (including humans) because it is not transformed into the active forms in other organisms. Large companies such as Monsanto, Dupont, Novartis, Zeneca and Syngenta put the Cry1Ac gene into other crops (e.g. cotton, soy, oil seed rape) and all of their plant tissues using cauliflower promoter CaMV 35S. This meant different cry proteins were made with different cry specificities to target certain pests. An example of this is for the cotton boll weevil, which is a major pest in North Africa, India, Central Asia and USA. Monsanto first used this process to combat these organisms in India in the late 1990s but the prices were too expensive for local farmers, the Bt cotton was pirated and crossed with local plants.
An issue with the use of Bt is that the rice tissue became toxic and the Bt toxin leaked into the soil increasing the acid phosphate and decreasing soil urease. However, it could be said that these outcomes can only be explored with further testing of GM crops, and not of stopping their development. Furthermore, experimentation could be done in laboratory-based conditions to further see the long term effects on different organisms. Regardless of the careful conditions, accidents to do with leakage into the environment can still occur. An example of this is the 2006 CropScience leakage of a US Rice Strain into the global food chain which was unapproved for human consumption. This resulted in a reduction in US rice imports, increasing the price of rice globally. Thus, even testing and handling crops has to be done with caution and has the potential to cause many issues.
To conclude, there are concerns about the ability of genes to escape into the environment. Further research also must be done on the effects of introducing GM crop into the food chain. Yet it is important to continue developing the usage of GM crops in an attempt to reduce biocide usage, especially in developing countries where there is increased manual handling of the crops and chemicals used on them.
Crops have numerous diseases which greatly reduce their yield, for example the stem rust fungus Puccinia graminis. The disease makes infected crops (such as wheat) produce fewer tillers and seeds, causing the low wheat yield of 0.75 t/ha in Mexico in the 1940s and 50s, and is able to kill them. Genetic modification potentially has a role to place in disease resistance because they could make crops hardier and more likely to survive. An example of this is the research done by Ngailo et al., (2013) who explored the potential of GM sweet potatoes to be resistant to Sweet Potato Virus Disease. But to make this possible, genetic modification has to be done in combination with biotechnology and mutation breeding. This is an issue because it makes the sweet potato breeding challenging (so it cannot be done by normal farmers) and expensive, making it difficult to achieve in developing countries.
Further example of the results of GM and disease resistance is in the Black Sigatoka fungus (Mycosphaerella fijiensis). The disease forms legions on the leaves of Musa spp. in nearly the entire world’s banana-growing regions, which then grow and merge. Ortiz and Vuylsteke (1994) showed how this causes great reductions in yield, for example, by 70% annually. Quénéhervé et al., (2009) support this belief when saying how bananas can be genetically modified to resist the fungus, using the genes for resistance from onions and dahlias, with the aim of developing plantain cultivators for the Third World. This would be a vital improvement to developing countries because bananas and plantains are important staple foods for approximately 400 million people in them, e.g., the consumption of bananas in the East African highlands are roughly 1kg per person per day.
Reducing fungicide use through the use of genetically modifying the crops would also be an improvement for the environment and the farm workers. Furthermore, such biocides can be expensive, which small farmers in developing countries may be unable to afford, resulting in large crop losses due to the diseases. But it could be said this could be achieved using other methods, rather than genetic engineering. The traditional way of preventing such diseases is through rotation of susceptible and resistant crops. It could be said that GM crops are not needed because rotation helps stop oil and stubble borne crop diseases. However, the success of this process is dependent on the pathogen’s host range and its ability to survive without a host, so those disease which affect many crops will not be prevented using this method. An example of this is sclerotinia, stem rot of canola (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum), which is able to use 400 different plant species throughout the world as hosts. Thus, it seems that although there are alternatives to genetic modification in developing countries, traditional methods may work as effectively and crops may benefit from a combination of methods.
In conclusion, resistance to disease in crop is an important issue which could help improve the lives of many people and could be achieved through a combination of GM and traditional methods. However, to make GM crops a viable option in developing countries, ways must be found to make it more economically viable for these people.
Weeds are defined as plants which are not desirable. This can be due to a number of factors, such as the plant's species, an example of this being Poison Ivy (Toxiicodendron radicans) because of its production of urushiol, forming rashes. Usually desirable productive plants can also be thought of as weeds if they are grown at the wrong time or in the wrong place. An example of this is oil seed rape, whose seeds can survive in soil for five years meaning that they can interfere with new crops or interrupt when the land is supposed to be resting. The growth of weeds causes crops to compete with others for sunlight and nutrients, potentially reducing their yields.
Herbicide tolerance is a simple trait and so is relatively easily to GM crops to have this trait. An example is to make crops tolerant against the non-persistent glyphosphate. An advantage of using GM to make crops more tolerant to herbicides is that fewer chemicals would be required. This is because if a crop was engineered to be resistant to one particular herbicide, fewer herbicides would be needed. An example of this is Monsanto's soybean strains which are resistant to the herbicide Roundup. The soybeans require only one herbicide application, decreasing any potential environmental damage and knock on effects. However it has been argued that the use of GM crops actually increases the problem with herbicides. Benbrook (2012) stated that “the spread of glyphosphate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied”. This means that to enable the crops to produce herbicides they themselves must be engineered to be resistant to it. A supporting example was put forwards by Lapegna (2012) of this effectiveness is that 90% of soybeans grown in Argentina 2002 were GM. Regardless, the opposing argument said by O’Shea, (2011) is that it could be said that if this gene manages to pass to other plants, it could cause reduced effectiveness of pesticides, so more biocides have to be applied. The unexpected consequences of gene transfer between plants, the irreversible or uncontrollable ‘escape’ of genes into neighbouring wild plants by pollen, could potentially cause pests or weeds that could acquire resistance to crops ‘superweeds’.
Another way this could cause reduced effectiveness is that the usage creates a competitive environment for surrounding organisms, promoting the natural selection of resistance. This is because herbicide tolerance in GM crops does not necessary mean fewer pesticides are used, but a different set of pesticides used than on traditional crops. The pesticides can have a broader spectrum, for example glyphosate. Since they have reduced selectivity, these chemicals are cheaper to purchase and develop, yet they cause greater damage to the surrounding organisms.
The weeds themselves could also be modified to reduce their tolerance to weed killers. This would mean that fewer herbicides would be required. However, it could greatly reduce the biodiversity of the organisms in the area. For example, if animals ate the modified plants, the lack of tolerance may accumulate in the food chain, causing harmful knock on effects to those higher in the chain. Also, if the genes were transferred to other plants, it could result in the crops being susceptible to the herbicide too, reducing crop yields.
To conclude, it is difficult to predict the many knock on effects that using genetic modification related to herbicides would cause. However success has been shown, regardless of the improvements that may still need to be made. While GM for herbicide tolerance is suitable for developing countries which currently use large amounts of herbicides, those farms that have little inputs would have no use of this technology. Thus, it may be difficult to get a demand for this in some areas.
Stress Tolerant Crops
One of the arguments against genetic modification for stress tolerant crops is that it could cause crops that do not belong in area to be able to exist there, which might lead to a reduction in biodiversity. This is especially likely in areas where a wide range of natural genetic variation is found. However it could be argued that there will always be imbalance because there is always a struggle between human welfare, animal welfare and the environment. An example of this is that if crops were not tolerant to the environment, the human population would be unable to sustain itself. This is currently an issue of major debate due to climate change which is causing global warming. This process is altering the environments the crops live in at a rate faster than they can adapt to it, through the world and not solely in developing countries. GM is a potential method to solve this, especially adapted for the specific types of stress which the crop needs to overcome [Table 1].
1.2.1 Heat Stress
Specific organisms are adapted to specific stressors, in the way that fire will kill the majority of organisms however it is necessary for the seed germination of Pterocarpus angolensis. Another thing to remember is that, as Banda et al. (2006) said, the same individual can display different responses to the same stressor, which can be due to the age or developmental stage of the particular individual. The majority of plants become thermally stressed at a temperature of approximately 45-50oc. But plants have varying tolerance to heat due to: the duration of exposure, how old the plant tissue is, the water content of the plant and environment and the adaptability of the plant, itself.
Plants which have an increased abundance of saturated fat in their membranes are more tolerant to heat because it adds to membrane rigidity, reducing membrane leakage. Murakami et al. (2000) genetically engineered transgenic tobacco plants with altered chloroplast omega-3-fatty acid desaturase. This made the fatty acids in the membranes have more dienoic and fewer trienoic bonds so they could stack closer together, increasing saturation and fluidity. However, the removal of the trienoic fatty acids had wider consequences, such as altering membrane physiology and the functions of membrane proteins. Genetic modification can also cause plant to withstand heat by increasing the number of structural proteins to hold together their membranes. The molecular chaperones bind to photosystem II, reducing their sensitivity. Lee and Vierling (2000) discovered that chaperons can also repair proteins and ‘reactivate’ heat-damaged proteins. However altering this may affect the plants ability to withstand cold stress, so this genetic modification comes at a cost.
Therefore it is possible to genetically modify crops to be more tolerant to heat stress but it has knock-on effects, some of which may still be unknown, and may cause plants to be at a disadvantage in areas where they may have previously been successful.
Injury due to the cold normally occurs in plants at approximately 20-0oc and freezing injury below 0 oc. It can result in physiological disruptions in the plant’s germination, flower development, fruit development, yield, and storage life.
If plants stop the formation of intracellular ice crystals, they can cope with freezing. Hsieh et al. (2004) added an expression vector containing an Arabidopsis C-repeat/dehydration responsive element binding factor 1 cDNA into tomato plants (Lycopersicon esculentum), using a cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter. This induced oxidative-stress responsive genes, protecting the plants from chilling stress. Future genetic engineering could adapt plants to the cold using cryoprotectants, avoidance of nucleation sites and cessation of metabolic activity. But this research is expensive to conduct and developing countries may not have access to the necessary money.
Thus, research into cold stress look promising but progress still has to be made, but this development is expensive and may prove difficult to achieve for the counties who need the tolerance the most.
Han et al. (2005) showed when tobacco plants were genetically engineered to produce and contain trehalose, they were more resistant to drought. The trehalose phosphorylase gene was taken from Pleurotus sajor-caju. It made the crops more efficient at extracting water from the surrounding soils. But there were other methods of achieving this too, for example genes from plants that survive drought introduced into rice to produce sugar for aid during dehydration periods.
The adaptions of xerophytes reduce water loss to prevent drought stress. GM using cold shock proteins (Csp) has been done, using the bacterial CspA and CspB. When these are expressed in Arabidopsis, rice, and maize, it caused enhanced tolerance to drought, cold, and heat (Castiglioni et al., 2008). In particular, DroughtGard maize contains the gene for cspB from Bacillis subtilis. So the maize carries a gene to help the plant draw water more gradually from the soil. But this development took a great deal of time, for example 22 independent cspB transgenic events were completed at first. It also took a lot of development, for instance in the first field experiment there was a 50% reduction in growth rates relative to the well-watered control (DiLeo, 2012). On the other hand non-GM plant breeding was successful in producing a variety of drought resistant crops in a shorter time frame, that have been made available in many countries, including developing countries which are susceptible to drought. This is including four drought-tolerant maize varieties that are going to be grown in Uganda, three in Kenya and three in Tanzania.
GM for drought resistance is also difficult due to practical difficulties. Guillemaut and Marechal-Drouard (1992) showed how isolation of relatively pure DNA from cacti has proven to be notoriously difficult because cacti contain high amounts of polysaccharides and secondary metabolites that form insoluble complexes with nucleic acids during extraction). Thus the methods of reducing water loss by decreasing surface area through appendages like pines, has proven difficult to achieve.
In conclusion, research into drought stress has been successful but it does take time, when non-GM crop breeding produces results and much quicker. This means that in this area perhaps there are better options than GM for crops in developing countries, especially due to the practical issues surrounding GM.
Reducing the impacts of waterlogged stress is important in rice plants because of the likelihood of rice paddies flooding. Sarkar and Bhattacharjee (2011) said “the ethylene response factors genes Snorkel1 (SK1) and Snorkel2 (SK2) allow rice to adapt to deep water whereas Submergence1A-1 (Sub1A-1) allows rice to acclimatize under flash flooding”. These adaptions are both connected with gibberellin biosynthesis and signal transduction. The plants were also able to avoid the waterlogged stress by elongation to rise above the water or by being stunted and staying under the water until the flooding recedes. However, this is only for short term exposure to large amount of water, thus further research is necessary.
Thus research is progressing into waterlogged stress and has been successful in the short term so far but further research is required to make this a viable crop in the field-based environment of developing countries. This is because crop wastage wastes the time and money of farmers, who are already relatively poor.
Salinity is a relatively large problem in developing countries because of the general arid nature of some of the soils, compounded by the likelihood that any irrigation water is of a low quality. Salt tolerance is an important aspect of GM for extreme environmental conditions because transgenic salt-tolerant plants often are also tolerate to other. This means that GM for salt tolerance can have wider implications. An example of this is second generation transgenic rice plant (Oryza sativa L.) which contained the late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) protein gene HVA7 from barley (Horddeum vulgare). These plants were able to grow taller with conditions of high levels of salt. They also had high tolerance to water deficit.
However, an issue with GM for salt tolerance is difficult because suitable genetic model systems are relatively difficult to discover. Regardless, there is still research that can be completed, such as into the halophytic plant species, Thellungiella halophila, but it is not certain that the poorer developing countries would be able to fund such research.
Therefore GM crops has many advantages and wider implications and research is looking promising but initial research is difficult and a complicated process that requires much training and cannot be completed by normal farmers in developing countries.
Improved Nutritional Value
To prevent malnutrition, humans require particular nutrients to fuel the process of the body, in the form of macro and micronutrients.
The Oxford Dictionary of Biology (2008) defines a macronutrient as being “a type of food required in large amounts in the diet”, due to it being composed of the word macro (which signifies required in large quantities) and nutrient (a substance required to grow, metabolize and other vital functions). Macronutrients comprise of the carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Without these major dietary components, the body will cannibalise itself to support the brain and heart, the areas that are particularly maintained by these macronutrients. Of the three, it is most likely that people in developing countries would have a lack of protein, since meat is expensive and can be hard to find. However, the required protein can be acquired from plants, making people in developing countries able to produce them themselves. Although they are not an ideal source of protein because they contain more structural proteins and fewer of the essential amino acids, they can be survived upon. An example of this is that, as Murphy (2007) said, the Mesoamericans established the Milpa system.
Micronutrients are also required. They are defined as being “a chemical element or substance required in trace amounts for the normal growth and development of living organisms” (The Oxford Dictionary of Biology, 2008). Examples of these include: vitamins (organic compounds) such as A, D, C and E, and minerals (inorganic substances) such as salt, iron, potassium and calcium. Micronutrients are less likely to be in the diets of people from developing countries, since they may not be educated about them and there are no obvious or immediate physical signs of deficiency, e.g. the feeling of hunger.
Verna et al. (2011) put forwards the opinion that crops can be GM to contain nutrients lacking from the diets of the people who consume them. This is especially important in developing countries, where particular nutrients may be lacking from their diets or they may be too expensive for everyone in the family to consume. This is likely to be caused by diets that rely on singular crops e.g. rice, which does not have enough nutrients to prevent malnutrition. This rice can be modified to contain the absent nutrients such as the example of Golden Rice. This GM crop has three genes added, allowing it to make ß-carotene to prevent vitamin A deficiency. This deficiency is a severe problem, as Busie et al. (2006) shows, because it causes childhood blindness e.g. 14 million children under 5 suffer from this. It can also result in: night blindness, neurological problems and permanent blindness. Potrykus developed the rice in 1991 using genes from daffodils and bacteria. The bioavailability of the ß-carotene also had to be researched by the International Rice Research Institute, because it could have passed through the human digestive system, rather than being used or have been destroyed in the cooking process. The technology had to be improved in 2005 so less rice was required to reach the recommended daily allowance. This process demonstrates the continuous need for improvement and development that GM crops require, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
However, this is altering crops specifically to have an effect on humans. This means that there may be unknown effects on people. An example of this is that Hartmann et al. (1999) examined the effects of GM potatoes on the digestive tract in rats. This study claimed that there were appreciable differences in the intestines of rats fed GM potatoes and rats fed unmodified potatoes. Yet it could be said that humans will be able to adapt to any changes or that studies on mice cannot fully be applied to humans.
To conclude, it is clear how important a development in the improved nutrient content of crops would be for the survival rates of people in developing countries. However, the effects on humans must first be studied, for ethical reasons.
Using genetic engineering, crops can now be created that are able to produce many proteins, including therapeutic entities such as vaccines, medicines and mammalian antibodies. 95 biopharmaceutical products from GM crops have been approves for the treatment of human disease such as diabetes mellitus, growth disorders and blood dyscrasias. An example of GM affecting crops in this way is that potatoes were modified to allow them to produce edible vaccines against E. coli (Danielle et al., 2010). This would, hopefully, provide cheap and easy vaccinations for people in developing countries (Verma et al., 2011). But the benefits of these biopharmaceuticals is under debate, since the people who grow them may not be able to afford them. Furthermore, their production must be closely monitored because if people in developing countries are not fully and properly educated about their crops, they may think they are able to take them without medical processes and control.
Taking pharmaceuticals without control or dosage is an issue because they may be hard on the body and so can cause harmful side effects and even death. An example of this is that chemotherapy, such as Abraxane, can sometimes damage the body more than the cancer it is trying to cure (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2011).
This is, however, a useful way of producing biopharmaceutics because they are plant-derived. This means that they have no human diseases or mammalian viral vectors, making them safer to use than other methodologies. A further advantage of biopharmaceuticals is that they can be accurately monitored and is provided with dosage instructions. They are also researched, tested and patented before use. However due to this additional testing it means that pharmaceuticals are more expensive than other treatment, such as herbal medicine. This means that they are less readily available for use by poorer countries.
This means that biopharamceutics can be successfully produced by GM crops and although this may generate income to farmers in developing countries, it is unclear as of yet, if they will also benefit medically from this. There are also some ethical issues which should be considered.
Figure 1 US Revenues from Major GM CropsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The most significant contributions of the literature have been that genetically modifying crops is a process that is definitely feasible and has already been achieved. For example Grimaldi’s (2008) research into 50% of the cotton grown in China in 2002 that was GM for pest resistance or Danielle at al’s (2010) research into potatoes modified to be able to produce edible vaccines against E. coli. The amount of potential income that developing countered would be able to benefit from was also shown by the income generated from American GM crops, even though it extrapolation from studies done on other countries should be done with caution [Figure 2].
There are, however, many opposing and cautionary viewpoints. Most of these conflicting arguments, however, have been based around ethical opinions, rather than fact, providing issues regarding the validity of sources used. Regardless, there were still sound scientifically research issues with GM crops, such as Hemingway and Ranson’s (2000) inquiry into the pesticide DDT.
Another issue to consider is that there are gaps in current research because more work into this area is required to properly portray all the side effects GM crops may have. A greater depth of concerns needs to be addressed, such as: the abilities of genes to escape into the environment, the effects of introducing GM crop into the food chain and the effects on humans consuming the crops.
A problem associated with the required research is that developing countries are those which have less money to invest in the development and training required to explore GM crop usage. Not only this, but the crops themselves must be a viable option for the individuals wishing to purchase and grow them. Without a reasonable asking price, demand for these crops would be low, especially if the farmers had not been educated to understand their advantages, resulting in stunted development in this area.
Consequently, GM crops appear to have a great many uses and could help developing countries, but it is important that they are supported by other countries that do have the resources required. This could be in the form of monetary donations, for example prizes to scientists who make discoveries, e.g. The World Food Prize (2014). It could also be in terms of sharing resources, for example how Borlaug’s wheat seeds were given to India to help them, although this is not related to GM crops, the idea of other countries helping each other is still paramount.
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