Will Genetically Modified Foods Save a Starving World?

Click your fingers as fast as you can — a child is being born with every click

Sound unbelievable? Well it's near to the truth, some forty thousand babies born every day around the globe. We live in a world where the population of our species is immense and escalating, estimated to reach 8 billion by 2015 –that's 8000 million. The resources we expend on a daily basis are, therefore, understandably colossal.

For most in the developed world this reality remains largely unconsidered, industrialisation having enabled us to meet our growing daily needs. However, for many in undeveloped parts of the world –some 80%– daily requirements are a struggle if not an impossibility to achieve.

The reasons are many, ranging from politics to infertile land, but with the causes aside the UN projects that such world growth will affect Asia (especially South Asia), Africa, and Latin America the hardest; regions that are poor and little industrialised.

But rather than dim expectations, some scientists are instead saying that starvation and disease could be unknown in the future of our world, and the technology they propose as getting us there is Genetic Engineering.

Says Peter Day, the director of Rutgers' Biotechnology Centre for Agriculture and the Environment, "Biotechnology offers new hope for the developing world."

Genetic engineering (GE), or recombinant DNA technology, involves the separating, rearranging, and transferral of bits of DNA from one cell to another, accomplishing through human intervention what would be unlikely to occur through natural processes. Unlike hybridising –cross breeding– genetic engineering is a cut and paste process where unfavourable genetic traits are removed, replaced, or altered, producing an "improvement" on the original.

One of the first examples of GE was the transferring of the section of DNA responsible for insulin production in the human pancreas and its re-insertion into a bacterium. The new bacterium began to produce insulin, which could then be extracted for use. This technology is now used to treat diabetics who lack the ability to produce sufficient insulin for themselves.

Still largely in its infantile stage, many scientists' hail GE as the promise of a better future through enhanced medicinal and agricultural products. In agriculture, for example, potential applications of GE include development of crop plants resistant to drought, cold, insects, herbicides, and disease.

For third world countries this technology may prove their deliverance. With crops more resilient to the hardships present in many developing lands –arid environments and salty soils– and farmers not having to spend on fertilisers and pesticides, while producing larger yields in harvest. GE is a technology that these countries cannot afford to ignore.

However, despite the benefits that may be derived from genetic research and trialing, the term "genetic engineering" arouses fear and suspicion, the subject generating a great deal of public concern and even political debate globally.

Says John Grogan, managing editor of Organic Gardening Magazine, "The biotechnology industry wants the public to believe that GM foods have been exhaustively studied and proven safe, but that is not the case. At a minimum, these altered foods need to be labelled so consumers can know what they are eating and, more importantly, genetically altered foods need to be subjected to extensive independent safety testing before they are released to the public."

Geoff Kidd, head of gene forge technology for Aptagen, Inc., adds his concerns, "Whether by traditional breeding or by genetic engineering, genes are being altered in ways that could affect other metabolic pathways in the new food organism. Prediction of which pathways could be affected and to what degree are poor at best, since there is a great deal that is still unknown about genetic and enzymatic regulation."

After such experiences as the Mad Cow disease and Bovine hormone scare, it is not surprising that people are troubled by what may appear to some as just another human intrusion into nature, tinkering with what they don't understand.

Some are concerned this tinkering may lead to bacterium containing cancer-producing viruses. It is also possible that plasmodia carrying drug-resistant genes will be introduced into a pneumococcus, causing the pneumococcus and pneumonia to be resistant to antibiotics.

Yet while the developed world debates the issues and dangers, the third world starves. For them there is not the liberty to choose between GE foods and the traditional variety. Their options remain very simple, they need food or they die. Offer a starving man a genetically modified banana, and he won't wait to hear the possible dangers that may come from consuming it before eating.

And here is where the greatest danger of GE may lay

In the hands of the West, time can be sacrificed for precautions sake, millions poured into research to hunt out and eradicate all risks. But in the hands of the undeveloped nations, precaution may well be thrown to the wind in favour of feeding the masses.

For that reason alone some believe the West must take the lead, so as to offer developing nations a technology as free from risks as possible. In the words of Stephen C. Joseph, president and CEO of the National Centre for Genome Resources, 'The potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology are so powerful that to halt research would likely forestall immense potential benefits to humankind'.

Recommending an open method of thorough analysis into genetically modified organisms with adequate safeguards, Joseph says, "We must move forward quickly, but thoughtfully, to examine the perceived dangers from plant biotechnology". With the GE debate growing, he believes there is a real danger that research will be disrupted, which would not be in the world's best interest, especially for hungry people in developing areas.

As Peter Day testified before Congress "Stopping biotechnology based on fears that are exaggerated and unjustified would be a travesty of historical proportions."

Says Arthur Kornberg, leading American biochemist 'Genetic research is being done by serious and responsible scientists, and techniques to minimise accidental spread of potentially dangerous microbes are being improved. The National Institutes of Health, in the United States, has published safety guidelines to minimise the hazards of research. The potential dangers of such research must be balanced against the actual tragedies caused by malnutrition and by fatal and debilitating diseases.'

Hopefully genetic engineering will prove a boon for mankind, but if not, then it is better to discover why not now, than leaving it to be discovered by future generations who will be the reapers of whatever we choose to let loose on the world today.

What are your thoughts?

If it would...

If GM food could save children from starving, is it still worth the risk?

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17 comments

WildIris 6 years ago

This is an interesting and informative Hub, but I'm still not convinced genetic engineering is the answer to hunger in the developing world. A stable government in some regions might be a better solution.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

This is a very interesting hub and I don't know if genetic engineering is the answer but I think it will have an impact. Very thought provoking hub.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

That's a good looking orange. I'd like to try one of those -if it doesn't eat me first! Thanks!


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz Author

~Micky Dee~

Thanks for stopping by. It might not eat you, but being a south-American tree frog/orange cross, it will most likely poison you fast :)


Seafarer Mama profile image

Seafarer Mama 6 years ago from New England

This is a very thought-provoking hub, and a good discussion to begin.

I am not sure that Genetically Engineering food will be of long-term benefit to people of developing countries. They can begin by composting the remains of food that they do eat to put it back into the earth and enchance the land they already have. Any way to use the droppings of chickens, cows, etc. to add to the soil as organic "fertilizer" if they have these animals as a resource?

I question whether all the resources for using the natural world as it is to enhance soil production and work the land, and teaching residents of poor, underdeveloped countries develop resourcefulness in developing the potential of what they have before western science interferes with natural processes. It is important for them to learn to fish, farm, etc. instead of modifying food and crops to be "user-friendly." The land, crops, and even the people they feed could be worse off in a decade or so than where they began.


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz Author

@Seafarer Mama ~ Thanks for the feedback. I agree with you that educating communities in developing countries in proper ecology and how to give back so as to get more is sound advice and in the long possibly less risky than GE.


AskAshlie3433 profile image

AskAshlie3433 5 years ago from WEST VIRGINIA

This is a wonderful idea by the way. This issue needs to be addressed quick. In our world, it is uncalled for. Glad you did this great hub, hopefully everyone will notice.


Bud Gallant profile image

Bud Gallant 5 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

I don't believe genetically modified food is the answer. When a population in a certain region grows to a level where it can not sustain itself with the resources it has, that is an indicator of a problem. What exactly that problem is, is a matter for debate, but what it is not, is an excuse to pollute the genetic structure of food in some Frankenstein experiment.

Thank you for the interesting hub, though. I'm sure it won't be the last we hear of the issue.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@Bud ~ Welcome to my Hubpages and thanks for commenting. I tend to agree with you on this. Going by past examples of mankind's foray into "improving" the natural world, I'm expectant of nasty things developing in the GE food arena. Time will tell... unfortunately.


cooldad profile image

cooldad 5 years ago from Florida

Very interesting hub. I, like most people, feel that no person on earth should be starving. I am intrigued by the concept of GE food, but there are some major problems to consider.

Say enough food was genetically engineered to feed all the starving people of Africa. That would at face level, appear to be a wonderful thing. But what would happen around them? What about their lacking water, plumbing and infrastructure?

And what about the companies who provide the food? We've all seen how corrupt Big Pharmacy companies can be. Could you imagine how powerful a company could become by creating and supplying food to the world? That would be interesting.

Who would regulate it? The U.S? The U.N.? It's sad there are so many negatives involved in the consideration of feeding starving people.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@cooldad ~ welcome to my hubs. You have raised a very valid point, several actually, but especially the one regarding corrupt big business. Unfortunately, in the path toward helping the starving millions, is the ugly combination of corrupt politics, greedy business practices and masses of others eager for a quick buck at the expense of others. What a tangled web must be traversed for such a noble goal. Thanks for commenting.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

parrster my friend I'm perplexed. There are those who say they know what they're talking about who say the most insidious DNA combos are going into our food supply. As an example they also say that the reason the honey bees are dissapering is because of GMO pesticides built into the corns struture which of course the bees get by gathering from the corn silk which they love. Could go on and on and on. Please tell us these are all conspiracy nuts so we can enjoy our grocery food again and let the real experts deal with the dissapering bats, bees, toads and so many other animal species not to mention the explosions in cancer et al. Thank you sir for any light you can through on this.


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@Alastar Packer ~ it's a bit like the global warming debate, for most of us the opposing sides both consist of brains far outweighing our own; easy to feel overwhelmed. Where possible we must sift through drivel and let the creme of truth float to the top. Unfortunately this may take longer than we can comfortably afford.

I was wondering where all the bees had gone.

Thanks for dropping by.


how-to-make profile image

how-to-make 4 years ago from India

Hey Parrster. I think that any modification with the natural things will lead to disasters, either it is food or something else. It may save a starving world but it will definitely give rise to a world of diseases.


parrster profile image

parrster 4 years ago from Oz Author

@How-to-make ~ Welcome to my hubs. I tend to agree with you. I think man thinks himself far to clever; a pride too often acknowledged in hindsight, after the damage is done.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Wow, you certainly have written a thought-provoking hub here no doubt! I agree with Seafarer Mama's thoughts here on the subject. It just seems to go against what is natural that God has already provided, but we need to get back to learning how to use the land he provided to sustain us. I just cannot believe that anyone on this planet should have to starve to death! Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue.

Up and more and away

Blessings


parrster profile image

parrster 2 years ago from Oz Author

@Faith Reaper ~ I completely agree. Sadly, the powers that be care less about the earth's well designed capacity as they do the chance to control it for the greatest profit. Funds to research optimum ways of harnessing the earth's natural potential are instead poured into means of artificially altering it. Its all about control, I believe. Appreciate your reading and commenting.

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