A Moral Case for Genetic Modification

In a world with a surplus of calories produced (not addressing caloric quality), there are still a startling number of people, and children in particular, who die each year due to undernourishment and lack of adequate food resources. The United Nations in 2018 further reports that global hunger has reversed its multi-decade decline, with increases in food insecurity and instability in many countries facing instability and climate changes the last three years. This is not to ignore that there has also been an increase in overweight children globally over many years across the globe, highlighting the complex challenge that is global nutrition and health.

Approximately 3.1 million children die each year from either malnutrition or the effects of, with poverty and lack of economic resources being the primary source.

Adding to these calamities, the increase in climate change events and weather pattern irregularities across the globe has caused many nations and areas to experience extreme shifts in food production yields, adding further to the plight of issues and stresses facing significant numbers of food insecure people.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.) in 2008, there are four primary pillars to which the foundation for food security rest on. They include:

  1. Physical Availability of Food
  2. Economic and Physical Access to Food
  3. Food Utilization
  4. Stability of 1-3 Over Time

Physical Availability of Food

Regardless of where you live or your economic status, there is one fact that will always remain: every living human being needs food and water to survive. If you go back to your younger years during primary education, you may remember playing games or going through activities where you analyzed what would be needed in a society if the world were to collapse. Most kids think first of doctors, then to builders or carpenters, then eventually get to farmers. Fast forward to adulthood, and now looking at that scenario, you may want to list farmers first. At the end of each day, you will notice a lack of food before anything else.

Thanks to technological change, food production yields have boomed over the past 100 years. The technological advancements in plant breeding, mechanization, crop fertilization and weed control, and now DNA based methods of genetic modification and editing have moved the world at large to a fast paced technological advancement in food than has ever been seen.

But as developed regions and countries have now had food security for decades, and sometimes almost centuries, there is an alarming trend of going “back to the good ole days” with a growing movement to ban or dissuade consumers from using these beneficial technologies in preference to yield-reducing ones of 50 years prior for which most don’t have any recollection of. Also of which many have no scientific backing.

It is this new phenomenon that will not bode well for the 821 million people suffering from malnutrition and undernourishment each year. As some of the leaders of the developed world, a shift away from increasing food productivity is a choice that would directly lead to millions of deaths per year, primarily in developing nations, and in the name of what? In the name of disillusioned consumers swayed by marketing gimmicks.

Just how far has food production come?

Between 1961 and 2011, global agricultural output more than tripled,” according to the F.A.O. of the United Nations. This alone has had significant impacts on reducing global food insecurity. With the global population projected to increase to 9.8 billion people by 2050, methods and technologies dealing with food production, preservation, and use will be key as global appetites skyrocket. This is primarily due to overall economic growth per-capita across much of the developing world’s middle class. As incomes rise, there is a direct correlation with increased demand for more nutrient dense, and diverse foods. Many of which tend to be animal based proteins like meat and dairy.

One of the tools that is readily available to help alleviate shortages of food produced in many countries, is the adoption of varieties of crops that are genetically superior in many ways by creating genetic modifications that address specific challenges faced regionally. Many of these challenges relate to pest resistance, climate adaptation, and nutrient adaptations. Opponents of genetic modification regularly aim their attacks at increased pesticide use with these varieties of crops that are modified to naturally defend themselves against pests (bugs and weeds typically).

Critics

The New York Times took to the headlines in 2016 making claims that genetic modification has not increased production and increased herbicide use, with emphasis on comparisons to eco-friendly Europe. What is not mentioned is that these technologies have began to reverse the soil loss problem in agriculture by allowing for chemical cultivation, reducing the negative soil loss affects of cultivation, and decreasing the amount of fuel consumed by the agriculture sector. The New York Times also failed to address the stark differences in yield in developing countries that have access to these crop varieties. They also dismiss an abundance of scientific research showing that yields have increased from a range of 5-25% in a 20 year meta-analysis study of corn globally.

Into the Future

What’s more important than arguing about production gains from pest resistance, are the long-term effects that come from anti-science groups that wish to ban these technologies.

It is the future of these technologies that matter most. The possibilities are limitless with these technologies like increasing nutritional qualities, changing photosynthesis rates to be more effective and increase yields, and to create varieties of food that last longer such as the Arctic Apple. This apple has been modified to stop the natural browning process, resulting in dramatic decreases in waste. Approximately 1/3 of all food is lost or wasted globally. That means that all of the inputs such as fuel, fertilizer, labor, packaging, transportation, water, and soil nutrients are also wasted. Using tools to help reduce this waste would have a significant impact across the globe, aiding in the efforts to save millions of lives each year.

Why Production Increases Matter

In developed nations, many, if not most, people have not experienced chronic hunger like the developing world. They have not seen entire communities starve. They have not witnessed half of all their children die from the effects of malnutrition and hunger. Whats more, the countries in which many of these people live are torn with conflict, economic disparages, corrupt governments, lacking infrastructure, and are experiencing negative climate changes that are exacerbating or causing many of these problems.

Many rely heavily on imported, cheap, safe, and abundant food from the large agricultural producers like the United States, Canada, Brazil, and others to provide the bare minimum to exist via trade. But most are subsistence farmers which spend the majority of their time producing enough food for themselves to survive in agrarian regions. This puts them at an increased risk as climates around the world experience changes.

Access to these technologies relies upon government support, as well as local support of the technologies. For some nations, adding tools like genetically modified seeds has helped alleviate economic poverty, and increase food produced, all while decreasing pesticide use, lifting people out of extreme poverty, and increasing individuals economic opportunities.

Sustained access to tools and resources to produce food economically and safely are the key to continuing economic development. It is the bedrock that society is founded upon. Once you can grow more food than you need, you can then sell that food. That income can help educate yourself or your children, giving you more advantages for economic growth by adding skills and knowledge that can be utilized to gain access to jobs outside of subsistence farming. Crops that can be stored have value because they can be transported to markets. Thus why you see grains and starches across the globe as primary sources of calories. They are the cheapest to grow, last longest, and can be transported so that they can be sold elsewhere. Thus begins the advancement out of poverty. Adding technologies that aid in this process is critical, with genetic modification leading the way.

Rational Perspective

There are more things to discuss on the topic, but one thing must be addressed first: there are over 3 million children dying each year due to hunger and starvation. Withholding technologies like genetic modification and editing, or banning them outright, has a direct and immediate impact. Using them also has a direct and immediate positive impact.

As the world moves forward, there will inevitably be more topics to discuss surrounding sustainability, access, and many other things, but what cant be forgotten is that today, regardless of your opinions, nearly 800 million people are hungry. Addressing other concerns must be a priority, but withholding these technologies, or banning them outright may just be the tipping point for someone in the world. Irrational fears and anti-science in the developed world will have a direct negative impact on the developing world. Your choice will always affect someone else. Buying local, organic, non-gmo, natural, humane, free-range, no chemicals added, and many other marketing ploys in the developed world, which would increase prices or decrease production, effects the world at large.

Being educated starts with first understanding topics surrounding your food. Knowing what is a myth, a fact, a fallacy, or a farce will have a greater impact as the worlds population grows. Follow us for more updates and articles surrounding this ever-changing world. Remember, banning yield improving technologies is socially irresponsible, and morally wrong. Choices are good. Technology changes. And adapting is the one thing humans have been good at for centuries. We can’t stop now.

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