It’s no secret that the world population is expanding rapidly. If you look around you can just feel it. Roads are congested, competition for education and employment is increasing, and the small suburban towns of the twentieth century are slowing being replaced by skyscrapers and taxi drivers. We’ve known this, we’ve expected this. And now, one of the greatest challenges we’ll have to face on this modern Earth is among us; the hardship of feeding the future nine billion people that will reside on the planet in the next fifty years.
According to an article on sciencemag.org, more than one in seven people today still do not have access to sufficient protein and energy from their diet. The article also mentioned that even more people suffer from some sort of micronutrient malnourishment. Unfortunately, as the global population increases this problem will continue to rise as well.
If there is a shortage of food, then the answer must be simple; increase the food supply. Unfortunately the solution isn’t that straightforward. In the past, farmers utilized more land for agriculture and exploited new fish stocks when faced with food shortages. While there is still viable land throughout the world, the competition for these areas for other human activities has increased and is now incredibly expensive. Due to this issue, the research and implementation of genetically modified crops has become increasingly more popular. Scientists have altered the genomes of different plants to increase crop yield. This is achieved by inserting genes that promote energy conservation and optimal growth conditions under environmental stressors. Agriculture is constantly combatting climate change and nutrient poor soils. Genetically modified crops are therefore a solution to this problem.
If genetically modified crops provide such beneficial results, why does controversy exist?
When the first genetically modified crops entered the markets, many areas of the world were hesitant to provide them to the general public. The crops themselves present uncertainty because they haven’t undergone a large amount of testing. Researchers don’t fully understand the impact these crops will have on the environment or on the people that consume them. The public is, therefore, wary of the long-term effects of the crops.
People have also noticed that the products of these crops have less distinct taste than their counterparts. While this is not a detrimental effect, it is certainly something to think about.
Other opponents of genetically modified crops argue that their production creates monopolies in the agriculture sector and limits the genetic variability of the original plant. Monsanto, one of the major corporations that markets these crops, has vastly benefited from their production in the last decade. Unfortunately, big companies like Monsanto wipe out the “little guy,” which in this situation is the family farmer. The genetically modified seeds are expensive to obtain leaving smaller business in the dust. Opponents address the other issue, genetically variability, quite often as well. As a genome is altered, the genetic material is lost. These genes, which may not have produced a high yield, were the same ones that activated and protected the plants in the past. The more scientists tamper with the genome, the less crops will be able to fend for themselves against spontaneous environmental stressors. As mentioned before, taste diminishes and the overall quality of the crop becomes lack luster. Is this the cost for feeding more people?
Genetically modified crops are not completely repulsive. They are a bit of a test run in the agricultural world. The food demand will undoubtedly increase throughout the next century. With limited resources and land, these crops may provide a sustainable solution. However, as with any type of change, the general public will need to deliberate. Today, legislators are battling the issue of labeling genetically modified crops. In the past, these crops have sat on grocery store shelves unnoticed and unmarked. Many years from now, these crops may be the only products that grace those same shelves.