GMO’s and World Hunger

As the world begins to feel the constraints of overpopulation and diminishing resources, the rate at which people are affected by chronic world hunger continues to grow exponentially (Geldof). Record climate change brought about by global warming and an increase in greenhouse emissions has increased the longevity of droughts, causing the desert to spread, and what small area of forest we have to left to soon run out (Gerry). According to research conducted at Harvard, the world population is estimated to “reach 11 billion by 2100,” meanwhile we currently struggle to feed the “800 million people [who] remain undernourished despite the fact that the current output of the world’s farms could supple over 11 billion people” (Gerry).

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Our world is facing a food crisis that will only continue to grow and expand in complexity if action isn’t taken to combat it as soon as possible. Although doctors argue that genetically modified foods are detrimental to our health, and therefore should be outlawed, genetically modified foods can help to alleviate chronic world hunger by catering to the impoverished demographic and limiting environmental degradation by conserving resources for future generations, as well as producing higher yields that are completely safe for human consumption (“Food from Genetically…”).

The most substantial contributor to the increase in world hunger seen globally is poverty. Poverty and malnourishment are directly linked to unsettlement and rioting in impoverished regions of the world. Food scarcity that could be limited using modified crops can be directly linked to migration, mass displacement and conflict, a trend that is stronger than it might seem to those who aren’t experiencing constant hunger (Geldof). One example of conflict caused by food scarcity is the Tunisian bread riots of 2010, where an increase in wheat prices “led to widespread bread riots that morphed into broader political revolutions” (Geldof). The bread riots in Tunisia caused a “massive wave of refugees” that had to emigrate to other regions where they yet again faced food scarcity (Geldof). Producing genetically modified foods has the potential to help reduce chronic world hunger that is a major threat to the safety and lives of everyone from a non-health standpoint because “where hunger persists, instability grows” (“Food Assistance”). By supporting the effort to make genetically modified foods accessible to the most vulnerable, “ a more stable world [is] ensur[ed] for people [to] have the opportunity to lead healthy [and] productive lives” (“Food Assistance”). If food we made was more easily accessible to the world’s most malnourished and deprived people, there can be a “positive impact on social cohesion and improved capacities for peace” (“Food Assistance”).

What can genetically modified foods do to help those who cannot afford the most basic necessities? Genetically modified crops have the incredible ability to yield more compared to the regular crop, all while using a smaller amount of land, which helps with the diminishing swatch of land that can actually be used for agriculture (Gerry). For example, in Pisa, Italy, 76 studies were conducted by researchers of Scientific Reports which found that “genetically engineered corn had a significantly higher yield than non-genetically modified varieties” (Brody). Similarly, studies conducted by UC Berkeley’s David Zilberman showed that farmers in “China, Argentina and India saw yield gains from a quarter to more than a third higher when they used insect-resistant genetically engineered BT [Bacillus thuringiensis gene] cotton” (Finz). This cotton is modified by the insertion of a gene from a common soil bacterium which regular farmers have been spraying on crops for years as a repellent (Finz). Through the incorporation of an insect repellent infused into the plant, the expense of the fertilizer is decreased, therefore cutting down the net price of the crop. Scientists have also figured out how to put the same ‘BT’ gene into corn, which yielded 34% more in the Philippines and 11% in South Africa” (Finz). Without the help of genetically modified crops, the price of food would be “5 to 10 percent higher than it is now- particularly for meat, poultry, eggs, milk and processed foods” (Finz). By simply cutting down the prices of foods through genetically engineered products, food can become more easily available to food-insecure families.

In addition to bioengineered crops being able to produce a higher yield, genetically modified crops have a positive environmental impact in that they are able to slow down the rate of environmental degradation, which is more important than ever (“Food from Genetically…). This is due to the fact that they use less fertilizer and water than the average non-genetically modified crop, which would help to decrease the rate at which our resources are diminishing, helping to preserve our world for future generations. Fertilizers are a threat to our life right here on Long Island. Just as how your neighbor fertilizes their lawn in order to grow a beautiful, green lawn, that same fertilizer has the ability to grow enormous amounts of algae, present in the form of algae blooms, in our marine ecosystems (“Long Island…”). Nitrates from fertilizers threatens the “aquifers that contain our drinking water, contributes to fish kills, degrades marine habitats,” and “damages the coastal marshes that provide a natural protective buffer during storm[s]” (“Long Island…”). The nutrient pollution that is occuring right on Long Island is occurring on a greater scale worldwide because as fertilizer tolerance continues to build, and more fertilizers of more dangerous calibers are being used, the problem will only continue to be exacerbated (Finz). The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already invested millions of dollars to help combat nutrient pollution; if we would have invested the same amount on GMO technology, the issues of hunger and environmental protection could’ve had the same solution, and less funding would have had to been used (“Long Island…”).

Another advantage of genetically modified crops is that they can be “programmed” to perform the same function as fertilizers and pesticides so that less nutrient pollution will occur in our environment. According to the Food and Drug Administration, genetically engineered plants have “greater resistance to insect damage and immunity to plant diseases” (“Food from Genetically…”). If we consistently engineered our food to be drought-resistant, insect-resistant, and disease-resistant, we would be resistant to high food prices because cutting out expensive pesticides and fertilizers would decrease food prices while simultaneously increasing food health and accessibility. Resistant foods would also be necessary in the coming years as climate change will force us to increase our agricultural productivity in areas we wouldn’t normally rely on, such as “tropical areas where crop yields are significantly lower than in temperate climate zones” (Herrera-Estrella and Álvarez-Morales). These tropic zones would see more dramatic effects of the environment on their crops like more “losses due to pests, more hostil[e] plant disease and poor soils” which are all “exacerbated by climatic conditions” that are favored by the “proliferation of insect pests and disease vectors” (Herrera-Estrella and Álvarez-Morales). In layman’s terms, global warming continues to worsen, we can only expect to see a worsening of temperature and weather extremes, creating a toxic cycle that would need a major resolution like genetically modified crops to halt. At this time, the only way to combat hunger in Third World countries is to increase the use of fertilizers and pesticides, creating another toxic cycle, which is certainly not more beneficial to the environment compared to genetically modified crops (Gerry). At the University of Virginia, economists Federico Ciliberto, Edward Perry, and David Hennessy led the largest study ever that measured the environmental impact quotient (Newman). The environmental impact quotient is a rate that “account[s] for chemicals’ impact on farmworkers, consumers and the environment,” which in their study found little to no change between those who adopted genetically modified crops and those that didn’t” (Newman). Genetically modified food products generally have less of a negative environmental impact than their non-genetically modified food counterparts.

Nearly a million children across the globe “die every year because they are weakened by Vitamin A deficiencies and an additional 350,000 go blind” because of malnourishment, a problem that could be alleviated by the addition of Gold Rice, a crop that is genetically modified to be more nutrient-rich than natural rice (Robbins). Genetic modification is limited because the people that aren’t directly affected by world hunger-those who can afford to have 2-3 meals a day-don’t look at it from the economic perspective, but rather from a nutritional standpoint, where they don’t understand that “25 percent of new medicine today has been genetically altered,” and that they are ingesting these genetically modified products anyway (Finz). This is linked to the idea that “idealism is elitism” (Finz). Those that ideally want to help end the food crisis plaguing the earth’s population know that genetically engineered foods could be the solution, but those who oppose, do so to protect the foods they consume for their “diets” and “health fads,” even though the Third World is starving (Gerry). Meaning, those that have the economic support to proliferate genetic technology don’t fund these projects because food vulnerability isn’t at the forefront of their lifestyles (Gerry).

Many people do not believe that the life-saving GM foods have the ability to save the million children that die every year and the “additional 350,000 that go blind,” but instead believe that genetically modified foods are inherently harmful to humans (Robbins). One major fear of GM crops is that they have the “possibility that [an] insertion of one or a few genes could have a negative impact on other desirable genes naturally present in the crop” (Brody). From this phenomenon, a small percentage of agricultural scientists, around 10% to be exact, believe that the increase in soy allergies over the past 10 years, the epidemic of Morgellons disease across the U.S., as well as the reports of “hundreds of villagers and cotton handlers who developed skin allergy in India” is all linked to the development of genetically modified foods and crops (Maghari and Ardekani). Perhaps this negative attitude towards GM foods is because “propaganda” from non-governmental groups shown through “irresponsible journalism,” has led to a “serious deterioration of public confidence in scientists and governmental regulation institutions,” thereby inducing the propagation of false information of GM foods as the solution to chronic world hunger and environmental degradation (Herrera-Estrella and Álvarez-Morales).

Despite this reluctance to accept genetically modified foods as a solution, genetically engineered foods could bring relief to people worldwide that are struggling with food scarcity and become another pathway in which chronic world hunger can end (Geldof). If only the plurality of the world’s privileged population knew that instead of genetically modified foods being detrimental to our health, genetically modified foods are actually the most tested foods by government agencies than any other previous agricultural advance and is declared safe by the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and The World Health Organization (Brody). In fact, people have been consuming genetically modified foods produced through selective breeding programs for centuries that “result in large and largely uncontrolled exchanges of genetic material,” in addition to “radiation and chemicals [used] to induce gene mutations” (Brody). Genetic modification isn’t a new practice, but people fear the “new age” technology being used, even though its practices are more controlled and safe for human consumption than ever before. More importantly, scientists on both sides of the argument of whether genetically modified foods are inherently dangerous can agree on one thing: “there is no conclusive evidence that eating genetically modified foods is directly harmful to human health” (Finz). The Food and Drug Administration maintains the statement that “credible evidence has demonstrated that foods from GE [genetically engineered] plant varieties marketed to date are as safe as comparable non-GE foods” and that they “regulate GE crops in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency” (“Food from Genetically…” ). Instead of condemning and preventing GM technology from reaching the entire world, we should be finding ways to ensure that “the knowledge is transferred to developing countries” (Herrera-Estrella and Álvarez-Morales). The fact that the scientific community already supports the view that GM crops are to only be released after it is confirmed they are safe for human consumption further displays the careful steps being taken to ensure human health, which should help to alleviate fear associated with new agricultural technology.

The United Nation estimates that by the year 2050, the world population will have hit 9.3 billion people, about 400 million more than previously estimated, meaning that in order to prevent food scarcity and rioting like what was seen in the Tunisia bread uprisings in 2010, more food is needed for the majority of people who need it the most and are in the most vulnerable positions for malnourishment (Herrera-Estrella and Álvarez-Morales). We are the first generation that will destroy our world at this fast of a rate, yet will we only become concerned when the wealthy are facing food insecurity? Ultimately, “ ‘the world has a surplus of food, but people still go hungry… because they cannot afford to buy it’ “ (Robbins). We need a new approach to feed our world and keeping our environment protected against our own destruction. We need a “food revolution” in which genetically modified foods are utilized to feed the masses and limit the environmental catastrophe occuring by lowering emissions otherwise seen in non-genetically modified crops.             

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