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The Economic Issues Surrounding GMOs

The Economic Issues Surrounding GMOs

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This is one in a series of stories; visit The Daily Meal Special Report: GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) for more.

Whether or not genetically modified foods should be mass-manufactured and available in the marketplace is one of the most contentious food and public policy issues of our time. Some countries have banned or severely limited their importation. In 2011, Hungarian officials burned over one thousand acres of corn crops suspected to contain genetically modified seeds. In the United States, corporations with a vested interest in manufacturing GM seeds have made their presence known. In 2013, the opposition campaign against the Washington State ballot Initiative 522, which would have required GM foods to bear an identifying label, received over 20 million dollars in contributions, two-thirds of which came from five major multinational corporate entities. The science set aside for a moment, the economic impact of GM manufacturing plays a critical role in how this debate moves forward.

Those in support of genetically modified foods have noted the significant role that GM foods could play in fighting malnutrition in the developing world; which, according to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, affects nearly one out of eight people on earth. Jayson Lusk, the Regents Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, argues that many global issues of our time could be aided by the use of biotechnology.

“The world is facing many challenges,” says Lusk. “(They include) a growing world population, climate change, and droughts in many areas of the U.S., just to name a few. Biotechnology and genetic engineering do not hold all the answers, but all tools should be on the table to sustainably address these societal challenges."

On a domestic level, proponents of GM products see the opportunity to develop strain-resistant crops that cost less to manufacture. These lower food costs would benefit the farmers, and in turn would reduce the cost of foods for the retail consumer.

"In the U.S., about 90% of all corn and soybean acres are planted with GE varieties,” says Lusk. “These were decisions made by real-life, flesh and blood farmers. No one was (or is) holding a gun to their head. The fact that farmers willingly adopted GE varieties at such a fast clip (even while paying a premium price for them) reveals their belief that it is in their best interest to do so. The scientific evidence shows that adopters of GE corn, soy, and cotton have enjoyed slightly higher levels of profitability.”

Not everyone agrees that GM products are a net plus for consumers and farmers. Jeffrey Smith, the founding executive director of The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), argues that the figures actually show GM products negatively impacting farmers and domestic food production.

“The stated justification for promoting GMO’s in the first Bush administration was that they would increase US exports and US domination of agriculture,” writes Smith. “The opposite happened. Europe shut its doors to GM corn, soy exports shrunk, and the U.S. spent billions to prop up the prices of the GM crops no one wanted.”

Part of the reason the opposing sides in the GM debate don’t appear to be talking to one another has to do with how the data is read. Domestic farming subsidies in the U.S. play a major role in keeping the farmer at least in part insulated from fluctuations in the market at home and abroad. This explains how certain domestic agricultural products can continue to be produced at a sustained rate, even if the market demand does not meet the current levels of production.

The demography of the farming industry is another explanation for the disparate views on current economic figures related to GM farming. While the 2007 Census of Agriculture figures show that 87 percent of farms in the U.S. are “family owned,” the term can be misleading. According to an EPA report on U.S. farming demographics, “Many of the country's largest agricultural enterprises are family owned.”

In addition, the measurable trend towards disproportionate production concentrations has been noted. The EPA report notes that 2007 USDA figures show “a mere 187,816 of the 2.2 million farms in this country accounted for 63 percent of sales of agricultural products.”

What about the so-called “mom and pop” small-scale farmers and other producers of organic goods? How are they impacted by these broader trends, and specifically do they to benefit from adopting GM seeds?

On a macroeconomic level, it may appear that in some instances the adoption of GM crops reduces costs and increases production. However, the argument against GMO adoption often points to a negative impact on small-scale agriculture.

“Independent research confirms that average farmer profit does not increase with GMOs,” Smith writes. “And numerous examples of closed markets and suppressed prices have followed the introduction of genetically modified crops worldwide. In Hawaii; for example, GM papaya was blocked by Japan. Prices dropped from $1.29 per kilo to about $.80, and in spite of increased papaya consumption in United States, papaya production in Hawaii dropped by 40 percent.”

In a statement to The Daily Meal, The Northeast Organic Farming Organization of New York notes that allowing GM seeds to be cultivated alongside non-GM seeds results in an “Increased risk for contamination of genetic content with genetically-engineered genes.”

“Through the natural process of pollination, genes travel miles and combine with crops across a local region,” the statement continues. “When GE genes are in the air, the risk of contaminating certified organic or non-GE crops increases. For organic farmers, GE contamination means losing the ability to sell that crop as organic, which closes a farmer out of their market.”

This means that in some cases, the sheer existence of GM crops in close proximity to non-GM crops may eliminate choice for those who are unsure of their safety, or simply wish to opt-out of their purchase for any reason.

The debate over the economic benefits and potential perils of introducing GM foods into the marketplace will surely remain a fiercely contested issue for many years to come.

Genetically modified organisms and food security in Southern Africa: conundrum and discourse

The importance of food security and nourishment is recognized in Southern African region and in many communities, globally. However, the attainment of food security in Southern African countries is affected by many factors, including adverse environmental conditions, pests and diseases. Scientists have been insistently looking for innovative strategies to optimize crop production and combat challenges militating against attainment of food security. In agriculture, strategies of increasing crop production include but not limited to improved crop varieties, farming practices, extension services, irrigation services, mechanization, information technology, use of fertilizers and agrochemicals. Equally important is genetic modification (GM) technology, which brings new prospects in addressing food security problems. Nonetheless, since the introduction of genetically modified crops (GMOs) three decades ago, it has been a topic of public discourse across the globe, conspicuously so in Southern African region. This is regardless of the evidence that planting GMOs positively influenced farmer's incomes, economic access to food and increased tolerance of crops to various biotic and abiotic stresses. This paper looks at the issues surrounding GMOs adoption in Southern Africa and lack thereof, the discourse, and its potential in contributing to the attainment of food security for the present as well as future generations.

Keywords: GMOs Genetic engineering Southern Africa food security.

Socio-economic issues are falsely equated with “GMOs”

Even though “GMOs” are routinely blamed for a plethora of economic, social, and political issues, these issues aren’t exclusive to genetic engineering:

  • Both conventionally bred (non-GMO) and genetically engineered (GE) crops can be patented.
  • Farmers routinely sign contracts with seed companies, for both non-GMO and GE seeds alike.
  • Herbicides aren’t just used with “GMOs.” Herbicide tolerant crop varieties can be GE or non-GMO.
  • Large agricultural companies dominate across agricultural systems, as some develop and sell GE, non-GMO, and seeds that can be used in organic farming.
  • Corporations with GE, non-GMO, and organic interests hire lobbying groups to impact agricultural and trade policy.

Concerns About GMOs

A growing body of research suggests that genetically modified organisms (more commonly referred to as GMOs) may be doing more harm than good when it comes to human health and the health of the environment. A recent study coming out of Iowa State University, for example, found that Monsanto's genetically modified corn may have led to the rise of pesticide-resistant "superbugs," which could result in some farmers using even harsher pesticides on their fields.

Read on to learn more about this and other issues that raise red flags about GMOs.

GMOs are organisms that have been created through the application of transgenic, gene-splicing techniques that are part of biotechnology. These methods for moving genes are also referred to as genetic engineering (GE).

This relatively new science allows DNA (genetic material) from one species to be transferred into another species, creating transgenic organisms with combinations of genes from plants, animals, bacteria, and even viral gene pools. Mixing genes from different species that have never shared genes in the past makes GMOs and GE crops unique. It is impossible to create such organisms through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Because of this uniqueness, there are many unknowns about genetically engineered (GE) crops and GMOs.

Asserting that food from GE crops was “substantially equivalent” to food from non-GE crops, the United States government first approved GE crops nearly 20 years ago depending largely on the studies provided by the companies developing the new technology. The United States went ahead with approvals although no human trials had ever been conducted to assess the safety and allergenicity of these novel proteins.

Governments outside the United States have proceeded with more caution, preventing GE crops from being planted because of outstanding concerns about environmental and/or food safety implications. Since GE crops were first approved in the United States, food allergies have risen dramatically, in step with GE crop market penetration . For instance, according to a data brief published October 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of reported food allergies in the United States increased 18 percent among children under age 18 years from 1997 to 2007. Although no direct links have been made to GE crops, a report by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology points out that existing research focuses on known allergens such as peanuts and milk, and there are almost no studies examining the allergenicity of novel proteins potentially introduced by foods created through biotechnology.

A major area of concern focuses on unintended consequences. For instance, some major problems with GE crops are already emerging. The spread of resistant weeds has driven herbicide use up sharply, increasing human health and environmental impacts and raising farmer costs. Also, many GE crops are more prone to plant diseases, and some suffer micro-nutrient deficiencies because of subtle changes in soil microbial communities.

There is mounting evidence that GMOs from GE crops are showing up where they were never used. Contamination is a real threat, particularly in crops that easily cross-pollinate, such as corn and canola.

Meanwhile, more and more studies are confirming that there are genuine concerns about their use. The following looks at some of the concerns that are being raised.

Impact of pesticide use, yields
In November 2009, The Organic Center issued a Critical Issue Report on the impact of the adoption of GE corn, soybean and cotton crops on U.S. pesticide use. The most striking finding: with the use of GE crops was the application of an additional 318.4 million pounds of pesticides in the United States over the first 13 years of their commercial use (1996-2008).

Data from the 1996 through 2008 annual pesticide use surveys done by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) showed that Bt corn and cotton reduced insecticide use by 64.2 million pounds over the 13 years. However, herbicide-tolerant crops increased herbicide use by a total of 382.6 million pounds over the 13 years. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans increased herbicide use by 351 million pounds, accounting for 92 percent of the total increase in herbicide use across the three herbicide-tolerant crops.

The 318.4 million pound increase in overall pesticide use represents, on average, an additional 0.25 pound of pesticide active ingredient for every GE trait acre planted over the first 13 years of commercial use.

Although overall pesticide use decreased in the first three years of commercial introduction of GE crops, pesticide use increased by 20 percent in 2007 and 27 percent in 2008. There are two major factors for this: the emergence and rapid spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate due to excessive reliance on the herbicide, and incremental reductions in the average application rate of herbicides applied on non-GE crop acres.

GMOs persist in waterways: A study by University of Notre Dame ecologist Jennifer Tank and colleagues published in 2010 has found that streams throughout the Midwest receive transgenic materials from corn crop byproducts even six months after harvest. In a 2007 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) , Tank and other researchers had shown transgenic materials from corn pollen, leaves and cobs do, in fact, enter streams in the agricultural Midwest and can be subsequently transported to downstream water bodies. Their later study, published in the Oct. 12, 2010, edition of PNAS, investigated the fate and persistence of the material and its associated Cry1Ab insecticidal protein in a survey of 217 stream sites in northwestern Indiana six months after crop harvest. “Our study demonstrates the persistence and dispersal of crop byproducts and associated transgenic material in streams throughout the Corn Belt landscape even long after crop harvest,” the researchers concluded.

GE in the wild: Researchers at the University of Arkansas, North Dakota State University and the Environmental Protection Agency have found evidence that GE crop plants can survive and thrive in the wild. Reporting the findings at the 95th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America , scientists reported that they had found that more than 80 percent of canola plants sampled from more than 1,000 miles of roadsides around North Dakota were inadvertently genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides, either glyphosate or glufonisate. In addition, two of the plants analyzed contained two transgenes, indicating that they had cross-pollinated. “These observations have important implications for the ecology and management of native and weedy species, as well as for the management of biotech products in the U.S.,” the researchers concluded.

Resistance of insect pests: In 2010, Monsanto reported to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee in India that pink bollworms, a common insect pest that feeds on cotton, have developed resistance to its GE cotton variety Bollgard I in Gujarat, India . The company noted it had detected the resistance during field monitoring in the 2009 cotton season. The GE crop contained the Cry1Ac gene derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Weed resistance: A 2010 report issued by The National Academies’ National Research Council warns that GE crops could lose their effectiveness and develop more weed problems as weeds evolve their own resistance to glyphosate, unless farmers use other proven weed and insect management practices. It reported to date that at least nine species of weeds in the United States have evolved resistance to glyphosate since GE crops were introduced.

Round-up resistant weeds: A New York Times article by William Newman and Andrew Pollack (May 4, 2010) reported on the increase of superweeds that are resistant to Round-up.

Herbicide resistance: A survey by researchers at the Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois in Urbana, has found that Amaranthus tuberculatus (more commonly known as waterhemp), a major weed in crop fields in the Midwestern United States, has developed multiple herbicide resistance, including to glyphosate (Roundup). In their research article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry , they noted, “Herbicide resistance in A. tuberculatus appears to be on the threshold of becoming an unmanageable problem in soybean.” They added, “On the basis of A. tuberculatus’s history, there is no reason to expect it will not evolve resistance to glufosinate if this herbicide is widely used. If this happens, and no new soybean post-emergence herbicides are commercialized, soybean production may not be practical in many Midwest U.S. fields.” At least 21 weed species have developed resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) and some weeds are also developing resistance to alternative herbicides, according to articles published in the May-June 2011 issue of Weed Science . For example, researchers at the University of Georgia in Tifton found multiple resistances in Palmer amaranth to glyphosate and the herbicide pyrithiobac. In addition, research confirmed resistance of Italian ryegrass in hazelnut orchards in Oregon to glufosinate ammonium, a non-selective broad-spectrum herbicide. Still another study confirmed the first documented glyphosate-resistant Johnson grass biotype in West Memphis, AR. “The herbicide resistance issue is becoming serious,” wrote William K. Vencill, journal editor, adding, “It is spreading out beyond where weed scientists have seen it before.”

Organ failure (rats): A study analyzing the effects of GE foods on mammalian health linked three GE corn varieties to organ failure in rats. The researchers led by Gilles-Eric Séralini of CRIIGEN and the University of Caen in France found new side effects linked with GE corn consumption that were sex- and often dose-dependent. These effects mostly occurred with the kidney and liver, while other effects were noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and hematopoietic system. The researchers concluded that these data highlight signs of hepato-renal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GE corn.

Glyphosate and birth defects: Research published Aug. 9, 2010 , confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides cause malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses significantly lower than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in products currently approved in the European Union. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Publishing the research were researchers led by Professor Andrés Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School and member of Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research. “The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy,” Carrasco reported at a press conference during the 6th European Conference of GMO Free Regions. He explained that most of the safety data on glyphosate herbicides and GE soy were provided by industry and are not independent. Carrasco began researching the embryonic effects of glyphosate after seeing reports of high rates of birth defects in rural areas of Argentina where GE Roundup Ready soybeans are grown in large monocultures sprayed regularly from airplanes.

Impacts on animal health. Researchers from Greece reported that animal toxicology studies of GE foods indicate they can have toxic hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects. Also, the use of recombinant growth hormones or its expression in animals should be re-examined since it has been shown that it increases IGF-1 which may promote cancer.

Serious human health risks. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, in a 2009 Genetically Modified Foods Position Paper , called for a moratorium on GE foods and warned that “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.” This position paper cites animal studies that indicate such health risks associated with GM food consumption as infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. “Because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for genetically modified foods to cause adverse health effects in humans,” the report notes, listing citations for numerous peer-reviewed studies as backup.

Bt toxin in human blood. Most recently, a study accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology conducted by scientists at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada reports the presence of Bt toxin, widely used in GE crops, in human blood. Although scientists and multinational corporations promoting GE crops have maintained that Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein, Cry1Ab, breaks down in the human gut, the findings from this study show this does not happen. Instead, it was found circulating in the blood of pregnant and non-pregnant women. The study also detected the toxin in fetal blood. Cry1Ab toxin was detected in 93 percent and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively, and in 69 percent of tested blood samples from non-pregnant women.

Although biotechnology interests often argue that GE crops have not caused a single instance of harm to human health or the environment, there is mounting research showing that GE crops are not harmless, as evidenced by the research cited above. However, GE foods are not labeled.

As a result, the Organic Trade Association and many consumer groups have long called for labeling GE foods in the marketplace. But this concern goes beyond consumers and organic interests. In 2010, for instance, the Indiana State Medical Association (ISMA, representing approximately 8,300 physicians in every county in Indiana) resolved that it would seek legislation requiring that any foods containing genetically engineered ingredients be clearly labeled .

ISMA’s resolution, discussed at its 2010 annual meeting, noted that 40 countries require labeling of GE food, including the European Union, Australia, Japan, Russia, Chia, New Zealand, Brazil and South Africa. In addition, the American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, the British Medical Association and the Irish Medical Organization all support the labeling of GE food products.

Meanwhile, the challenge for consumers who don’t want to eat foods made with GMOS is to know what food products to avoid. The crops most often genetically modified in the United States—as well as the ingredients made from them—are corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets and cotton. Thus, the following ingredients on labels, if not labeled as non-GMO or organic, are likely genetically modified.
• Corn syrup, starch, oil, meal, gluten
• Soy lecithin, protein, flour, isolate and isoflavone
• Sugar (unless it is made from cane)
• Vegetable oil
• Cottonseed oil


While genetic events are traceable through the supply chain via contracts and analytical testing, because GE foods are not labeled, they are not readily identifiable by consumers in the marketplace. Additionally the contractual information, test results and genetic information are not readily available to researchers and scientists. This greatly limits the ability to assess environmental and public health safety over time. As patented products, the primers and gene sequences related to GE crop events are not readily disclosed—greatly limiting independent scientific scrutiny. Prohibitions on land-grant universities conducting research on GE crop events without permission from patent holders further exacerbates the dearth of independent research.

There continues to be emerging evidence of environmental and public health concern from the adoption of GMOs in agriculture.

Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations, Amy M. Branum and Susan L. Lukacs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 2008 (

Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, “A Snapshot of Federal Research on Food Allergy: Implications for Genetically Modified Food,” June 11, 2002 (

“Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years,” by Charles Benbrook

Jennifer L. Tank, Emma J. Rosi-Marshall, Todd V. Royer, Matt R. Whiles, Natalie A. Griffiths, Therese C. Frauendorf, and David J. Treering, “Occurrence of maize detritus and a transgenic insecticidal protein (Cry1Ab) within the stream network of an agriculturl landsacpe,” PNAS 107 (41): 17645-17650 (Oct. 12, 2010).

E.J. Rosi-Marshall, J.L. Tank, T.V. Royer, M.R. Whiles, M. Evans-White, C. Chambers, N.A. Griffiths, J. Pokelsek, and M.L. Stephen, “Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems,” PNAS 104 (41): 16204-16208 (Oct. 9, 2007).

Meredith G. Schafer, Andrew X. Ross, Jason Londo, Connie A. Burdick, E. Henry Lee, Steven E. Travers, Peter K. Van de Water, and Cynthia L. Sagers, research reported at the 95th Ecological Society of America in August 2010 (

Science, March 19, 2010, “Hardy Cotton-Munching Pests Are Latest Blow to GM Crops,” by Pallava Bagla.

“The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States,” The National Academies’ National Research Council, 2010.

Patrick J. Tranel, Chance W. Riggins, Michael S. Bell, and Aaron G. Haber, “Herbicide Resistances in Amaranthus tuberculatus: A Call for New Options,” Jouranl of Agricultural and Food Chemistry November 2010.

Artemis Dona & Ioannis S. Arvanitoyannis, “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods,” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, February 2009, pages 164-175).

27 Big Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods are organisms that have had new genes added to themselves from other organisms. Being around since 1994, they are produced in a way that is very similar to genetic engineering. The technique used in this type of crop management has been introduced to ensure farmers and merchants are able to improve crop or food quality in a more efficient way. Some people arrogate that this technology will help those in the agricultural industry decrease the amount of wasted crops and foods. But while there are many benefits of genetically modified foods, there are also potential drawbacks that are present. Here are their advantages and disadvantages:

List of Advantages of Genetically Modified Foods

1. Insect Resistance
Some GMO foods have been modified to make them more resistant to insects and other pests. A report from the University of California in San Diego states that toxic bacteria (yet safe for human use) can be added to crops to make them repel insects. This means the amount of pesticide chemicals used on the plants are reduced, so their exposure to dangerous pesticides are also reduced.

2. Stronger Crops
Another benefit that GM technology is believed to bring about is that crops can be engineered to withstand weather extremes and fluctuations, which means that there will be good quality and sufficient yields even under a poor or severe weather condition. As populations across the world grow and more lands are being utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers are prompted to grow crops in locations that are originally not suitable for plant cultivation, and culturing plants that can withstand high salt content in soil and groundwater, not to mention long periods of drought, will help them grow healthy crops. Also, animals and plants that have been genetically modified can become more resistant to unexpected disease problems. We can just think of the technology as a vaccine for the species, except that it is encoded into their genes, rather than being shot into their immune system.

3. Larger Production
It has been easier to raise crops that are classified as genetically modified because all of their examples have the stronger ability to resist pests. This attribute helps farmers with producing greater amounts of crops or foods.

4. Environmental Protection
According to an Oklahoma State University report, the increase of GM animals and crops often requires less time, tools and chemicals, and may help with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and environmental pollution. This means the general health and beauty of the environment that surrounds farms will be improved, contributing to the preservation of better water and air quality, which can also indirectly benefit every person’s well-being.

5. Extensive Protection for Crops
GM foods were created with the use of genetic engineering—a technology that was designed to make sure crops will never be damaged in a fast rate. The method also allows farmers and merchants to preserve the good quality of foods more efficiently by using special substances.

6. More Nutritious Foods
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, some GM foods have been engineered to become more nutritious in terms of vitamin or mineral content. This not only helps people get the nutrients they need, but also plays a significant role in fighting against malnutrition in third-world countries. In fact, the United Nations recommends that rice that is enhanced with vitamin A can help with reducing deficiencies of such nutrient around the world.

7. Decreased Use of Pesticides
It has been proven that genetically modified crops do not need pesticides to become stronger against various types of insects or pests that may destroy them.

8. More Income
With genetic engineering, farmers will have more income, which they could spend on important things, such as the education of their children for example.

9. Less Deforestation
To sufficiently feed the growing population of the world, deforestation is needed. But with genetically modified animals and crops, the use of this method will be minimized. This would decrease carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would, in turn, slow global warming.

10. Decrease in Global Warming
As more plants and crops can be grown and at more areas, including those that were previously unsuitable for farming, oxygen in the environment is increased, decreasing the proportion of carbon dioxide and, in turn, reducing global warming. In fact, British economists noted in a study that genetically modified crops have made significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 million tons, which is equivalent to removing 5 million cars from the road each year. This means that people would not have to give up their vehicles.

11. Decrease in Food Prices
Due to higher yield and lower costs, food prices would go down. As people in poorer countries spend over half of their income on food alone, this means automatic reduction of poverty.

12. New Products
New kinds of crops are being developed to be grown at extreme climates, such as those present in dry or freezing environments. As an example, scientists have developed a new type of tomato that grows in salty soil. Another good discovery in genetic engineering of plants is the exclusion of the gene responsible for caffeine in coffee beans, creating decaffeinated coffee beans, which can then be grown naturally.

List of Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

1. Allergic Reactions
According to research by the Brown University, resent genetically modified foods can pose significant allergy risks to people. It states that genetic modification often adds or mixes proteins that were not indigenous to the original animal or plant, which might cause new allergic reactions in our body. In some cases, proteins from organisms that you are allergic to might be added to organisms that you were not originally allergic to. This means your range of food choices will be lessened.

2. Not 100% Environmentally Friendly
Though it is claimed by many experts that genetically modified foods are safe for the environment, they actually still contain several kinds of substances that are not yet proven to be such. And what’s worse? These substances are remained hidden to the public.

3. Lower Level of Biodiversity
One big potential drawback of this technology is that some organisms in the ecosystem could be harmed, which in turn could lead to a lower level of biodiversity. When we remove a certain pest that is harmful to crops, we could also be removing a food source for a certain species. In addition, genetically modified crops could prove toxic to some organisms, which can lead to their reduced numbers or even extinction.

4. Decreased Antibiotic Efficacy
According to the Iowa State University, some genetically modified foods have antibiotic features that are built into them, making them resistant or immune to viruses or diseases or viruses. And when we eat them, these antibiotic markers will persist in our body and will render actual antibiotic medications less effective. The university also warns that ingestion of these foods and regular exposure to antibiotics may contribute to the reduced effectiveness of antibiotic drugs, as noticed in hospitals across the planet.

5. Unusual Taste
Genetically modified foods are observed to have unnatural tastes compared with the ordinary foods that are sold on the market. This could be the result of the substances that were added to their composition.

6. Not Totally Safe to Eat
It is proven by scientific studies that GMO foods contain substances that may cause diseases and even death to several kinds of species in this world, including us humans. For instance, mice and butterflies cannot survive with these foods.

7. Cross-Pollination
Cross-pollination can cover quite large distances, where new genes can be included in the offspring of organic, traditional plants or crops that are miles away. This can result in difficulty in distinguishing which crop fields are organic and which are not, posing a problem to the task of properly labeling non-GMO food products.

8. Gene Spilling
It is unclear what effects, if there are any, the genetic pollution resulting from inadequate sequestering of genetically modified crop populations would have on the wild varieties surrounding them. However, it is stressed that releasing pollen from genetically altered plants into the wild through the insects and the wind could have dramatic effects on the ecosystem, though there is yet long-term research to be done to gauge such impact.

9. Gene Transfer
Relevant to the previous disadvantage, a constant risk of genetically modified foods is that an organism’s modified genes may escape into the wild. Experts warn that genes from commercial crops that are resistant to herbicides may cross into the wild weed population, thus creating super-weeds that have become impossible to kill. For genetically enhanced vegetation and animals, they may become super-organisms that can out-compete natural plants and animals, driving them into extinction.

10. Conflicts
GMO foods can cause a lot of issues in the merchants’ daily life. How? These products might encourage authorities to implement higher tariffs to merchants, who would be selling them.

11. Exploitations
Some countries may use genetic engineering of foods as a very powerful weapon against their enemies. It is important to note that some scientists have discovered that these products can kill a lot of individuals in the world by using harmful diseases.

12. Widening Gap of Corporate Sizes
This disadvantage can possibly happen between food-producing giants and their smaller counterparts, causing a consolidation in the market. There would be fewer competitors, which could increase the risk of oligopolies and food price increases. Moreover, larger companies might have more political power and might be able to influence safety and health standards.

13. New Diseases
As previously mentioned, genetically modified foods can create new diseases. Considering that they are modified using viruses and bacteria, there is a fear that this will certainly happen. This threat to human health is a worrisome aspect that has received a great deal of debate.

14. Food Supply at Risk
GMO seeds are patented products and, in order to purchase them, customers have to sign certain agreements for use with the supplier or creator. As the reliance on these seeds expands around the world, concerns about food supply and safety also continue to arise. Furthermore, these seeds structurally identical, and if a problem affects one of them, a major crop failure can occur.

15. Economic Concerns
Bringing a genetically modified food to market can be a costly and lengthy process, and of course, agricultural bio-technology companies want to ensure a profitable ROI. So, many new plant genetic engineering technologies and products have been patented, and patent infringement is a big concern within the agribusiness. Also, consumer advocates are worried that this will raise seed prices to very high levels that third-world countries and small farmers cannot afford them, thus widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

One way fight against possible patent infringement is introducing a “suicide gene” into GM animals and plants, which would be viable for only a single growing season and would produce sterile seeds that do not germinate, prompting farmers to buy a fresh supply of seeds every year. However, this would be financially disastrous for them, especially those in developing countries, who cannot afford to do this and traditionally set aside a portion of their harvest to plant in the next growing season.


Genetically modified foods can potentially solve many hunger and malnutrition problems in the world, as well as help protect and preserve the environment by increasing yields and reducing reliance upon chemical pesticides and herbicides. However, it is important to proceed with caution to avoid unfavorable consequences for the surroundings and our health, considering that genetic engineering technology is very powerful.

Remember that there are really potential benefits and risks to these products, which you will learn further as you dig deeper into this subject. You can also read a brief fact sheet to familiarize yourself more with their purported benefits and problems. By doing so, you will be well-informed about these foods and the way they can affect your life.

Ethical arguments relevant to the use of GM crops

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCOB) has published two reports (1999 and 2004) on the social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetically modified crops. This presentation summarises their core ethical arguments. Five sets of ethical concerns have been raised about GM crops: potential harm to human health potential damage to the environment negative impact on traditional farming practice excessive corporate dominance and the 'unnaturalness' of the technology. The NCOB examined these claims in the light of the principle of general human welfare, the maintenance of human rights and the principle of justice. It concluded in relation to the issue of 'unnaturalness' that GM modification did not differ to such an extent from conventional breeding that it is in itself morally objectionable. In making an assessment of possible costs, benefits and risks, it was necessary to proceed on a case-by-case basis. However, the potential to bring about significant benefits in developing countries (improved nutrition, enhanced pest resistance, increased yields and new products) meant that there was an ethical obligation to explore these potential benefits responsibly, to contribute to the reduction of poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries. NCOB held that these conclusions were consistent with any practical precautionary approach. In particular, in applying a precautionary approach the risks associated with the status quo need to be considered, as well as any risks inherent in the technology. These ethical requirements have implications for the governance of the technology, in particular mechanisms for enabling small-scale farmers to express their preferences for traits selected by plant breeders and mechanisms for the diffusion of risk-based evaluations.

Turkey’s Long, Painful Economic Crisis Grinds On

ARHAVI, Turkey — The terraced rows of tea plants climbing the hills above the Black Sea used to glint like money. Lately, they look like another casualty of Turkey’s long, grinding economic crisis.

Lipton, the multinational giant, recently scrapped production at one of its three tea-processing factories in the area. It has slashed purchases of tea from local farmers, depressing commerce in surrounding towns and villages.

“Everything is connected,” laments the mayor of Arhavi, Vasfi Kurdoglu. “The Lipton factory closure is the worst thing that has happened. It has hit everyone — food stores, bakers, truck drivers who carry tea from here to Istanbul. We are going through a very hard time.”

More than a year after the onset of an economic calamity that has shaken the once-indomitable hold of Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this nation of 80 million people remains stuck in uncomfortable proximity to crisis.


The latest indication came on Monday, as the Turkish currency, the lira, surrendered more than 3 percent of its value against the dollar in early trading in Asia before slightly recovering. The drop followed Mr. Erdogan’s abrupt dismissal of the nation’s central bank governor on Saturday. Global investors absorbed the sacking as a signal that Mr. Erdogan is intent on recklessly lowering interest rates to accelerate economic growth, like a debt-saturated homeowner who resorts to a second mortgage rather than accepting a budget.

Turkey has avoided the meltdown that seemed possible last summer when the lira plunged precipitously, but safety is remote. The palpable threat of imminent collapse has given way to a sense of muddling through as the government unleashes credit to defer an inevitable reckoning. Meanwhile, anyone with money stashes it away in the face of gnawing fears, depriving the economy of vitality.

Turkey’s currency remains battered, while its foreign debts remain vast. Inflation and joblessness are alarmingly high. Economic growth is minimal, and anxiety considerable amid the sense that more trouble lies ahead.

This is playing out as Turkey contends with political uncertainty after the shocking rebuke of Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party in the recent Istanbul mayoral election. A president with a reputation for ignoring unpalatable facts, or thrashing those who wield them, now appears at the mercy of forces he cannot command: international markets.

For Mr. Erdogan, all available choices entail peril.

Most economists maintain that he must accept interest rates above the now-stultifying level of 24 percent to dissuade investors from abandoning Turkey. That should prevent the lira from falling further, limiting inflation. But it would also deprive businesses of capital, yielding bankruptcy and joblessness, while constraining economic growth.

Mr. Erdogan has consistently opted for growth at any cost. He has famously argued that high interest rates cause inflation, which is like blaming abstinence for a hangover. He fired the central bank chief precisely because he refused to lower rates, according to reports in Turkey.

All signs now point to Mr. Erdogan’s forcing interest rates lower, while pumping credit to Turkish businesses and households. That should spur spending and economic growth, but at the cost of remaining faith in the currency, yielding more inflation and bank losses that risk eventually exploding into a full-blown crisis.

“It’s all coming apart,” says Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House, a research institution in London. “The government is so wedded to this consumption model this will ultimately lead to an economic breakdown.”

During his 16 years in power, Mr. Erdogan has proved a maestro of economic growth, using influence over the financial apparatus to steer credit to his cronies in the construction industry. They have erected monuments in his honor — a new Istanbul airport, high-rise office towers, and an ever-expanding trove of shopping malls and resorts.


Taking everything into consideration, GM crops are alive they can migrate and spread worldwide. In this regard, clear signals should be sent to biotech companies to proceed with caution and avoid causing unintended harm to human health and the environment. It is widely believed that it is the right of consumers to demand mandatory labeling of GM food products, independent testing for safety and environmental impacts, and liability for any damage associated with GM crops. We are aware that many regulatory laws already exist for risk assessments which are performed on three levels of impacts on Agriculture (gene flow, reducing biodiversity), Food and Food safety (allergenicity, toxicity), and Environment (including non target organism) And at the same time, in recent years Cartagena protocol has created laws and guidelines and has obliged countries and companies to obey them for production, handling and consumption of GM materials. In this article, we have not reviewed the regulatory issues involved in GMFs production. However, we are certain that the interested readers will follow the debates on GMFs and the related regulatory issues in the years to come.


Since the commercialization of transgenic glyphosate-tolerant (GT) crops in the mid-1990s, glyphosate has become the dominant herbicide to control weeds in corn, soybean, and other crops in the United States and elsewhere. However, recent public concerns over its potential carcinogenicity in humans have generated calls for glyphosate-restricting policies. Should a policy to restrict glyphosate use, such as a glyphosate tax, be implemented? The decision involves two types of tradeoffs: human health and environmental (HH-E) impacts versus market economic impacts, and the use of glyphosate versus alternative herbicides, where the alternatives potentially have more serious adverse HH-E effects. Accounting for farmers’ weed management choices, we provide empirical evaluation of the HH-E welfare and market economic welfare effects of a glyphosate use restriction policy on US corn production. Under a glyphosate tax, farmers would substitute glyphosate for a combination of other herbicides. Should a 10% glyphosate tax be imposed, then the most conservative welfare estimate is a net HH-E welfare gain with a monetized value of US$6 million per annum but also a net market economic loss of US$98 million per annum in the United States, which translates into a net loss in social welfare. This result of overall welfare loss is robust to a wide range of tax rates considered, from 10 to 50%, and to multiple scenarios of glyphosate’s HH-E effects, which are the primary sources of uncertainties about glyphosate’s effects.

Genetically Modified Food

Margaret R. McLean

This talk was delivered at the conference "The Future of Food: Legal and Ethical Challenges," held at Santa Clara University April 15, 2005.

Let's begin with a pop quiz—True or False:

  1. All plants contain genes.
  2. Only genetically modified plants contain genes.
  3. Plants can be modified to contain animal genes.
  4. A tomato containing a jellyfish gene would taste like squid.
  5. Genetically modified foods are available at Safeway.
  6. I have never eaten a genetically modified food.

The answers are true, false, true, false, true, and . . . .most likely, false. The truth is that we have been eating genetically modified (GM) foods for a decade. About 75 percent of processed food that is produced in the United States contains some GM ingredients. This includes crackers, breakfast cereals, and cooking oils. Almost everything that contains soy or corn—including the nearly ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup—has been genetically modified.

Humans were modifying crops long before the advent of genetics and "modern" biotechnology. Once humans began to practice settled agriculture some 8000 years ago, they selected which plants to plant, grow, and harvest-first choosing from the wild and then from cultivated crops. These first farmers chose plants that grew well and demonstrated resistance to disease, pests, and shifting weather patterns. Ever since, farmers have bred, crossed, and selected plant varieties that were productive and useful. These age-old techniques can now be complemented, supplemented, and perhaps supplanted by an assortment of molecular "tools" that allow for the deletion or insertion of a particular gene or genes to produce plants (animals and microorganisms) with novel traits, such as resistance to briny conditions, longer "shelf-life," or enhanced nutrient content. A change in a plant's genetic sequence changes the characteristics of the plant. Such manipulation of genes—genetic engineering—results in a genetically modified organism or GMO.

Both "traditional" biotechnology and "modern" biotechnology result in crops with combinations of genes that would not have existed absent human intervention. A drought-resistant crop can be developed through "traditional" methods involving crosses with resistant varieties, selection, and backcrossing. Modern biotechnology can speed up this process by identifying the particular genes associated with drought resistance and inserting them directly. Whether developed through traditional or modern means, the resultant plants will resist drought conditions but only the second, genetically engineered one, is a GMO or, if meant for human consumption, a GMF.

Genetic engineering has both sped up the process of developing crops with "enhanced" or new characteristics and allowed for the transfer of genes from one organism to another, even from great evolutionarily distances, such as the insertion of a gene from an African frog into rhododendrons to confer enhanced resistance to root rot. Moving genes between species creates transgenic plants and crops.

Importantly, genetic engineering is not the whole of agricultural biotechnology, which also includes techniques such as tissue and cell culture. This conference primarily concerns itself with a small piece of agricultural biotechnology, the genetic engineering of food crops.

The most commonly grown GM food crops are those that have been engineered to withstand herbicide spraying (e.g., Roundup Ready soybeans and corn) or to produce substances toxic to insects (e.g., Bt corn). Crops that can tolerate herbicides have been an economic success story—approximately 80 percent of the U.S. market in soybeans and cotton is in plants that can withstand the popular herbicide Roundup.

To date, most of the development of GM crops—dubbed "first generation crops"—has been aimed at benefiting the farmers' bottom line—increasing yields, resisting pests and disease, and decreasing the use of herbicides. Over 80 percent of the soybeans and 40 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Worldwide, close to a billion acres are planted in GM crops, mostly corn and soy for animal consumption.

The first GM food produced was the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, touted for its flavor and long shelf life. Interestingly, the Flavr Savr tomato did not contain an alien gene rather, a gene normally present in the tomato was blocked so that a normal protein involved in ripening was not produced giving the tomato a longer shelf life and, theoretically, better flavor. It failed to attract consumers.

Despite the tomato's flop, so-called "second generation" crops will once day line supermarket shelves. These include products such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans with reduced trans fats and increased heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats Syngenta's StayRipe banana, which ripens slowly and has a prolonged shelf life potatoes and peanuts less liable to trigger life-threatening allergic reactions and tomatoes that help prevent cancer and osteoporosis (Stokstad, Eric: "Monsanto Pulls the Plug on Genetically Modified Wheat," Science 304:1088, 2004 Associated Press: "Americans Clueless about Gene-altered Foods,", March 26, 2005).

Also in the pipeline are GM crops designed to produce pharmaceuticals, so-called "pharma crops." Last year, the California Rice Commission advised the state Food and Agriculture Department to allow Ventria Bioscience of Sacramento to grow 50 hectares of GM rice near San Diego. Ventria planned to grow two types of rice modified with synthetic human genes-one to make human lactoferrin to treat anemia and the second to produce lysozyme to treat diarrhea (Dalton, Rex: "California Edges towards Farming Drug-producing Rice," Nature 428: 591, 2004). Anemia and diarrhea plague children under 5 in developing countries. But the California Food and Agriculture Department denied Ventria's request after rice growers expressed concern that international customers would refuse their rice out of fear of contamination. Earlier this week (4/12/05), brewer Anheuser-Busch threatened to boycott rice from Missouri if Ventria is allowed to set up its "biopharming" practices there. Again, the concern is the potential that the GM rice could cross-pollinate other crops and introduce foreign genes and proteins into the human food chain.

INB Biotechnologies (Philadelphia) is developing a nontoxic anthrax vaccine through the transgenic modification of petunias, causing the plant to manufacture new proteins, which when eaten prompt the development of anti-anthrax antibodies. So, instead of "eat your peas," the imperative will be to "eat your petunias!"

The advent of GM crops provides new opportunities for increasing agricultural production and productivity, enhancing nutritional value, developing and delivering pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and feeding the world. But, it is far from easy sailing for GM foods in light of the public concern for associated risks—risks to human and animal health risks to biodiversity and the environment—and intermittent consumer outrage at not knowing if "the breakfast of champions" has had a genetic boost or not. GM foods are not labeled as such and the industry game of "I've Got a Secret" has bred distrust among consumers and fuels an inherent skepticism about the safety of GM foods.

A common approach to thinking about the ethics of the genetic engineering of food crops and the appropriate regulatory environment is by evaluating safety and weighing potential risks and benefits.

The risk side of the ledger includes (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations):

First are potential risks to the environment and wildlife.

Genes may "escape" and find their way into other members of the species or other species. Imagine the trouble if herbicide-resistant genes found their way into weeds.

GM crops could compete or breed with wild species threatening biodiversity.

Monogenetic crops may not react sufficiently to environmental stresses, posing the danger of an reenactment of Ireland's potato famine.

What are the risks to birds, insects and other non-target species that come into contact with or consume GM plants?

Second are potential risks to human health.

There is the potential that allergy-producing genes will be inserted into unrelated foodstuffs. Since GM foods are not labeled, a person could suffer a potentially fatal allergic reaction, e.g., an allergenic Brazil nut gene was transferred to a soybean variety, but the resultant modified crop was never released to the public.

GM products may inadvertently enter the human food supply as evidenced by the settlement earlier this month between Syngenta and the U.S. government over the accidental sale of unapproved GM (Bt10) corn seed to farmers.

Third are potential socio-economic effects.

Small-scale farmers could be negatively impacted by the market dominance of a few powerful seed companies. Some worry about the potential loss of traditional farming practices such as collecting, storing, and replanting seed.

The proprietary nature of biotechnology may slow basic research, and patent protection may hinder the entry of GM foods into developing countries as has been the case with pharmaceuticals.

Fourth is the potential risk to public trust generated in part by industry refusal to label GM foods as such.

The benefit side of the ledger stresses:

First, there are potential benefits to agricultural productivity through the development of crops more resistant to pests, disease, and severe weather, decreasing the risk of devastating crop failure.

Second are potential benefits to the environment including:

Improved productively could result in more food from less land and a decreasing reliance on the cultivation of marginal land.

Genetically engineered pest and disease resistance could reduce the need for pesticides and other chemicals, thereby decreasing the environmental load and farmer exposure to toxins.

The potential longer shelf life of fruits and vegetables could decrease the gross wastage associated with transportation and storage.

Third are potential benefits to human health and wellbeing.

Genetic engineering could be used to remove genes associated with allergies, e.g., the blocking of the gene that produces the allergenic protein in peanuts.

The insertion of genes into crops such as rice and wheat can enhance their nutritional value, e.g., Golden Rice.

Genetic modification could be used to produce healthier foods, e.g., by eliminating trans fats or caffeine for example.

Genetic engineering could be used to develop pharmaceuticals and vaccines in plants, decreasing the risk of adverse reactions and enabling faster vaccination of large populations.

Although weighing risks and benefits is necessary, it is neither easy nor the sole concern in considering the ethics of agricultural biotechnology. Certainly, both human wellbeing and environmental safety are of primary concern but our ethical obligations are not discharged solely by a guarantee of some degree of protection from harm, as important as that is. We also must be concerned with justice and the common good—raising concerns about human and environmental sustainability and the just distribution of nutritious food and acknowledging the need for thoughtful regulation that addresses necessary human and environmental protections while pursuing benefit. Such a task might well begin with a good dose of humility.

And so, we approach the "future of food" and the questions we have before us today:

Should we have genetically modified foods?

And, since we do, how ought they be regulated?

How do we weigh values and risk in biotechnology?

And, finally, is the genetic modification of food necessary to relieve world hunger?