Social Implications

Population Issue Pertaining to GM Foods

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When understanding population growth, it is important to know the initial causes of the problem. The first source of a major population increase was the Agricultural Revolution. The Agricultural Revolution began with the domestication of plants by hunter and gatherer groups thousands of years ago. In time agriculture became a significant industry using opening up many doors including rotation of crops, new tools, introduction of crops, better land use, breeding techniques, and better communication to further educate farmers. All of these conditions allowed the fertility rates to soar because the world had the ability to produce more food. Why not have more children?

Ever since the first leap in agriculture, it has been an on going battle between the growing population and food production. It was great when it started, but now it is a race between consumption and availability of resources. Biotechnology, which can be described as any method which uses living organisms or processes to make or alter products; to better plants or animals, or to develop microorganisms for certain uses, was introduced in the late 1940's to increase food production. From 1950-1984 food production grew faster than ever before, along with world's population.

After 1984 the increase in global agriculture productivity began to slow. This was due mainly to the droughts in the United States, overuse of fertilization, poor soil quality, misuse of land, and disease. From 1984-1989 farm productivity only rose one percent while population was driving full force. Yields of crops had leveled off and the so called miracle strain for rice had worn off as well. It is possible that technology could discover another solution to all of this, but with deforestation killing possible solutions found in the genetic library, the answers are less likely to be unearthed.

Paul Kennedy, the author of Preparing for the Twenty-First Century, writes, "..., we may be at the beginning of an ominous long-term trend in which population grows faster than food production.(Kennedy, 1993, p.67)." Right now the number of undernourished people on the earth are increasing and so is the amount of food aid being given to Africans and Asians, which only supports their instability. But, if the food aid to developing countries discontinues, migration out of the countries into other countries would only increase. This is not going to better the situation.

Possible solutions to this problem of starvation do exist, yet it is an extremely controversial topic. One possibility is to increase the efficiency of farmers in poor countries. An example of poor farming exists in China. They loose 20% of their rice crop due to poor agricultural techniques. This purposed solution would allow them to produce more food while strengthening their economy simultaneously. Although money is necessary for this to work, by just educating these people, their efficiency would increase.

There are some misconceptions about hunger: one, that people are starving because of overpopulation, and two, that genetically modifying crops is the only solution to the problem. Peter Rosset, an author of the New York Times, states, "..., there is no relationship between the prevalence of hunger in a given country and its population."(Rosset, 1999, p.1) For every highly populated hungry country like India, exists a scantily populated hungry nation like Brazil.

People also misconceive that the world is not producing enough food to support the population. They are wrong. Every day the earth produces more food per individual than ever before. There is enough food produced to provide each inhabitant with approximately 4.3 pounds of food a day, more than one could eat. The problem is not a lack of food production, but problems of poverty and inequality. There are really too many poor people, not people in general, who can not buy the available food or they do not have the land availability to grow themselves.

The second misconception is that genetic engineering is the best and only solution to solve the hunger problem. The main producer of genetically modified seeds is Monsanto, which makes Round-up Ready seeds, which are altered to resist its herbicide, Roundup. The same company also makes Bt seeds, which are genetically modified so that the crops produce their own insecticide. Research has concluded that none of the genetically modified seeds increase the harvest by a momentous amount. It was found by Dr. Charles Benbrook, once director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences, that in over 8,200 trial fields, the Roundup Ready seeds yielded less bushels of soybeans than comparable natural varieties.

If anything, the quick integration of genetically modified seeds is more of a threat to the agricultural industry and food security of the world. Rosset reports, "In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service has found that Roundup already threatens 74 endangered species." (Rosset, 1999, p.2) Rosset feels that the solution is not going to be dependent on genetically altered seeds, but on the way the issues of poverty and inequality betwixt the consumers and producers of crops are handled. By setting up a food system which is dependent on genetically engineered seeds, we are creating more problems than solving.

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