Feeding the World in the Twenty-First Century

by therealmaille on April 1, 2014 - 2:52pm

In their text ‘’Feeding the World in the Twenty-First Century” Gordon Conway and Gary Toenniessen explain the necessity of developing biotechnology to feed the population of poor countries. To support their thesis, they emphasize the benefits of the Green Revolution, which significantly decreased the number of hungry people in developing countries. Also, they bring up the statistical evidence of economic advantage that “since the 1970s, world food prices have declined in real terms by over 70 per cent” (153). It is important to note that malnutrition hits mainly the children and women and that it poses severe health risk like anaemia. To further prove their thesis, the two authors bring up the fact that the world population will increase by 1.5 billion from 1999 to 2020, which means a lot more people to feed. This causes a serious problem since the majority of the poor people living in developing countries live in rural areas, where their primary source of food is local agriculture. However, their lands are not very fertile due to harsh weather. Since exporting food to them is not an option because it will create dependence, it is primordial that they use biotechnology in order to assure good harvest. Indeed, plant breeding as many advantages as it increases yields and yields ceiling, “excessive pesticide use [is] reduced, the nutrient value of basic foods [is] increased and farmers on less favoured land [are] provided with varieties better able to tolerate drought, salinity and lack of soil nutrients” (155). However, the major multinationals that produce genetically modified seeds are not interested in investing to create a product designed for developing countries since they represent a weak market. Therefore, there is a need for a public-private collaboration to fund research and the farmers until they are able to buy the seeds by themselves. For example, the Rockefeller Foundation has already started funding rice biotechnology research. These investments from the public-private sector could come as a savior for developing countries as they would permit to increase the nutritional features. For example, three genes producing vitamin A precursor B-carotene were added to the rice produced in areas where they have trouble getting enough of this nutrient. Also, Indian rice was modified to be more resistant to flooding. However, the present patenting of biotechnology is a threat to the further use of GMOs in developing countries. Indeed, private companies are not sharing their new discoveries publicly. This complicates the job of public-sector programmes who aim at giving seeds to poor farmers in developing countries. In order to protect their product, they started using terminator technologies which makes it impossible to reuse the seed of the plant. It is important that they stop using this in developing countries because it slows down the economic growth of poor farmers. They should inversely be selling them their products for cheaper. In order to be accepted throughout the world, it is also essential that private companies better informs the population on the dangers and benefits of GMOs by sharing what they know about their product. It is important to note that each GM crop has its own benefits and danger. This is why they need to do more research about each new species, and developing countries need to increase their biosafety testing, which is presently lacking.

Question: Why do you think developing countries should use or not use biotechnologies in farming?


This situation definitely represents an issue on which it is difficult to take position. I would be tempted to say, for the same reasons that were brought up in your text, that I am in favour of the use of biotechnologies in developing countries. However, when I think of the fact that many people are actually against the use of genetically modified crops in our country because we are not totally aware of their effects, I feel like allowing the use of genetically modified crops in developing countries would constitute a considerable risk. That is why I believe that biotechnology should be used in developing countries, but only when the effects of genetically modified crops will completely be known and understood.

I get your point, Francois, that you are worried of the side effects since GMOs are fairly recent and there was no long term studies done yet. However, I disagree with your point that we should not allow the use of biotechnologies in developing countries until their effects are known. Indeed, there are presently a lot of people dying from famines in developing countries and I don’t see how nourishing the population through the growth of GM crops could make their situation worse than it is. Actually, it would considerably reduce the people who lack food and die, while they MIGHT get side effects later in their lives. However, the chance of this happening is still very low. Remember that GMOs are still an FDA approved product, and therefore they are not a lethal weapon, that’s for sure. If they get side effects later, it is still better than if they would have died a long time before.

You are both correct on some facts but I think Stephane is right. These people do not have the time to wait, their lives are at stake. Yes we do not know the side effects of the GMOs but would you prefer have the death of over a million people on your shoulders? The use of GMOs could of save them for the time being. The best option would be to plant these GMOs, with the approval of the country in which they are used, and have a group of experts see it through. Good inventions have been made through trial and errors, yet your are not willing to test a brilliant invention that could save millions and maybe billions of lives? Yes the issue of side effects is brought up but it will always be. The only way to see if there is going to be any side effects is to use them and if there are, a group of experts will do the necessary to help and create a perfect GMO. After that we could use these GMOs on trees and rebuild our mother nature's lungs. A decision has to be made but i can tell you this I am willing to be a test subject if it means saving the lives of a whole country.

I have to admit that you guys have a point. I agree that the chances of improving the current situation of developing countries with the use of GM crops are fairly high. Nevertheless, what I fear the most is that it might only be true on a short-term basis. My point is that we do not know what are the long-term consequences associated to this issue, and we surely do not know the magnitude of these consequences. Maxime, you said that good inventions have been made through trial and error. So given that some errors have to be made before an effective solution is adopted, do you really want to inflict these errors on the weakest and most fragile populations? I believe that it is best to wait until the use of genetically modified crops has been perfected before taking the risk to hurt populations that are already suffering. Every situation has its advantages and disadvantages, and we should be careful to believe in a solution without being aware of the disadvantages.

I understand your point Francois and I find it makes the most sense humanly speaking. However, these populations are already weak and a lot of people are dying. Therefore, nourishing them with genetically modified food cannot make their situation worse. It will obviously help them on the short term, and on the long term it has high chances of helping them too since GMOs are certainly not a lethal weapon. It is important that GMOs went human more than ten years ago and have been studied since 1986.Therefore, although their might still be some side effects, these would be major. I am asking you this question, what his best between having a life expectancy between 46 and 73 years old (African countries) and working extremely hard all your life to try in vain to nourish your family or taking the risk to give them GMOs. Personally, I believe GMOs can’t kill someone before the already low life-expectancy and quality life of African. Also, remember that you probably both got shot for H1N1, which was tested only a few months.

I repeat that I totally understand your opinion Stéphane, and I am not in total disagreement with it. Of course, I want to do what is best for the populations of these countries and I certainly do not want to let these people die. However, I think we do not picture the same kind of possible long-term side effects. What I fear is not that GMOs make people die younger when they eat them, but rather that these crops cause biological damages over generations. As you said, genetically modified crops have only been tested on humans for about ten years. Ten years is not what I consider to be long-term, and ten years can definitively not allow us to understand the effects over several generations. I think that our society has the tendency to adopt new technologies too rapidly and that we should not impose the consequences of this habit on populations other than our own. For instance, X-rays, which are now used in several domains (such as in airports), could lead a man to suffer from a mutation of his sperm cells. This could lead to disastrous consequences over time and yet, we use X-rays without hesitation. It is this type of behaviour that I fear with the use of genetically modified organisms, and it also this type of consequence that I want to avoid. So to answer your question, I would not let people die for no reasons and I would not take the risk to give them GMOs; I would give them GMOs once these GMOs stopped to be considered as a risk. For what is of the H1N1virus, the reaction of our society toward this problematic represents perfectly the type of behaviours that I fear. This tendency of adopting solutions without knowing all the consequences is definitely a problem in our culture, and I persist to believe that we should not transmit this type of behaviours to other societies. These comportments have lead developed countries to create issue such as the creation of cancers and global warming, so lets try to help the developing countries not to repeat the same mistakes.

I agree with you arguments Francois that the population accepts changes without knowing all the consequences that it might bring. I must admit that I hadn’t thought of the problematic in this way. Another example could be the approval of the cigarettes by the FDA, which was done after very little research on the side effects. As we know it now, smoking is very harmful to our health. However, I am wondering, is it possible to fully know the side effects of a product before putting it on humans?
Personally, I sadly don’t think it is possible because studying the consequences of a product takes time and it needs to be observed on a human himself. Therefore, we could still use some test subjects who would be willing to give up their whole life to be tested, but I think these kinds of people are rare. Another option could be to test it on prisoners, but they don’t have the same lifestyle as we do, for example they take a lot of drugs, so I don’t think they would well represent the population.

I understand your concern Stephane and I agree on the fact that we will probably never know all the possible side effects of GMOs until they are tested on humans. But in America, genetically modified crops are eaten everyday, so in my opinion, they are already being tested. That is why we have to wait and observe if some considerable problems emerge over time. This new technology is being tested on our own population, and I persist to believe that we should not impose these tests to countries other than our own.

I think biotechnology is the best way for developing countries to thrive. This is because it allows them to grow foods on land that is not ideal and still have a good yield. It also allows them to grow foods that would typically not have much nourishment and be able to get most of their required vitamins and minerals from one crop. Such as the Golden rice which contains a large amount of vitamin. Therefore i believe that developing countries should receive access to these GM crops. Without it they will remain malnourished. Like the Green Revolution has done before these crops can help these countries become developed countries by allowing their farmers to produce more than their country needs so they could also make a profit off these foods. This is why i believe just by giving a country a good food source, they can become a thriving country. Everything has to start somewhere and i believe if these developing countries are able to acquire good nourishment through biotechnology then we should aid them in doing so.

I'm unsure on what they should do.
If developing countries use GM crops to nourish the starving and dying, it is a good thing. Many people in developing countries are malnourished and need vitamins and proper food, however they can't afford or get to those foods. Therefore, the GM crops would help them a lot. More vitamins would be in their foods and allow them to be more healthy. For example, the extra vitamin in rice would help with the lack of vitamin in a growing child from the developing countries.
However, they do not know if biotechnology is harmful; therefore, it might hurt the population of developing countries more than help them. GM crops are adjusted differently in the developed countries than in the poor. if an individual from the developing countries eat a Gm crop that they are not used to they might get very sick. Since there are few treatments for them, they will die.
All in all, biotechnology is beneficial to some extent; however, the population should be informed with it and must eat GM crops because they are willing. If they know what it has what the affects, it can be an individual opinion on whether they want to eat it or not.

I believe that developing countries should use biotechnology in farming. Why should the secret of biotechnology be conserved by multinationals and make poor countries be dependent on the occidental ones? I can't believe how this world is unfair. People die of lack of water while in North America people are washing their driveways with it. Even though biotechnology is not proven to be safe, poor farmers in developing countries should have the right to benefit of the latest technologies that permit to multinationals to make tons of money. I found some shocking statistics stating that “One out of six children -- roughly 100 million -- in developing countries is underweight". Food should be allowed to anyone no matter if it is natural of genetically modified. We do not know the effects on a long term of genetically modified food, but we should offer to people in developing countries a better quality of life by giving them more resources to feed themselves.

More shocking statistics on: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

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