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image1Meet Jaiye Senbanjo, he is an Agronomist and part of the Next Gen team :-)! So during our weekly meeting the subject of GM came up. Truth is, I didn’t know enough to argue intelligibly about the subject but I knew a lil something, however Jaiye knew a whole lot and we figured he could write a blog post on this somewhat controversial topic. It’s a long article so the second part will be shared next week…

Genetically Modified (GM) crops from four perspectives;

  • The farmer,
  • The consumer,
  • GM crop producing company.
  • The environment.

This will be done with special reference to developing countries. It is important to understand three things before examining the acceptability of genetic modification (GM). These are; what exactly GM is, why GM practices are used, and how genetic modification is brought about.

Through genetic modification, an organisms genetic composition is altered so that it becomes able to express a characteristic that it would never have been able to in the wild, i.e. without extensive human intervention. ‘Agronomic practices’ such as plant spacing, water and fertilizer regimes are used to enhance yield. GM practices however, are used to significantly enhance a plants ability to express beneficial qualities or characteristics such as the ability to resist a disease or overcome environmental stresses. Genetic modification does not increase yield per se, but rather allow plants to achieve higher greater yields by overcoming adverse effects that prevent true yield potential from being attained. There is no gene for ‘big tomato’.

Conventional plant breeding over thousands of years has served to accumulate beneficial genes in an organism such as a plant in order to improve its agricultural performance. Arguably, genetic modification carries out this equivalent process but at a much faster rate. Broadly speaking there are two ways in which genetic modification is brought about. These are transgenesis, and mutagenesis. In transgenesis, a gene from one organism is removed and inserted into the genome of another meaning that that organism will exhibit a characteristic or quality governed by that new gene. This can occur between completely unrelated organisms i.e. a gene can be taken from a bacterium and inserted or ‘spliced’ into a plant. In mutagenesis, x-ray bombardment for example may be used to force changes in the chemistry of genes. These chemical genetic alterations can give rise to corresponding improvements in agricultural performance.

If you are an opponent to genetic modification, are you an opponent to transgenesis, an opponent to mutagenesis? Do you feel that one is more acceptable or tolerable than another? Perhaps you oppose both processes? Why?

Genetic Modification from the Farmers Perspective

Farmers in developing countries may not own their land and may face very high rent charges and usage obligations which reduce their bottom line. Developing countries also often do not produce inputs such as plant protection chemicals, herbicides and fertilizers. This means that such products are often imported which very often makes them more expensive. GM crops have a reduced requirement of such chemicals and therefore GM crops can minimize inputs that the farmer needs to purchase as well as minimizing the time and cost of applying these inputs. GM crops as a result of the adaptations we have imparted to them can make them  more efficient at utilizing inputs such as water in comparison to conventional crops. The use of GM crops can also minimize the area or expanse of land that a farmer needs to exploit to earn a reasonable income. These aspects serve to minimize necessary inputs and land that a farmer need have access to thus driving down overheads and reducing recurrent expenditure. In this way, GM crop farmers can make more money than those farmers growing in conventional non-GM conditions and the application of GM can therefore lead to wealth creation among farmers.

This means that genetic modification can provide an opportunity for developing countries to diversify their economies and provide more empowering job opportunities.

Genetic Modification From The Consumers Perspective

We need to again visit the topic of opposition to genetic modification and one must really understand what it is about genetic modification that they are opposed to.

Why might one feel that it is unacceptable to consume organisms that contain genes from another organism? We eat billions of genes every day, genes from animals, plants and bacteria are all present in our food. Bacterial biomass is especially prevalent in dairy and alcohol products. Why does the origin of a single gene change the acceptability of a food item?

‘Consumption’ is also a complex term that can mean many things. You may not eat transgenic corn for example, but you have most probably eaten an animal that has eaten transgenic corn. You are also probably at this very moment wearing transgenic cotton clothing. Are you also against these? There are also no recorded deaths or illnesses resulting from the consumption of transgenic organisms.

I believe that the greatest argument for the promotion of GM crops is that their consumption is potentially healthier. This is because GM crops have been exposed to much less – if any – spraying of toxic harmful pesticides than conventional non-GM crops systematically are. This is because the GM crops have the ‘functions’ of the chemical sprays indirectly built into them and so spraying becomes less necessary. The residues of these chemical sprays which are found on non GM foods have been known to cause cancer and have been linked to low birth weight and infertility in humans, not to mention disease and death in wild animals.

Pretty thought provoking right? I will share the other two perspectives next week. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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