In the essay Ten Reasons Why Biotechnology Will Not Ensure Food Security, Protect the Environment, and Reduce Poverty in the Developing World the authors Altieri and Rosset do just that: give their reasons why genetically engineered foods will not benefit the future of agriculture. They argue that genetically modified foods will not solve the problems of world hunger because world hunger is due to lack of wealth and not a lack of food. They contend these foods are hazardous to the environment and there are other solutions available to the problems that biotech companies are trying to solve.
Altieri and Rosset cite several studies showing genetically engineered crops do not increase production. Some have even lower production results than historically used seeds and farming techniques. Other studies cited by the authors show the crops can harm humans with toxins and lowered nutritional value. Another concern of Altieri and Rosset is that pests will quickly adapt to the genetically engineered crops, making these crops of no use for the long term.
Tests have shown that it is possible through cross-pollination for wild plants to develop the genetics of bioengineered crop plants. In one test designed to simulate what could happen, milkweed become pest resistant and killed monarch larvae. Pests that target cotton have already adapted and become resistant to Biotech cotton, a common and now widely planted crop. Although pest resistance also happens with the use of pesticides.
The American Council on Science and Health support genetically modified crops saying there has been extensive research done on the safety of these products and that the benefits are great. Those benefits included nutritionally enhanced foods and crops that can survive natural disasters and pests. Farmers that have used genetically modified crops are seeing an increase in income, improved ground water quality, and improved health all due to not using pesticides. Drought resistant crops can bring a necessity-food-- to areas plagued with droughts, a natural disaster not caused by a lack of wealth.
The American Council on Science and Health also stanchly promotes the fact that reputable scientists worldwide support the research and use of these crops as an improvement on current farming practices and abilities. In the article NGOs Don't Speak for the Hungry, the author Thomas R. DeGregori states, "An anti-gm food petition that has been vigorously promoted for several years has barely more than 300 signatories, while a pro-gm food petition has over 3,000 including nineteen Nobel Prize winners."
Who's Right in the Fight Over Genetically Modified Foods?
They are probably both right. While some crops in the end may fail because pests have become resistant, others may survive because they are resistant to drought. Modifying foods with the use of today's biotechnology is a new science with still unknown uses and consequences. In years to come, the various outcomes will probably proved both sides to be correct and that genetically modified foods have advantages and disadvantages.
However, whether or not genetically modified crops should be grown, harvested, and consumed in the end may be a futile argument. The result will likely depend on what is profitable to those involved. Since farmers will not pay money and provide labor to plant a tend crops that fail or that people will not buy, eventually only the products that work will be profitable and thus will be purchased and used.
Alternatives to Genetically Modified Foods
Funding dedicated to new biotechnologies verses funding dedicated to ecologically based agricultural research is greatly unbalanced according to Altieri and Rosset. They feel research dollars would be much better spend on the latter. They point out that developing countries are already successfully using farming principles that include crop diversity and conservation. Altieri and Rosset conclude that more investment in this type of farming is vital to the future of agriculture.
ActionBioscience.org: The Debate Over Genetically Modified Foods
GM.org: Pest Developing Resistance to Biotech Cotton Found
AgBioForum.org: Ten Reasons Why Biotechnology Will Not Ensure Food Security, Protect The Environment, And Reduce Poverty In The Developing World
American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org): Studies Indicate GM Crops Are Safer and Healthier