The problem of hunger traditionally accompanied people but it has never being so threatening to the large number of people as it is nowadays when the population of the Earth has exceeded 6 billion and continues to grow. At the same time, the present epoch is characterized by really impressive successes in the agricultural domain since due to the implementation of the newest technologies and recent scientific achievements starvation is rather a problem of developing countries. At any rate, if traditional technologies of farming, similar to those that were used a couple of hundred years ago, persisted, the level of the growth of the population of the Earth would be considerably lower.
Naturally, in such a situation, many people believe that new technologies are vitally important and they are often view as a kind of panacea from the global problem of hunger. In this respect, the development of genetic engineering is considered to be particularly perspective since it can modify plants and the agricultural products at large according to the growing needs of people. In such a way, genetic engineering is perceived as the continuation of the green revolution which started in the second half of the 20th century basically due to the development of chemical industry and implementation of new, more effective methods of agriculture.
However, it is necessary to underline that the wide use of genetic engineering in agriculture targeting at the solution of the problem of hunger is not fully researched and, in actuality, its effects are still obscure. Moreover, it is necessary to underline the fact that often genetic engineering is severely criticized to the extent that it is viewed not as an effective tool which can help to cope with hunger but rather as a tool that can destroy the traditional agriculture and lead the entire planet to the global disaster.
The current development of genetic engineering and spread of GM food
Obviously, nowadays, genetic engineering is one of the fast developing branches of modern science which presumably may help people to solve the problem of hunger. First of all, it should be said that the development of genetic engineering has made a considerable progress in recent years, especially within the last decade. Due to the implementation of new technologies, specialists could create new plants which possessed much better characteristics compared to the conventional plants. As a result, GM plants started their expansion in the world market being widely implemented in agriculture of different countries. At this point, it is worthy of mention that the spread of GM plants is actually controlled and some countries forbid or limit considerably the use of GM plants in their agriculture as well as local food at large, as it is the case of the EU where the access of GM food is forbidden.
At the same time, the development of the genetic engineering and the implementation its technologies in agriculture are determined by the growing need in the larger amount of food that people need to consume simply to avoid starvation and hunger in global terms. Due to the presumably better characteristics of GM plants, genetic engineering technologies were implemented to increase the supply of agricultural products to customers. However, it is worthy of mention that often people consume GM indirectly since basically, the GM plants are destined to be used in cattle farming, though, such products may be and are consumed by people too.
In fact, nowadays, there are four major plants that are genetically modified: soya, maize, cotton, and colza. These products are the most widely spread in several countries, including theUS,Argentine,Brazil, andCanada, but they are rapidly spreading worldwide. In this respect, it should be said that the developing countries readily implement GM plants in their agricultural production and the crops of GM plants are constantly growing in these countries, among which may be namedIndia,Chinaand others. It should be said that often the spread of GM plants in the developing countries is uncontrollable or do not meet the major conditions of cultivating of GM plants. Nowadays, it is estimate that over 100 million hectares of agricultural lands are used for the cultivation of GM plants (Lipson 1997).
At the same time, the spread of GM may be both direct and indirect. This means that the GM products may be directly consumed by people that are basically the characteristic of developing countries, or alternatively, they may be added in food along with other products of conventional agriculture. Moreover, the plants used in cattle farming may also produce certain impact on humans.
In such a way, GM products are growing to be more and more spread and, in such a situation, it is really important to assess whether they can really solve the problem of hunger. In this respect, it is necessary to compare them to the products of conventional farming in order to better understand whether they do have some advantages which can really solve the problem of hunger.
The competition between GM plants and traditional plants
Speaking about the GM plants and traditional plants, it is necessary to point out that the former are steadily replacing the former in global terms. Moreover, the growth of the share of GM plants could be considerably faster if there were no limitations on their use and cultivation in many countries of the world, including those where they are already cultivated. At the same time, the supporters of the wider implementation of the technologies developed by genetic engineers argue that GM plants are considerably better compared to conventional plants that are currently cultivated by the majority of farmers worldwide (Griscom 2004).
To put it more precisely, it is estimated that GM plants could have larger crops compared to conventional plants (Cunningham 2006). Obviously, this is a convincing argument in favor of the wider use of the GM plants since they seem to be really helpful in the eternal struggle of people with hunger because the higher are the crops the better.
Secondly, it is estimated that GM plants can decrease the use of pesticide since the new plants do not actually need pesticides, unlike conventional plants that need them (Lipson 1997). In fact, GM plants are more resistant to the external negative influences, including that of insects that often destroy crops of conventional plants. Naturally, this is also a convincing argument in favor of GM plants. In such a way, GM plants seem to be really more preferable to farmers since they can receive larger crops with less cost since they can save money on pesticides.
In such a situation, it is quite natural that the GM plants become widely spread. However, it is worthy of mention that the wider use of GM plants may face another serious problem that can be a serious obstacle to the prevention of hunger with the help of genetic engineering. What is meant here is the fact that the GM plants naturally replace conventional plants. To put it more precisely, due to their better characteristics they have higher resistance and, therefore, they are easier to cultivate and they simply survive while conventional plants either need pesticides or get destroyed by insects, for instance. Moreover, the high resistance of GM plants make the insects and other destructive organisms evolve and adapt to new conditions in such a way that they could survive. As a result, these insects and organisms evolve and grow more dangerous to the conventional plants as well as to GM plants. Potentially, such a situation may have disastrous effects since will not only lead to the replacement of conventional plants by GM plants but it will also make the insects and other organisms more dangerous to both sorts of plants. Consequently, farmers will need to struggle for higher crops with additional efforts and, in fact, there is no guarantee that this struggle will be successful that means that the problem of hunger will not be solved or, what is worse, the situation will be deteriorated dramatically.
The impact of GM plants on developing countries
It is not a secret that developing countries are in a worse position compared to developed countries since the latter have practically solved the problem of hunger while the former face this problem daily. Naturally, the constant threat of starvation forces developing countries to implement readily new technologies in order to increase crops and to increase the supply of population with food. Such a strive for higher productivity of agriculture and food industry often results in the decisions which may be potentially dangerous to human health or even threat to the future of agriculture that may be the case of GM plants.
It should be said that developing countries are a group of the highest risk of the spread of hunger. At the same time, the use of GM plants may really undermine the agriculture of developing countries and put them in a dependent position from developed countries. To put it more precisely, along with the natural advantages of GM plants, such as higher resistance, compared to conventional plants, the products of genetic engineering are basically created in developed countries. This means that developed countries and their companies are the major sources of supply of genetically modified seeds and technologies of cultivation of GM plants. Consequently, developing countries have to buy these products in developed countries but the price they have to pay for GM seeds is often substantially higher than the price local farmers get used to pay for the conventional seeds.
Naturally, this leads to the increase of costs of cultivation of GM plants and, what is more important, there is practically no control over their use in agriculture and food industry in developing countries. As a result, the cultivation and use of GM plants may be quite expansive for developing countries that can undermine the local agriculture and, therefore, lead to crisis and probably starvation of the local population.
The lack of information about the effects of consumption of GM food
At the same time, the potential economic problems in agriculture of developing countries and increasing threat to conventional plants are only a part of the problem of GM plants cultivation and consumption. Naturally, these two factors are quite serious and potentially may lead to the deterioration of the problem of hunger but, there is another problem, which may be even more serious, the problem of the lack of information about the effects of consumption of GM food, or food containing GM products. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the effects of GM food on human health is still under-researched (Cunningham 2006). This means that scientists cannot definitely forecast whether GM food is safe for consumption by humans or not.
In relation to the problem of hunger, the problem of safety of GM food is really important because if products of genetic engineering are dangerous to human health than it will be necessary to cease their implementation in agriculture. Taking into consideration the current trends and the growing spread of GM plants it is hardly possible to really eliminate GM plants if they are dangerous or have some negative effects on human health. However, the problem is even more serious since GM plants having better characteristics and higher resistance make conventional plants uncompetitive and, therefore, conventional plants will be unable to survive.
Obviously, such a perspective, even though it is purely hypothetical at the moment, will be disastrous and lead to the more severe problem of hunger because, in the situation, when conventional plants are either replaced by GM or unable to resist to the external forces, such as insects, people will need either to consume dangerous GM products or invest more money in agriculture to restore conventional plants and develop new pesticides and other substances to provide high crops.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of genetic engineering is really important since it can create new plants and technologies which could provide agriculture with higher crops and, therefore, minimize the problem of hunger. On the other hand, the current wide implementation of GM plants may be extremely dangerous and, what is more, it may lead to the catastrophe and global starvation if the currently cultivated GM plants would be proved to be dangerous to human health. In fact, the current level of the development of genetic engineering has provided the mankind with a powerful tool with the help of which people can modify plants to make them more productive and resistant. However, the products of genetic engineering tend to go out of control, especially in developing states where the quantity is still a prerogative in relation to the quality of food.
Potentially, this may threaten to the future of the entire world. This is why, potentially, genetic engineering may find a perfect solution to the problem of hunger but it is necessary to avoid the implementation of new products and technologies developed by genetic engineers without a profound research of their effects on human health and analysis of the possible consequences for the world agriculture and economy. At any rate, it took millions of years the nature has spent on the evolution of conventional plants while genetic engineers attempt to play nature and receive positive and safe results in a decade.