Food and agriculture

Why GM foods are not the solution to world hunger: superbugs and superweeds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 9:22pm

I refer to the debate over the safety of genetically modified (GM) food.

Many are convinced that GM food can resolve the food security crisis and help end global huger. With the help of gene technology, GM food is capable of resisting specific types of diseases, pests and environmental conditions, and ensure desired qualities in looks and nutrients, thereby providing more quality food for the world’s population.

However, though GM crops can undoubtedly be healthier, the goal of resolving the food crisis is difficult to achieve, if not impossible. The reason is that the problem is not inadequate supply of food, but its uneven distribution.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world is producing more than enough food, yet 815 million people went hungry in 2016, of whom 489 million lived in countries affected by conflict. So producing more GM food cannot really get to the root of the problem.

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Again, some studies suggest GM foods can have a detrimental effect on human health. It is feared that the presence of antibiotic resistance marker genes in such foods would diminish the efficacy of antibiotics in humans or animals. The presence of such genes in the environment and soil, and in the food we consume, could pass on the trait of antibiotic resistance rapidly and widely, rendering anti-bacterial medicines useless.

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GM food can have an adverse impact on the environment as well. US studies have indicated that growing herbicide-resistant GM crops, like soy and corn, has actually led to an uptick in the use of powerful herbicides, as it has given rise to chemical resistant “superweeds”.

Also, farmers in Brazil reported higher use of pesticides, as their GM corn could no longer fight tropical bugs. These chemicals contaminate the environment through the air; they leach into the ground, and end up in freshwater sources, affecting aquatic life as well as land organisms.

Therefore, caution is warranted on promoting genetically modified food. As the WHO says: “It is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.” What is of paramount importance is to be aware of the food crisis and not take food for granted.

Sara Wong, Tseung Kwan O