World population has been rising at a fast rate since the 12th century. It has mortality, higher standards of living, increasing food production and productivity etc. But this growing population is required to be fed by improving production of food further, in addition to adding more nutritive value to the food crops. Thus production, productivity can be improved and more nutrition can be added with the help of technology. One of the methods of improving food production is by the use of genetic modifications in food crops. It can ensure stable and sustainable accessibility of food to the world population at a faster rate. But, several environmental concerns are associated with Genetically Modified Foods as a large number of people in the scientific community still find the Genetically Modified crops unsafe.
What are Genetically Modified crops?
Traditionally, plant breeding is done to improve crop varieties and their production value. In breeding, two same variety crops are crossbreed by exchanging their genes. This crossbreeding is limited to close or related species and it takes long time to achieve desired results. But the Genetically Modified technology enables the plant breeders to bring the useful genes in one plant from a variety of superior plants. Thus, a Genetically Modified crop or Genetically Modified Food crop is defined as a superior plant variety that has been created by combining novel varieties of genes which have been artificially inserted instead of natural pollination. Genetic modification of plants include adding a specific stretch of DNA into the plant’s genome for giving it a new or different characteristics. This include modifying the way in which plants grow or making it resistant to a particular disease. Genetically Modified food crops are also made to make the plant tolerate wide varieties of environments to make the plants grow in difficult weather conditions.
Genetic modifications also results in significant reduction in inputs required to grow food crops. There can be reduction in the amount of herbicides, pesticides and insecticides to grow per unit of crop as compared to the traditional non-modified Genetically Modified crop. Toxic elements also reduces by genetic modification of crops. It makes the crops safe from toxicity and improves their acceptability in the society. Though there are many advantages of Genetically Modified crops related with food security human yet there are many concerns caused by Genetically Modified crops due to adverse effects on health and the environment.
Effects of Genetically Modified crops on Human Health and Environment
With every technology, potential risks are also associated with them. Any type of agriculture affects the environment in many ways. So, it is natural that Genetically Modified crops are also going to affect environment and have an impact on human health. Releasing Genetically Modified Food crops into the environment will have direct effects on the environment because of gene transfer.
The use of Genetically Modified crops have negative impacts upon the non-target organisms as well as on soil and water ecosystems. Use of several Genetically Modified crops such as corn and soy has destroyed habitats of various butterfly species in North America. Genetically Modified crops have also been able to contaminate the environment because of gene flow from modified crops to the surrounding environment. This also affects biodiversity and eliminates various important species that may have been useful for providing ecological services to us. Genetically Modified crops are also producing several new toxins for which pests may evolve resistance. This resistance significantly affects food production and crop productivity.
Transfer of genes from Allergenic plant species to the non-allergenic ones may also make the non-allergenic plant species prone to allergy. It needs to be safely demonstrated that there is non-allergenic production after the gene has been transferred successfully. If antibiotic resistant genes are transferred from one species to another, it may result antibiotic resistance in humans too, which will have adverse effects on human beings. Thus, it should be ensured that only those crops are primarily modified by gene transfer that do not have antibiotic resistance. The migration of genes from the Modified Food crops to the traditional food crop varieties will also have an indirect effect on food security as well as safety. There needs to be
clear strategies where Genetically Modified crops and conventional food crops are grown separately on different lands to avoid any mixing. Further, the safety and efficacy standards of all Genetically Modified food crops have not been fully assessed because it is not possible to assess the safety of all crops by only one method and safety and efficacy of all Genetically Modified crops is required to be assessed on only a case-by-case basis. To ensure the safety of Genetically Modified food crops, there is need for continuous assessment of food safety of Genetically Modified crops on human health. These crops are also responsible for creation of superpests that have developed resistance to toxins of Genetically Modified crops. These pests can not be killed or eliminated with the use of pesticides and insecticides and pose great threat to food crops affecting their production. In various regions, Genetically Modified crops have also resulted in increasing use of herbicides due to widespread cultivation of herbicide tolerant crops. Thus, Genetically Modified crops, though offering wide range of benefits are affected by various concerns related to the environment and human health. Till the safety and efficacy of crops is not ensured, they should not be grown on a large scale to feed the population.
Why Genetically Modified crops are increasing in use?
Genetically Modified crops have resulted in great benefits to humanity. Several regions have improved production of agricultural crops and even raised farmer’s incomes. Hence, it has been used to people’s benefits as it has helped in feeding a rapidly increasing population. The main benefits of Genetically Modified crops for which they are being increasingly used are
• Indian farmers and farmers worldwide in the developing countries are still practicing traditional processing of seeding and cultivation. These practices have lower crop production and genetically modified foods are required to raise production and nutrition value of the foods so that huge population increasing at a fast rate can be easily fed.
• Use of Genetically Modified crops has reduced the use of toxic pesticides and insecticides. This has made the use of food crops more safe because of reduction in the use of pesticides. Reduction in pesticide use has also provided various environmental benefits along with economic benefits to the farmers due to reduced inputs.
• Genetically Modified crops have also been used to make more crops having natural medicinal value. It can be used to reduce disease incidence among the population of the world. Foods have been created that have less carcinogens and foods that can be used as medicines have also been created with help of Genetically Modified crops.
•Mainly crops such as soyabean, cotton, maize, canola etc. have been genetically modified but many crops are still under research that can provide substantial benefits to the farmers and improve their social and economic conditions. Thus, because of evident as well as perceived advantages, Genetically Modified crops offer a potential solution to many of the economic, social and environmental issues affecting the world. But the safety and efficacy of Genetically Modified crops on humans and environment shall be assessed first.
The cultivation of Genetically Modified crops on millions of hectares of land is a huge global genetic experiment involving all human beings and the natural environment. Considering the harmful effects of Genetically Modified food crops on humans as well as environment, the governments, policy makers, consumers, farmers etc. have to reach a consensus to have a clearer vision of the uses and potentials of Genetically Modified food crops along with potential ill effects on natural ecology as well environmental resources. Many scientists have indicated that harms have been done to animals that have been fed on Genetically Modified food crops. In order to give the public the option of making informed choice about the decision to consume Genetically Modified Food, large scale safety and efficacy tests have to be done on the intented Genetically Modified crop. The current regulatory mechanisms to regulate the production and distribution of Genetically Modified
crops should be strengthened so that any harmful effects are not passed on to the end consumer of food crops.
The environmental effects of Genetically Modified crops should be carefully assessed to prevent any harm to nature as well as any unintended effects that could result in critically endangering environmental resources, exotic species or any kind of loss of biodiversity. Genetically Modified crops offer huge potential for humans but can cause harm if they are not used before wider consultations involving the elements of nature.
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