3 - Session 6 exercise Arguments in favour and against GM...

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Session 6 exercise: Arguments in favour and against GM food For: Elimination of global hunger, prevention of deficiency diseases and protection of the world’s threatened environments are within reach as biotech and genetically modified food research improves. The debate over food production has swung in favour of new high-tech methods. The benefits to consumers, producers and the environment from these new technologies are increasingly evident and vastly outweigh the risks. Every year millions of lives are lost to malnutrition. Thousands of hectares of precious habitat are sacrificed in the struggle to produce food using inefficient methods, namely conventional methods. For example, vitamin A deficiency is a serious worldwide problem. So it is hard to see the merit in eco-terrorists destroying test crops of GM ‘golden rice’ – which contains high levels of beta-carotene to help fight rampant vitamin A deficiency and resulting blindness in developing nations. Meanwhile, too many people drastically overestimate the risks because they don’t understand that GM crops are not essentially anything new. Genetic improvement has a long and venerable history, and with the exception of wild game, wild berries and the like, virtually all the foods in our diet are obtained from organisms that have been genetically improved. Scientists worldwide agree that adding genes to plants does not make them less safe either to the environment or for humans to eat. Dozens of new plant varieties produced through hybridisation and other traditional methods of genetic improvement enter the marketplace each year without scientific review or scientific labelling. Many such products are plant varieties that do not and cannot exist in nature! The scientific consensus is unequivocal: gene-splicing is more precise, controllable and predictable than other, ‘traditional’ or conventional techniques. For example, new insect-resistant varieties of grain crafted with gene-splicing techniques have lower levels of contamination with toxic fungi and insect parts than conventional grains. Thus, gene-spliced grain is not only cheaper to produce but is a potential boon to human health. Moreover, by reducing the need for spraying chemical pesticides on crops, it is environmentally friendly. Florence Wambubu, an agronomist from Kenya, described how all farming there is ‘organic’ and has produced low yields and hungry people. She spent three years at Monsanto, in the United States, developing a genetically modified sweet potato to help the farmers in her country, where the crop has been nearly destroyed by a virus. The engineered sweet potato is virus-resistant, and requires no pesticides. Wambugu is scornful of the environmental ‘hooligans’, whom she sees as trying to tear down many years of work on behalf of romantic notions and bad science.
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