In 2012, the global are of genetically modified crops continued to increase for the 17th year in a row at a rate of 6% (25 million acres). The area of genetically modified crops, or biotech crops, has increased almost 100-fold since commercialization in 1996, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture (“ISAAA”). The biotech boom has changed the way that producers grow their crops, for better or for worse. The explosion of genetically modified crops and foods has stirred a debate whether they are a harmful liability to the environment and to society or they are a beneficial, new technology that can help provide food to the rapidly increasing world population.
In order to understand the debate, it is important to understand genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short. According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs are plants that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. In other words, these plants “have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content” (Whitman). The best-known example of this is the introduction of B.t. genes in corn and other crops. “B.t., or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae.” The active protein genes of B.t. are transferred into corn, allowing the corn to produce its own pesticides (Whitman). Due to advancements like this, experts in the United States have acclaimed genetically modified foods as the “food of the future” and as a tool to substantially reduce hunger in poorer countries (Laros and Steenkamp 1).
The world population is expected to double in the next 50 years; a major challenge in years to come will be to assure an adequate food supply for the flourishing population. Presently there are more than 800 million people in the world that are chronically malnourished. Additionally, 36 million deaths per year are attributed to malnourishment. “Somewhere in the world, a child dies every seven seconds, and the cause of death is directly or indirectly attributable to hunger” (Jefferson). Many see genetically modified food as the resolution to end world hunger. Biotech crops can grow larger and faster, while being more resistant to pests, heat, cold, and drought, than non-biotech crops.
Genetically modified crops can be engineered to be pest resistant and herbicide tolerant. Pest resistant crops, such as B.t. corn, help prevent insects from destroying crop yields. This is extremely helpful to farmers as crop losses from pests can be staggering, resulting in financial and product loss. In addition to preventing pests, pest resistant crops are intended to help reduce the amount of pesticides that are applied to growing areas because the genetic modification already fights pests (Whitman). This is beneficial to both farmers and consumers: farmers are...