What are Some Benefits to Genetically Modifying Foods?
There are many reasons why GM foods could be advantageous. For example, a crop could be made to grow more quickly, with increased protein and vitamin levels, or with less fat. An often-used argument in favour of GM crops is that drought-resistant crops could help to alleviate famine in developing countries, where low rainfall often leads to food shortages. Techniques have also been developed to make fresh produce last longer, so that it can ripen on the plant and be transported more easily with less wastage.
The Golden Rice Project is an example of food being modified to increase the nutrients it contains. In this example, rice was engineered to contain more vitamin A and was planted in areas such as the Philippines and Bangladesh, where vitamin A deficiency is a cause of child blindness and mortality.
The first GM food products - a tomato puree and a vegetarian cheese - appeared in British supermarkets in 1996. The puree was made from tomatoes which were designed to stay firmer for longer, leading to less waste in harvesting. The tomatoes also held less water, meaning that less water was required to grow them and less energy was used removing water from them to turn them into puree. This in turn made the puree cheaper for the consumer.
The first GM soya was planted in the US in the same year, and by 2015, more than 93% of corn and soy grown in the US was genetically modified. Between 60% and 70% of all processed foods on supermarket shelves could now contain some GM soya. Monsanto, the world's major GM manufacturer has developed a strain of GM soya which is resistant to Roundup, its own brand of herbicide. This allows weeds to be controlled even after the soya has started to grow, saving an estimated 33% on the amount of herbicide used. Roundup Ready soya amounted to 15% of the 1997 US soya crop, but the patent for these soybeans expired in 2014. In 2016, Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready Xtend soybeans, modified to tolerate two different pesticides, dicamba and glyphosate. Xtend soybeans were planted on 1 million acres in 2016, and by 2020 were projected to be planted on 50 million acres.
GM foods have been largely accepted by the Americans, with many of them saying that they would buy GM foods even if they were simply engineered to stay fresh for longer. Even more would purchase foods modified to resist insect pests, resulting in less use of pesticides.
Photo: Orin Hargraves
Read More: What are Some of the Arguments Against GM Foods?