Imagine a corn seed that could be modified to survive harsh climates, require less irrigation and produce a similar amount of nutritional value than the original seed. Consider the endless possibilities of tomatoes being able to last longer in your fridge because they were genetically modified. Or livestock that grows to maturity in half the time as the natural process with less hormones. Well this is all possible with Genetic Modification Technology. With food security in Africa being the lowest in the world maybe the usage of new food technology is the solution. So what are GM foods? Well they are foods derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered. The key word here is modified, not created or cloned. Modifying an organism may include inserting a gene that could make it herbicide resistant. In lay terms Herbicides kill plants and thus herbicide resistant crops would ensure the survival of those crops when attacked by herbicides. Another example would be pesticide resistant cotton. This would mean that when under attack against pests, the cotton comes out tops. Any farmer will tell you that the amount of spoils from parasites is costly and thus having crops resistant to this type of wastage is advantageous. In a malnourished continent the prospect of having foods that could be modified to yield higher quantities of vitamins and minerals is highly encouraging.So why are there some people that are against the development of GM foods? • The first is of course the “green movement”. There are claims that GM crops could contaminate organic crops via pollination or inter-breeding and thus ruin them. Although the merits of this complaint have been found to be true in some cases (from suspicious data), this doesn’t make GM foods as a whole a non viable source of food though. It just means that other farming strategies should be employed when growing GM foods. As an analogy CO2 (which plants need) doesn’t make cars bad, it just means a more efficient fuel should be used to not make cars harmful. • The second fear against GM foods is that nature evolves. Thus crops resistant to a certain pest today, could fuel the evolutionary process by which pests would become more resistant to that pesticide. The same pesticide could be less effective in future. What we do know about “evolution theory” though, is that it is slow. It would take several harvests to even start considering the effects of this. • Third worry. “Allergies”. If you are allergic to peanuts, and a peanut gene is inserted into a crop and you eat it,you could react to it. That is why labeling GM foods, like sweets and chocolate, against certain health risks is vital. • <Number four. “Organic food is better”. All food is organic; to have “inorganic” food would mean that one is eating copper, uranium, zinc and boron. GM technology uses food to engineer food. The only surety with organic food is that one knows the process by which the food was produced. This means a more natural process (with less human intervention), strict type of manure (if any), strict method of pest management etc. “Organic” only refers to a process and nothing else, it doesn’t refer to nutritional value or toxicity of the produce • The biggest concern. “I don’t eat fish and an antifreeze gene is inserted into tomato which I eat, to protect it from harsh environments.” This is again a problem that labeling can solve. In South Africa though there are only 3 GM products. Maize, Corn and Soy Beans. So the chances of getting a “fishy tomato” are slim. Why should one be hopeful about this technology? • Corn is a base ingredient for glue, tomato sauce, nappies, alcohol, paper and fuel. Half of these items are inedible. If not used for food security lets use GM technology to produce fuel and to adopt better hygiene for children by making nappies cheaper and more readily available. • Blindness due to malnutrition in certain African countries is a reality, having rice that is genetically modified to contain higher values of vitamin A can be a solution. Yet there were several marches by Green Peace and others of the green movement to stop the roll out of this technology. (Did you just think selfish? I thought so too). • Plants have the ability to purify water and reduce soil erosion (which makes soil infertile). GM trees can be planted in cholera infested areas. Popla-trees for example have can be modified to clean up water, soil and the air. All the science in the world has a degree of uncertainty, not even gravity can be measured accurately. Yet we are able to land rovers on mars, place a man on the moon and put satellites in orbit that will never drop to earth nor escape orbit. The same goes for GM technology; it has its uncertainties and can never replace the original food source, but it can help us address some of our poverty challenges as a continent. Only those with the choice of either having steak or lobster for dinner seem to be against the technology. The rest are too stressed about where the next meal will come from to be concerned about whether there is a fish gene in their potatoes and tomatoes. Let’s Roll out GM Technology.
- Workers United Against the Poor
- Times of Change