Genetically Modified Food Essay

Need to write a genetically modified foods essay? Take a look at this example! This argumentative essay on GM foods explains all the advantages and disadvantages of the issue to help you form your own opinion.

Introduction

  • The Benefits
  • The Drawbacks

Genetically modified (GM) foods refer to foods that have been produced through biotechnology processes involving alteration of DNA. This genetic modification is done to confer the organism or crops with enhanced nutritional value, increased resistance to herbicides and pesticides, and reduction of production costs.

The concept of genetic engineering has been in existence for many years, but genetic modification of foods emerged in the early 1990s. This genetically modified food essay covers the technology’s positive and negative aspects that have so far been accepted. Currently, a lot of food consumed is composed of genetically altered elements, though many misconceptions and misinformation about this technology still exist (Fernbach et al., 2019).

Genetically modified foods have been hailed for their potential to enhance food security, particularly in small-scale agriculture in low-income countries.

It has been proposed that genetically modified foods are integral in the enhancement of safe food security, enhanced quality, and increased shelf-life, hence becoming cost-effective to consumers and farmers. Proponents of this technology also argue that genetically modified foods have many health benefits, in addition to being environmentally friendly and the great capability of enhancing the quality and quantity of yields (Kumar et al., 2020).

Genetically modified foods are, therefore, considered to be a viable method of promoting food production and ensuring sustainable food security across the world to meet the demands of the increasing population. This genetically modified food advantages and disadvantages essay aims to cover conflicting perspectives in the technology’s safety and efficacy. In spite of the perceived benefits of genetic engineering technology in the agricultural sector, the production and use of genetically modified foods have triggered public concerns about safety and the consequences of consumption (Fernbach et al., 2019).

Genetically Modified Foods: The Benefits

Many champions of GM food suggest the potential of genetic engineering technology in feeding the huge population that is faced with starvation across the world. Genetically modified foods could help increase production while providing foods that are more nutritious with minimal impacts on the environment.

In developing countries, genetic engineering technology could help farmers meet their food demands while decreasing adverse environmental effects. Genetically modified crops have been shown to have greater yields, besides reducing the need for pesticides.

This is because genetically modified crops have an increased ability to resist pest infestation, subsequently resulting in increased earnings (Van Esse, 2020). Some genetically engineered crops are designed to resist herbicides, thus allowing chemical control of weeds to be practiced. Foods that have been genetically modified are perceived to attain faster growth and can survive harsh conditions due to their potency to resist drought, pests, and diseases.

Genetically modified foods have also been suggested to contain many other benefits, including being tastier, safer, more nutritious, and having longer shelf life. Though scientific studies regarding the safety and benefits of genetically modified foods are not comprehensive, it is argued that critics of this technology are driven by overblown fears (Fernbach et al., 2019).

Genetically Modified Foods: The Drawbacks

To most opponents of the technology’s application in agriculture, issues relating to safety, ethics, religion, and the environment are greater than those that are related to better food quality, enhanced production, and food security. Genetic modification technology is perceived to carry risks touching on agricultural practices, health, and the environment.

The major issue raised by society concerning this technology pertains to whether genetically modified foods should be banned for people’s benefit. The gene transfer techniques are not entirely foolproof, thus raising fears that faults may emerge and lead to many unprecedented events.

There is a possibility that DNA transfer to target cells may not be effective. Alternatively, it may be transferred to untargeted points, with the potential effect being the expression or suppression of certain proteins that were not intended. This may cause unanticipated gene mutations in the target cells, leading to physiological alterations (Turnbull et al., 2021).

A number of animal studies have indicated that genetically modified foods could pose serious health risks/ Those include the tendency to cause impotency, immune disorders, acceleration of aging, hormonal regulation disorders, and alteration of major organs and the gastrointestinal system (Giraldo et al., 2019). It has also been demonstrated that genetically modified foods can act as allergens and sources of toxins.

Opponents argue that there is a lack of clear regulatory mechanisms and policies to ensure that genetically modified foods are tested for human health and environmental effects. Thus, human beings allegedly become reduced to experimental animals subjected to adverse toxic effects and dietary problems.

In animals, it has been argued that the use of genetically modified feeds causes complications, such as premature delivery, abortions, and sterility, though these claims have later been debunked (Xu, 2021). Some genetically modified crops, such as corn and cotton, are engineered to produce pesticides.

It has been demonstrated that this built-in pesticide is very toxic and concentrated as compared to the naturally sprayed pesticide, which has been confirmed to cause allergies in some people. Many studies have also shown the immune system of genetically modified animals to be significantly altered. For instance, a persistent increase in cytokines indicates the capability of these foods to cause conditions such as asthma, allergy, and inflammation (Sani et al., 2023).

Some of the genetically modified foods, such as soy, have also been shown to have certain chemicals known to be allergens, for example, trypsin inhibitor protein (Rosso, 2021). Genetic engineering of food may also result in the transfer of genes that have the capability to trigger allergies into the host cells.

Furthermore, most of the DNA transferred into genetically modified foods originates from microorganisms that have not been studied to elucidate their allergenic properties. Similarly, the new genetic combinations in genetically modified foods could cause allergies to some consumers or worsen the existing allergic conditions. Various cases of genetically modified foods causing allergic reactions have been reported, leading to the withdrawal of these foods from the market (Kumar et al., 2020).

Genetic modification of crops could also increase the expression of naturally occurring toxins through possible activation of certain proteins, resulting in the release of toxic chemicals. It is argued that sufficient studies have not been carried out to prove that genetically modified foods are safe for consumption (Fernbach et al., 2019).

Genetically modified foods are also associated with many environmental risks. Issues relating to the manner in which science is marketed and applied have also been raised, challenging the perceived benefits of genetically modified foods. Many opponents of genetic engineering technology perceive that genetic modification of food is a costly technology that places farmers from low-income countries in disadvantaged positions since they cannot afford it (Kumar et al., 2020; Leonelli, 2020).

It is also argued that this technology cannot address the food shortage issue, which is perceived to be more of a political and economic problem than a food production issue (Liang et al., 2019).

Political and economic issues across local and global levels have been suggested to prevent the distribution of foods so as to reach the people faced with starvation, but not issues of agriculture and technology. Politics and economic barriers have also been shown to contribute to greater poverty, subsequently making individuals unable to afford food (Kumar et al., 2020).

Some bioethicists are of the view that most genetic engineering advances in agriculture are profit-based as compared to those that are need-based. It challenges the appropriateness of genetic modification of food in ensuring food security, safeguarding the environment, and decreasing poverty, especially in low-income countries.

This argument is supported by the costly nature of genetic engineering technology and the yields from the application of this technology. The economic benefits of genetic engineering of foods are usually attained by large-scale agricultural producers, thus pitting the majority of the population who are involved in small-scale agricultural production (Kumar et al., 2020).

With the widespread adoption of genetic engineering technology, regulatory policies such as patents have been formulated, subsequently allowing exclusively large biotechnological organizations to benefit (Kumar et al., 2020).

Though biotechnological firms suggest that genetic modification of foods is essential in ensuring food security, the patenting of this technology has been perceived by many as being a potential threat to food security (Leonelli, 2020).

Patenting of genetically modified foods gives biotechnology firms monopoly control, thus demeaning the sanctity of life. This technology has also enhanced dependency, whereby farmers have to continuously go back to the biotechnology firms to purchase seeds for sowing in subsequent planting seasons.

Genetically modified food is believed to be unsafe, allegedly because sufficient tests have not been carried out to show that it would not cause some unprecedented long-term effects in another organism. Despite possessing positive attributes, such as health benefits and food safety, many consumers are wary of these foods because of a consistent belief in a lack of proven safety testing (Fernbach et al., 2019).

There are also fears that the genetic material inserted into genetically modified foods often gets transferred into the DNA of commensals found in the alimentary canal of human beings. This may lead to the production of harmful genetically modified chemicals inside the body of the human being, even long after ceasing the consumption of such foods.

Prior to the widespread adoption of this genetic engineering technology in agriculture, many scientists and regulatory agents raised health concerns. Some argue that genetically modified foods are inherently harmful and can trigger allergies, toxic effects, gene transfer to commensals in the gut, and can lead to the emergence of new diseases and nutritional problems (Deocaris et al., 2020; Seralini, 2020).

Despite multiple rigorous studies, it remains unknown whether genetically modified foods could be contributing to the rising cases of various health conditions such as obesity, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and reproductive problems. In most cases, the testing that has been performed involves the evaluation of the growth and productivity of the modified organism, and not in terms of environmental and health impacts (Agostini et al., 2020).

Gene transfer may affect the nutritional quality of foods as the transfer is likely to reduce the amounts of certain nutrients while raising the levels of other nutrients. This causes a nutritional variation between conventional foods and similar foods produced through genetic modification techniques.

Furthermore, few studies have been carried out to show the effect of nutrient alterations brought about by genetic engineering in relation to nutrient-gene interactions, metabolism, and bioavailability (Hirschi, 2020). Critics of genetically modified foods argue that little information is available to show how the alteration of food contents affects gene regulation and expression as these changes occur at rates that far overwhelm scientific studies.

Genetic modification of food involves the transfer of genetic material even between organisms belonging to different species. To biotechnology firms and other proponents of genetically modified foods, this approach helps in maximizing productivity and profits. However, many consumers, environmental conservationists, and opponents of genetically modified foods perceive gene transfer across different species as causing a decrease in diversity (Turnbull et al., 2021).

With the reduction of diversity, benefits such as resistance to diseases and pests, adaptation to adverse weather conditions, and productivity also diminish. Critics of genetic engineering technology, therefore, suggest that applying this technology creates uniformity in organisms and decreases their genetic diversity, rendering them at increased risks of diseases and pests.

Transfer of genetic material also carries many environmental risks, especially in the event of wide cultivation of such crops. Some critics suggest that genetically engineered plants with herbicide and insect-resistant traits could transfer these traits to wild plants and subsequently lead to the evolution of difficult-to-eradicate weeds (Anwar et al., 2021).

These weeds could develop into invasive plants with the capability to decrease crop production and cause a disruption of the ecosystem. The genetically modified plants could also evolve into weeds, which will then require costly and environmentally unfriendly means to eradicate.

The genetic engineering of food may also have an impact on non-target organisms, which would further reduce diversity. It is a persistent concern that genetically modified foods, such as pesticide-resistant crops, could cause harm to non-target organisms.

Certain genetically modified crops have the potential to change the chemistry of the soil by releasing toxins and breaking down the plants after they die. Moreover, crops that have undergone genetic modification to withstand elevated chemical concentrations sustain a heightened application of herbicides, ultimately leading to elevated chemical concentrations in the soil (Anwar et al., 2021).

Genetic engineering’s intentional transfer of antibiotic resistance genes could have detrimental effects on human health and the environment. Antibiotic-resistant genes may be passed to pathogenic bacteria in animals’ and humans’ digestive tracts, increasing their pathogenicity and causing more and more public health problems (Amarasiri et al., 2020).

Genetic modification of food is applauded as an appropriate method of ensuring increased food availability, better nutrition, and general improvement in the agricultural sector. However, as this genetically modified food essay demonstrates, many issues surround this technology, mostly concerning safety, health, cultural, social, and religious issues.

Most of the concerns regarding genetically engineered foods can be cleared by conducting expansive research to establish clear grounds for such issues. Unless concrete research is conducted to substantiate the benefits and potential harms of genetically engineered foods, the majority of people will remain wary of genetically modified foods. In the end, the full potential of genetically engineered foods will not be realized.

Amarasiri, M., Sano, D., & Suzuki, S. (2020). Understanding human health risks caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance genes (ARG) in water environments: Current knowledge and questions to be answered. Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 50 (19), 2016-2059.

Anwar, M. P., Islam, A. M., Yeasmin, S., Rashid, M. H., Juraimi, A. S., Ahmed, S., & Shrestha, A. (2021). Weeds and their responses to management efforts in a changing climate. Agronomy, 11 (10), 1921-1940.

Agostini, M. G., Roesler, I., Bonetto, C., Ronco, A. E., & Bilenca, D. (2020). Pesticides in the real world: The consequences of GMO-based intensive agriculture on native amphibians. Biological Conservation, 241 , 108355.

Deocaris, C. C., Rumbaoa, R. G., Gavarra, A. M., & Alinsug, M. V. (2020). A Preliminary analysis of potential allergens in a GMO Rice: A Bioinformatics approach. Open Journal of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, 4 (1), 12-16.

Fernbach, P. M., Light, N., Scott, S. E., Inbar, Y., & Rozin, P. (2019). Extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least but think they know the most. Nature Human Behaviour, 3 (3), 251-256.

Giraldo, P. A., Shinozuka, H., Spangenberg, G. C., Cogan, N. O., & Smith, K. F. (2019). Safety assessment of genetically modified feed: is there any difference from food?. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10 (1592), 1-17.

Hirschi, K. D. (2020). Genetically modified plants: Nutritious, sustainable, yet underrated. The Journal of Nutrition, 150 (10), 2628-2634.

Kumar, K., Gambhir, G., Dass, A., Tripathi, A. K., Singh, A., Jha, A. K., Yadava, P., Choudhary, M., & Rakshit, S. (2020). Genetically modified crops: current status and future prospects. Planta, 251 , 1-27.

Leonelli, G. C. (2020). GMO risks, food security, climate change and the entrenchment of neo-liberal legal narratives. In Transnational food security (pp. 128-141). Routledge.

Liang, J., Liu, X., & Zhang, W. (2019). Scientists vs laypeople: How genetically modified food is discussed on a Chinese Q&A website. Public Understanding of Science, 28 (8), 991-1004.

Rosso, M. L., Shang, C., Song, Q., Escamilla, D., Gillenwater, J., & Zhang, B. (2021). Development of breeder-friendly KASP markers for low concentration of kunitz trypsin inhibitor in soybean seeds. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22 (5), 2675-2690.

Sani, F., Sani, M., Moayedfard, Z., Darayee, M., Tayebi, L., & Azarpira, N. (2023). Potential advantages of genetically modified mesenchymal stem cells in the treatment of acute and chronic liver diseases. Stem Cell Research & Therapy, 14 (1), 1-11.

Seralini, G. E. (2020). Update on long-term toxicity of agricultural GMOs tolerant to roundup. Environmental Sciences Europe, 32 (1), 1-7.

Turnbull, C., Lillemo, M., & Hvoslef-Eide, T. A. (2021). Global regulation of genetically modified crops amid the gene edited crop boom–a review. Frontiers in Plant Science, 12 , 630396.

Van Esse, H. P., Reuber, T. L., & van der Does, D. (2020). Genetic modification to improve disease resistance in crops. New Phytologist, 225 (1), 70-86.

Xu, Q., Song, Y., Yu, N., & Chen, S. (2021). Are you passing along something true or false? Dissemination of social media messages about genetically modified organisms. Public Understanding of Science, 30 (3), 285-301.

  • The Debate Pertaining to Genetically Modified Food Products
  • Genetically Modified Foods and Environment
  • The Effect of Genetically Modified Food on Society and Environment
  • Analyzing the Prospects of Genetically Modified Foods
  • Will Genetically Modified Foods Doom Us All?
  • Super Weeds's Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Concept of the Gene-Environment Interactions
  • Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Genetic Epidemiology
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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Pros and cons of GMOs: An evidence-based comparison of genetically modified foods

  • GMO foods are designed to be healthier and cheaper to produce.
  • Advantages of GMO foods include added nutrients, fewer pesticides, and cheaper prices.
  • Disadvantages of GMO foods can be allergic reactions or increased antibiotic resistance.

Insider Today

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms that have had their genes altered in some way — also called "bioengineering." 

GMOs can be animals or bacteria, but most often they are crops like corn or potatoes that have been tweaked in a lab to increase the amount or quality of food they produce. 

There are many advantages of GMO crops, but some groups have raised concerns that GMOs may have negative health effects. Here's what you need to know about the pros and cons of GMO foods and whether you should avoid them.

What are GMOs?

Humans have been altering the genetics of plants for thousands of years through the slow process of cross-breeding between crops. Today, scientists can take a shortcut to modify plants by editing their DNA in a lab setting.

Chances are, you've eaten GMO foods without even realizing it – in 2018, around 92% of corn and 94% of soybeans grown in the US came from genetically modified seeds.

The process of creating a GMO plant is complex, but it follows these basic steps :

1. Researchers identify the genes in a plant that cause specific traits, such as resistance to insects.

2. They then make copies of these insect resistance genes in a lab.

3. Scientists next insert the gene copies into the DNA of another plant's cells.

4. These modified cells are then used to grow new, insect-resistant plants that will go through various reviews and tests before they are sold to farmers.

Pros of GMOs

"GMOs are designed to be extra — extra healthy, extra fast-growing, and extra resistant to weather or pests," says Megan L. Norris, PhD , a biomedical researcher at the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Because scientists can select the most ideal traits to include in GMO crops, there are many advantages of modified foods, including:

GMOs may have fewer pesticides 

Many GMO crops have been altered to be less vulnerable to insects and other pests. For example, Bt-corn is a GMO crop that has a gene added from Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacteria. 

This gene causes the corn to produce a protein that kills many pests and insects, helping to protect the corn from damage. "Instead of having to be sprayed with a complex pesticide, these crops come with an innate 'pesticide'," Norris says.

This means that farmers don't need to use as much pesticide on crops like Bt-corn – a 2020 study found that farmers with GMO crops reduced their pesticide use by 775.4 million kilograms (8.3%) between 1996 and 2018. 

GMOs are usually cheaper 

GMO crops are bred to grow efficiently – this means that farmers can produce the same amount of food using less land, less water, and fewer pesticides than conventional crops.

Because they can save on resources, food producers can also charge lower prices for GMO foods. In some cases, the costs of foods like corn, beets, and soybeans may be cut by 15% to 30% .

GMOs may have more nutrients 

Certain GMO crops are designed to provide more nutrients like vitamins or minerals. For example, researchers have been able to create a modified form of African corn that contains: 

  • 2 times as much folate when compared to traditional crops
  • 6 times as much vitamin C when compared to traditional crops
  • 169 times more beta-carotene than traditional crops

Cons of GMOs

GMO crops can offer many advantages in costs and nutrition, but some experts worry that they carry health risks, as well.

GMOs may cause allergic reactions

Because GMO foods contain DNA from other organisms, it's possible that the new DNA can trigger allergies in people who wouldn't normally be allergic to the food. 

In one instance, a GMO soybean crop created using DNA from a Brazil nut was unsafe for people with nut allergies and couldn't be released to the public.

However, GMO foods go through extensive allergen testing, so they shouldn't necessarily be riskier than conventional crops.

GMOs may increase antibiotic resistance

When GMO scientists insert new DNA into plant cells, they will often add in an additional gene that makes the modified cells resistant to antibiotics . They can then use an antibiotic to kill off any plant cells that didn't successfully take in the new DNA.

However, researchers are finding that these antibiotic-resistant genes don't always go away once you digest GMO foods, but can actually be passed through your feces into sewage systems. Some experts worry that these genes may be absorbed into harmful bacteria found in sewers or your gut that can cause serious illnesses like staph infections . This means that the usual antibiotic treatments would be powerless against these new super-bacteria.

Not all experts agree on this concern, however – some scientists argue that this type of gene transfer is very unlikely and there is little risk to humans.

Insider's takeaway

GMO crops have many advantages for your health, such as greater nutritional value and fewer pesticides. They may also be cheaper for farmers to grow, allowing for lower food prices.

Though there are possible risks, major agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency tightly regulate GMO foods and ensure that they are safe for people to eat. "I consume GMO products and feed them to my family without hesitation," Norris says.

genetically modified food advantages and disadvantages essay

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12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foods, often classified as GMOs, have changed the way that people view their food. Although genetic modifications have occurred throughout history with selective breeding and growing methods, scientific advances have allowed this practice to advance to the genetic level. In the modern GMO, plants can be resistant to specific pesticides and herbicides while becoming adaptive to changing environmental conditions.

The primary advantage of genetically modified foods is that crop yields become more consistent and productive, allowing more people to be fed. According to Oxfam, the world currently produced about 20% more food calories than what is required for every human being to be healthy.

GMOs are not without disadvantages. Although there are no conclusive links, Brown University concluded that changes to foods on a genetic level combine proteins that humans are not used to consuming. This may increase the chances of an allergic reaction occurring. Since 1999, the rates of food allergies in children has increased from 3.4% to 5.1%.

Here are some of the additional advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified foods to think about.

What Are the Advantages of Genetically Modified Foods?

1. Food supplies become predictable. When crop yields become predictable, then the food supply becomes predictable at the same time. This gives us the ability to reduce the presence of food deserts around the world, providing a greater population with a well-rounded nutritional opportunity that may not have existed in the past.

2. Nutritional content can be improved. Genetic modifications do more than add pest resistance or weather resistance to GMO crops. The nutritional content of the crops can be altered as well, providing a denser nutritional profile than what previous generations were able to enjoy. This means people in the future could gain the same nutrition from lower levels of food consumption. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization notes that rice, genetically modified to produce high levels of Vitamin A, have helped to reduce global vitamin deficiencies.

3. Genetically modified foods can have a longer shelf life. Instead of relying on preservatives to maintain food freshness while it sits on a shelf, genetically modified foods make it possible to extend food life by enhancing the natural qualities of the food itself. According to Environmental Nutrition, certain preservatives are associated with a higher carcinogen, heart disease, and allergy risk.

4. We receive medical benefits from GMO crops. Through a process called “pharming,” it is possible to produce certain proteins and vaccines, along with other pharmaceutical goods, thanks to the use of genetic modifications. This practice offers cheaper methods of improving personal health and could change how certain medications are provided to patients in the future. Imagine being able to eat your dinner to get a tetanus booster instead of receiving a shot in the arm – that’s the future of this technology.

5. It creates foods that are more appealing to eat. Colors can be changed or improved with genetically modified foods so they become more pleasing to eat. Spoon University reports that deeper colors in foods changes how the brain perceives what is being eaten. Deeper red colors make food seem to be sweeter, even if it is not. Brighter foods are associated with better nutrition and improved flavors.

6. Genetically modified foods are easier to transport. Because GMO crops have a prolonged shelf life, it is easier to transport them greater distances. This improvement makes it possible to take excess food products from one community and deliver it to another that may be experiencing a food shortage. GMO foods give us the opportunity to limit food waste, especially in the developing world, so that hunger can be reduced and potentially eliminated.

7. Herbicides and pesticides are used less often. Herbicides and pesticides create certain hazards on croplands that can eventually make the soil unusable. Farmers growing genetically modified foods do not need to use these products as often as farmers using traditional growing methods, allowing the soil to recover its nutrient base over time. Because of the genetic resistance being in the plant itself, the farmer still achieves a predictable yield at the same time.

What Are the Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods?

1. GMO crops may cause antibiotic resistance. Iowa State University research shows that when crops are modified to include antibiotics and other items that kill germs and pests, it reduces the effectiveness of an antibiotic or other medication when it is needed in the traditional sense. Because the foods contain trace amounts of the antibiotic when consumed, any organisms that would be affected by a prescription antibiotic have built an immunity to it, which can cause an illness to be more difficult to cure.

2. Farmers growing genetically modified foods have a greater legal liability. Crops that are genetically modified will create seeds that are genetically modified. Cross-pollination is possible between GMO crops and non-GMO crops as well, even when specified farming practices are followed. Because many of the crops and seeds that produce GMO crops are patented, farmers that aren’t even involved in growing these foods are subjected to a higher level of legal liability. Farmers that do grow GMO crops could also face liabilities for letting seeds go to other fields or allowing cross-pollination to occur.

3. Genes go into different plant species. Crops share fields with other plants, including weeds. Genetic migrations are known to occur. What happens when the genes from an herbicide-resistant crop get into the weeds it is designed to kill? Interactions at the cellular level could create unforeseen complications to future crop growth where even the benefits of genetically modified foods may not outweigh the problems that they cause. One example: dozens of weed species are already resistant to atrazine.

4. Independent research is not allowed. 6 companies control most of the genetically modified foods market at the core level. Because most GMO foods are made from corn, wheat, or soybeans, even food manufacturers that use these crops are at the mercy of the manufacturer’s preferences. Over 50% of the seed producers that have created the GMO foods market prohibit any independent research on the final crops as an effort to protect their profits.

5. Some genetically modified foods may present a carcinogen exposure risk. A paper that has been twice-published, but retracted once as well, showed that crops tolerant to commercial pesticides greatly increased the risk of cancer development in rats. The information from this research study, though limited, has been widely circulated and creates the impression that all GMO foods are potentially hazardous.

The advantages and disadvantages of genetically modified foods can spark a bitter debate. There is an advantage in providing the world with better food access, but more food should not come at the expense of personal health. GMO foods must be labeled in Europe and petitions in the US are seeking the same thing. We deserve to know what we’re eating and how that food is grown. Knowing more about genetically modified foods allows us to do just that.

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Transgenic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology

genetically modified food advantages and disadvantages essay

People have been altering the genomes of plants and animals for many years using traditional breeding techniques. Artificial selection for specific, desired traits has resulted in a variety of different organisms, ranging from sweet corn to hairless cats. But this artificial selection , in which organisms that exhibit specific traits are chosen to breed subsequent generations, has been limited to naturally occurring variations. In recent decades, however, advances in the field of genetic engineering have allowed for precise control over the genetic changes introduced into an organism . Today, we can incorporate new genes from one species into a completely unrelated species through genetic engineering, optimizing agricultural performance or facilitating the production of valuable pharmaceutical substances. Crop plants, farm animals, and soil bacteria are some of the more prominent examples of organisms that have been subject to genetic engineering.

Current Use of Genetically Modified Organisms

Table 1: Examples of GMOs Resulting from Agricultural Biotechnology

The pharmaceutical industry is another frontier for the use of GMOs. In 1986, human growth hormone was the first protein pharmaceutical made in plants (Barta et al ., 1986), and in 1989, the first antibody was produced (Hiatt et al ., 1989). Both research groups used tobacco, which has since dominated the industry as the most intensively studied and utilized plant species for the expression of foreign genes (Ma et al ., 2003). As of 2003, several types of antibodies produced in plants had made it to clinical trials. The use of genetically modified animals has also been indispensible in medical research. Transgenic animals are routinely bred to carry human genes, or mutations in specific genes, thus allowing the study of the progression and genetic determinants of various diseases.

Potential GMO Applications

Many industries stand to benefit from additional GMO research. For instance, a number of microorganisms are being considered as future clean fuel producers and biodegraders. In addition, genetically modified plants may someday be used to produce recombinant vaccines. In fact, the concept of an oral vaccine expressed in plants (fruits and vegetables) for direct consumption by individuals is being examined as a possible solution to the spread of disease in underdeveloped countries, one that would greatly reduce the costs associated with conducting large-scale vaccination campaigns. Work is currently underway to develop plant-derived vaccine candidates in potatoes and lettuce for hepatitis B virus (HBV), enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), and Norwalk virus. Scientists are also looking into the production of other commercially valuable proteins in plants, such as spider silk protein and polymers that are used in surgery or tissue replacement (Ma et al ., 2003). Genetically modified animals have even been used to grow transplant tissues and human transplant organs, a concept called xenotransplantation. The rich variety of uses for GMOs provides a number of valuable benefits to humans, but many people also worry about potential risks.

Risks and Controversies Surrounding the Use of GMOs

Despite the fact that the genes being transferred occur naturally in other species, there are unknown consequences to altering the natural state of an organism through foreign gene expression . After all, such alterations can change the organism's metabolism , growth rate, and/or response to external environmental factors. These consequences influence not only the GMO itself, but also the natural environment in which that organism is allowed to proliferate. Potential health risks to humans include the possibility of exposure to new allergens in genetically modified foods, as well as the transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes to gut flora.

Horizontal gene transfer of pesticide, herbicide, or antibiotic resistance to other organisms would not only put humans at risk , but it would also cause ecological imbalances, allowing previously innocuous plants to grow uncontrolled, thus promoting the spread of disease among both plants and animals. Although the possibility of horizontal gene transfer between GMOs and other organisms cannot be denied, in reality, this risk is considered to be quite low. Horizontal gene transfer occurs naturally at a very low rate and, in most cases, cannot be simulated in an optimized laboratory environment without active modification of the target genome to increase susceptibility (Ma et al ., 2003).

In contrast, the alarming consequences of vertical gene transfer between GMOs and their wild-type counterparts have been highlighted by studying transgenic fish released into wild populations of the same species (Muir & Howard, 1999). The enhanced mating advantages of the genetically modified fish led to a reduction in the viability of their offspring . Thus, when a new transgene is introduced into a wild fish population, it propagates and may eventually threaten the viability of both the wild-type and the genetically modified organisms.

Unintended Impacts on Other Species: The Bt Corn Controversy

One example of public debate over the use of a genetically modified plant involves the case of Bt corn. Bt corn expresses a protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis . Prior to construction of the recombinant corn, the protein had long been known to be toxic to a number of pestiferous insects, including the monarch caterpillar, and it had been successfully used as an environmentally friendly insecticide for several years. The benefit of the expression of this protein by corn plants is a reduction in the amount of insecticide that farmers must apply to their crops. Unfortunately, seeds containing genes for recombinant proteins can cause unintentional spread of recombinant genes or exposure of non-target organisms to new toxic compounds in the environment.

The now-famous Bt corn controversy started with a laboratory study by Losey et al . (1999) in which the mortality of monarch larvae was reportedly higher when fed with milkweed (their natural food supply) covered in pollen from transgenic corn than when fed milkweed covered with pollen from regular corn. The report by Losey et al . was followed by another publication (Jesse & Obrycki, 2000) suggesting that natural levels of Bt corn pollen in the field were harmful to monarchs.

Debate ensued when scientists from other laboratories disputed the study, citing the extremely high concentration of pollen used in the laboratory study as unrealistic, and concluding that migratory patterns of monarchs do not place them in the vicinity of corn during the time it sheds pollen. For the next two years, six teams of researchers from government, academia, and industry investigated the issue and concluded that the risk of Bt corn to monarchs was "very low" (Sears et al ., 2001), providing the basis for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve Bt corn for an additional seven years.

Unintended Economic Consequences

Another concern associated with GMOs is that private companies will claim ownership of the organisms they create and not share them at a reasonable cost with the public. If these claims are correct, it is argued that use of genetically modified crops will hurt the economy and environment, because monoculture practices by large-scale farm production centers (who can afford the costly seeds) will dominate over the diversity contributed by small farmers who can't afford the technology. However, a recent meta-analysis of 15 studies reveals that, on average, two-thirds of the benefits of first-generation genetically modified crops are shared downstream, whereas only one-third accrues upstream (Demont et al ., 2007). These benefit shares are exhibited in both industrial and developing countries. Therefore, the argument that private companies will not share ownership of GMOs is not supported by evidence from first-generation genetically modified crops.

GMOs and the General Public: Philosophical and Religious Concerns

In a 2007 survey of 1,000 American adults conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 33% of respondents believed that biotech food products would benefit them or their families, but 23% of respondents did not know biotech foods had already reached the market. In addition, only 5% of those polled said they would take action by altering their purchasing habits as a result of concerns associated with using biotech products.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, public acceptance trends in Europe and Asia are mixed depending on the country and current mood at the time of the survey (Hoban, 2004). Attitudes toward cloning, biotechnology, and genetically modified products differ depending upon people's level of education and interpretations of what each of these terms mean. Support varies for different types of biotechnology; however, it is consistently lower when animals are mentioned.

Furthermore, even if the technologies are shared fairly, there are people who would still resist consumable GMOs, even with thorough testing for safety, because of personal or religious beliefs. The ethical issues surrounding GMOs include debate over our right to "play God," as well as the introduction of foreign material into foods that are abstained from for religious reasons. Some people believe that tampering with nature is intrinsically wrong, and others maintain that inserting plant genes in animals, or vice versa, is immoral. When it comes to genetically modified foods, those who feel strongly that the development of GMOs is against nature or religion have called for clear labeling rules so they can make informed selections when choosing which items to purchase. Respect for consumer choice and assumed risk is as important as having safeguards to prevent mixing of genetically modified products with non-genetically modified foods. In order to determine the requirements for such safeguards, there must be a definitive assessment of what constitutes a GMO and universal agreement on how products should be labeled.

These issues are increasingly important to consider as the number of GMOs continues to increase due to improved laboratory techniques and tools for sequencing whole genomes, better processes for cloning and transferring genes, and improved understanding of gene expression systems. Thus, legislative practices that regulate this research have to keep pace. Prior to permitting commercial use of GMOs, governments perform risk assessments to determine the possible consequences of their use, but difficulties in estimating the impact of commercial GMO use makes regulation of these organisms a challenge.

History of International Regulations for GMO Research and Development

In 1971, the first debate over the risks to humans of exposure to GMOs began when a common intestinal microorganism, E. coli , was infected with DNA from a tumor-inducing virus (Devos et al ., 2007). Initially, safety issues were a concern to individuals working in laboratories with GMOs, as well as nearby residents. However, later debate arose over concerns that recombinant organisms might be used as weapons. The growing debate, initially restricted to scientists, eventually spread to the public, and in 1974, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee to begin to address some of these issues.

In the 1980s, when deliberate releases of GMOs to the environment were beginning to occur, the U.S. had very few regulations in place. Adherence to the guidelines provided by the NIH was voluntary for industry. Also during the 1980s, the use of transgenic plants was becoming a valuable endeavor for production of new pharmaceuticals, and individual companies, institutions, and whole countries were beginning to view biotechnology as a lucrative means of making money (Devos et al ., 2007). Worldwide commercialization of biotech products sparked new debate over the patentability of living organisms, the adverse effects of exposure to recombinant proteins, confidentiality issues, the morality and credibility of scientists, the role of government in regulating science, and other issues. In the U.S., the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment initiatives were developed, and they were eventually adopted worldwide as a top-down approach to advising policymakers by forecasting the societal impacts of GMOs.

Then, in 1986, a publication by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), called "Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations," became the first intergovernmental document to address issues surrounding the use of GMOs. This document recommended that risk assessments be performed on a case-by-case basis. Since then, the case-by-case approach to risk assessment for genetically modified products has been widely accepted; however, the U.S. has generally taken a product-based approach to assessment, whereas the European approach is more process based (Devos et al ., 2007). Although in the past, thorough regulation was lacking in many countries, governments worldwide are now meeting the demands of the public and implementing stricter testing and labeling requirements for genetically modified crops.

Increased Research and Improved Safety Go Hand in Hand

Proponents of the use of GMOs believe that, with adequate research, these organisms can be safely commercialized. There are many experimental variations for expression and control of engineered genes that can be applied to minimize potential risks. Some of these practices are already necessary as a result of new legislation, such as avoiding superfluous DNA transfer (vector sequences) and replacing selectable marker genes commonly used in the lab (antibiotic resistance) with innocuous plant-derived markers (Ma et al ., 2003). Issues such as the risk of vaccine-expressing plants being mixed in with normal foodstuffs might be overcome by having built-in identification factors, such as pigmentation, that facilitate monitoring and separation of genetically modified products from non-GMOs. Other built-in control techniques include having inducible promoters (e.g., induced by stress, chemicals, etc.), geographic isolation, using male-sterile plants, and separate growing seasons.

GMOs benefit mankind when used for purposes such as increasing the availability and quality of food and medical care, and contributing to a cleaner environment. If used wisely, they could result in an improved economy without doing more harm than good, and they could also make the most of their potential to alleviate hunger and disease worldwide. However, the full potential of GMOs cannot be realized without due diligence and thorough attention to the risks associated with each new GMO on a case-by-case basis.

References and Recommended Reading

Barta, A., et al . The expression of a nopaline synthase-human growth hormone chimaeric gene in transformed tobacco and sunflower callus tissue. Plant Molecular Biology 6 , 347–357 (1986)

Beyer, P., et al . Golden rice: Introducing the β-carotene biosynthesis pathway into rice endosperm by genetic engineering to defeat vitamin A deficiency. Journal of Nutrition 132 , 506S–510S (2002)

Demont, M., et al . GM crops in Europe: How much value and for whom? EuroChoices 6 , 46–53 (2007)

Devlin, R., et al . Extraordinary salmon growth. Nature 371 , 209–210 (1994) ( link to article )

Devos, Y., et al . Ethics in the societal debate on genetically modified organisms: A (re)quest for sense and sensibility. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21 , 29–61 (2007) doi:10.1007/s10806-007-9057-6

Guerrero-Andrade, O., et al . Expression of the Newcastle disease virus fusion protein in transgenic maize and immunological studies. Transgenic Research 15 , 455–463(2006) doi:10.1007/s11248-006-0017-0

Hiatt, A., et al . Production of antibodies in transgenic plants. Nature 342 , 76–79 (1989) ( link to article )

Hoban, T. Public attitudes towards agricultural biotechnology. ESA working papers nos. 4-9. Agricultural and Development Economics Division, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (2004)

Jesse, H., & Obrycki, J. Field deposition of Bt transgenic corn pollen: Lethal effects on the monarch butterfly. Oecologia 125 , 241–248 (2000)

Losey, J., et al . Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399 , 214 (1999) doi:10.1038/20338 ( link to article )

Ma, J., et al . The production of recombinant pharmaceutical proteins in plants. Nature Reviews Genetics 4 , 794–805 (2003) doi:10.1038/nrg1177 ( link to article )

Muir, W., & Howard, R. Possible ecological risks of transgenic organism release when transgenes affect mating success: Sexual selection and the Trojan gene hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 96 , 13853–13856 (1999)

Sears, M., et al . Impact of Bt corn on monarch butterfly populations: A risk assessment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 , 11937–11942 (2001)

Spurgeon, D. Call for tighter controls on transgenic foods. Nature 409 , 749 (2001) ( link to article )

Takeda, S., & Matsuoka, M. Genetic approaches to crop improvement: Responding to environmental and population changes. Nature Reviews Genetics 9 , 444–457 (2008) doi:10.1038/nrg2342 ( link to article )

United States Department of Energy, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Human Genome Program. Human Genome Project information: Genetically modified foods and organisms, (2007)

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Pros and cons of gmo crop farming.

  • Rene Van Acker , Rene Van Acker University of Guelph
  • M. Motior Rahman M. Motior Rahman University of Guelph
  •  and  S. Zahra H. Cici S. Zahra H. Cici University of Guelph
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199389414.013.217
  • Published online: 26 October 2017

The global area sown to genetically modified (GM) varieties of leading commercial crops (soybean, maize, canola, and cotton) has expanded over 100-fold over two decades. Thirty countries are producing GM crops and just five countries (United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) account for almost 90% of the GM production. Only four crops account for 99% of worldwide GM crop area. Almost 100% of GM crops on the market are genetically engineered with herbicide tolerance (HT), and insect resistance (IR) traits. Approximately 70% of cultivated GM crops are HT, and GM HT crops have been credited with facilitating no-tillage and conservation tillage practices that conserve soil moisture and control soil erosion, and that also support carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Crop production and productivity increased significantly during the era of the adoption of GM crops; some of this increase can be attributed to GM technology and the yield protection traits that it has made possible even if the GM traits implemented to-date are not yield traits per se . GM crops have also been credited with helping to improve farm incomes and reduce pesticide use. Practical concerns around GM crops include the rise of insect pests and weeds that are resistant to pesticides. Other concerns around GM crops include broad seed variety access for farmers and rising seed costs as well as increased dependency on multinational seed companies. Citizens in many countries and especially in European countries are opposed to GM crops and have voiced concerns about possible impacts on human and environmental health. Nonetheless, proponents of GM crops argue that they are needed to enhance worldwide food production. The novelty of the technology and its potential to bring almost any trait into crops mean that there needs to remain dedicated diligence on the part of regulators to ensure that no GM crops are deregulated that may in fact pose risks to human health or the environment. The same will be true for the next wave of new breeding technologies, which include gene editing technologies.

  • genetically modified
  • herbicide tolerance
  • insect resistance

Introduction

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) result from recombinant DNA technology that allows for DNA to be transferred from one organism to another (transgenesis) without the genetic transfer limits of species to species barriers and with successful expression of transferred genes in the receiving organism (Gray, 2001 ). Four crops, maize, canola, soybean, and cotton, constitute the vast majority of GM crop production (James, 2015a ), and GM crops have been grown commercially since 1995 (Bagavathiannan, Julier, Barre, Gulden, & Van Acker, 2010 ). The acceptance of GM crops by farmers has been rapid, with the global GM production area growing from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications [ISAAA], 2015 ) to 182 million hectares in 2014 (James, 2014 ). Just 10 countries represent almost 98% of the GM hectares worldwide. The top GM producing countries are the United States (73.1 million ha), Brazil (42.2 million ha), Argentina (24.3 million ha), Canada (11.6 million ha), and India (11.6 million ha) (James, 2014 ). GM soybean is the most popular GM crop and almost 50% of global soybean acres are now GM soybean (James, 2015b ). For corn and cotton the global proportion of GM is 30% and 14%, respectively (James, 2015b ). GM canola occupies only 5% of the global canola hectares (James, 2015b ). GM crops are grown on only 3.7% of the world’s total agricultural land, by less than one percent of the world’s farmers. Almost 100% of GM crops on the market are either herbicide tolerant (HT) or insect resistant or have both of these two traits (Dill, CaJacob, & Padgette, 2008 ).

The production of GM crops is not equal across the world and in some jurisdictions there is little or no production. Countries in the European Union (EU) are a notable example in this regard. The near complete moratorium on the production of GM crops in the EU is based on common public view and political decisions rather than GM food safety assessment (Fischer, Ekener-Petersen, Rydhmer, & Edvardsson Björnberg, 2015 ). This is also true for Switzerland, where, for example, since 2005 GM foods and crops have been banned because of strong negative views on the part of both Swiss farmers and citizens (Mann, 2015 ). Five EU countries (Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania) accounted for 116,870 hectares of Bt maize cultivation in 2015 , down 18% from the 143,016 hectares in 2014 . The leading EU producer is Spain, with 107,749 hectares of Bt maize in 2015 , down 18% from the 131,538 hectares in 2014 (James, 2015a ). Russia is the world's largest GM-free zone (James, 2015a ). Despite the claimed benefits over risks, and the wide adoption of biotech-improved crop varieties in many parts of the world, Europe and Africa still remain largely GM-free in terms of production (Paarlberg, 2008 ). This may be due in part to the relative absence of reliable public scientific studies on the long-term risks of GM crops and foods and the seed monopoly that is linked to GM technology development (Paarlberg, 2008 ). In Asia, four countries, including Turkey, have banned GM crops. The GM concerns in Europe have also slowed down the approval of GM crops in many developing countries because of impacts on agricultural exports (Inghelbrecht, Dessein, & Huylenbroeck, 2014 ). Many African governments have been slow to approve, or have sometimes even banned GM crops, in order not to lose export markets and to maintain positive relations with the EU, especially given implications for development aid (Wafula, Waithaka, Komen, & Karembu, 2012 ). In addition, a few African nations have banned GM cultivation over fears of losing European markets (ISAAA, 2015 ). Public concerns over GM crops and foods have also had an impact on production of GM crops in North America. The withdrawal of the GM Bt potato (NewLeaf™) varieties from the North American market due to the concerns of two of the largest buyers of processing potatoes (Frito-Lay and McDonalds) was the result of feared consumer rejection (Kynda & Moeltner, 2006 ).

The extensive adaptation of GM crops does, however, also have some drawbacks. The occurrence of outcrossing with non-GM crops, gene flow, and the adventitious presence of GM crops on organic farms has sparked concerns among various stakeholders, including farmers who are growing GM crops (Ellstrand, 2003 ; Marvier & Van Acker, 2005 ). Public concern over GM crops is centered in three areas: human health, environmental safety, and trade impacts (Van Acker, Cici, Michael, Ryan, & Sachs, 2015 ). GM biosafety is also forcing both agriculture and food companies to appreciate GM safety in their marketing decisions (Blaine & Powell, 2001 ; Rotolo et al., 2015 ). The adoption of GM crops in a given jurisdiction is a function of public GM acceptance as well as the level of public trust of regulatory authorities (Vigani & Olper, 2013 ). Examples of these include feeding the world, consumer choice, and seed ownership (Van Acker & Cici, 2014 ). Opponents of GM crops have questioned their necessity in terms of agricultural productivity to feed the world (Gilbert, 2013 ). They point to studies that have shown that current agricultural output far exceeds global calorie needs and that distribution, access, and waste are the key limitations to feeding those who are hungry and not gross production per se (Altieri, 2005 ).

The novelty of GM technology has been both an asset and a challenge for those companies producing GM seeds. Supporters of GM crops have asserted that GM is merely an evolution of conventional breeding approaches (Herdt, 2006 ). They have insisted that humans have been genetically modifying crops for millennia and that GM technology has been an extension and facilitation of natural breeding. At the same time, however, GM crops are patentable, emphasizing that the process is truly novel and different from the natural breeding (Boucher, 1999 ). In addition, expert technical assessments acknowledge the unique and novel nature of GM crops (Taylor, 2007 ). This situation highlights the conundrum and challenge of not only introducing disruptive new technologies into society but having such technologies accepted by society (Van Acker et al., 2015 ). The socioeconomic nature of most risks along with the continuing farm income crisis in North America has led some to argue for the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to risk assessment of GM crops and all new agricultural technologies (Mauro et al., 2009 ).

The Green Revolution was driven by global hunger, and some argue that the next agricultural production revolution, which is perhaps being sparked by the introduction of GM crops, would be driven by other global needs including sustainability and the needs of individuals (Lipton & Longhurst, 2011 ). The green revolution of the 1960s and 1970s depended on the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation methods to initiate favorable conditions in which high-yielding modern varieties could thrive. Between 1970 and 1990 , fertilizer use in developing countries rose by 360% while pesticide use increased by 7 to 8% annually. The environmental impacts, of the adoption of these technologies did in some cases override their benefits. These impacts included polluted land, water, and air, and the development of resistant strains of pests. GM crops could be used to sustain or grow production levels while diminishing environmental impacts yet despite the rapid adoption of GM crops many of the problems associated with the green revolution remain (Macnaghten & Carro-Ripalda, 2015 ). The pros and cons of GM crops are many and diverse but there is little argument over the ambiguous consequences of this comparatively new technology, and numerous critics noted the potential pros and cons of GM crops as soon as they were launched in the early 1990s (Mannion, 1995a , 1995b , 1995c ).

Pros of GMO Crop Farming

The world population has exceeded 7 billion people and is forecasted to reach beyond 11 billion by 2100 (United Nations, 2017 ). The provision of an adequate food supply for this booming population is an ongoing and tremendous challenge. The companies that develop GM seeds point to this challenge as the key rationale for their need, and they explain that GM seeds will help to meet the “feeding the world” challenge in a number of ways.

Productivity of GM Crops

GM seed companies promised to raise productivity and profitability levels for farmers around the world (Pinstrup-Andersen, 1999 ). GM seed companies had expected GM crops to be adopted by farmers because the traits they were incorporating provided direct operational benefits for farmers that could be linked to increased profits for farmers (Hatfield et al., 2014 ). The proponents of GM crops have argued that the application of GM technology would fundamentally improve the efficiency, resiliency, and profitability of farming (Apel, 2010 ). In addition GM seed companies argue that the adoption of GM crops helps to reduce the application of pesticides, which has a direct impact on the sustainability of the cropping systems (Lal, 2004 ) as well as profitability for farmers (Morse, Mannion, & Evans, 2011 ). Some have even suggested that the production of GM crops creates a halo effect for nearby non-GM crops by reducing pest pressures within regions that are primarily sown to GM crops (Mannion & Morse, 2013 ).

There is an expectation widely held by those in agriculture that GM seeds increase yields, or at least protect yield potential. GM crops with resistance to insects and herbicides can substantially simplify crop management and reduce crop losses, leading to increased yields (Pray, Jikun Huang, Hu, & Rozelle, 2002 ; Pray, Nagarajan, Huang, Hu, & Ramaswami, 2011 ; Nickson, 2005 ). GM varieties of soybean, cotton, and maize produced 20%, 15%, and 7% higher yield, respectively, than non-GM varieties (Mannion & Morse, 2013 ). The Economic Research Service (ERS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) noticed a significant relationship between increased crop yields and increased adoption of herbicide- and pesticide-tolerant GM crop seeds, and the USDA reported significantly increased yields when farmers adopted herbicide-tolerant cotton and Bt cotton (USDA, 2009 ). India cultivated a record 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton planted by 7.7 million small farmers in 2014 , with an adoption rate of 95%, up from 11.0 million hectares in 2013 . The increase from 50,000 hectares in 2002 to 11.6 million hectares in 2014 represents an unprecedented 230-fold increase in 13 years (James, 2014 ). This rapid adoption has been attributed to the increased yields farmers in this region experienced because of the efficacy of the GM seeds on cotton bollworm and the additional income farmers received as a result (James, 2014 ; Morse & Mannion, 2009 ). Similarly, the benefits that were obtained by resource-poor cotton farmers in South Africa have led many smallholders in South Africa and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa to accept GM cotton (Hillocks, 2009 ). Similar benefits were also obtained by resource-poor farmers growing Bt maize in the Philippines (James, 2010 ).

Tillage Systems

The adoption of no tillage and minimum tillage practices in agriculture started in the 1980s. In fact, the largest extension of both no tillage and conservation tillage and the concomitant declines in soil erosion significantly predates the release of the first HT varieties of maize and soybean in 1996 (National Research Council [NRC], 2010 ). However, farmers in the United States who adopted HT crops were more likely to practice conservation tillage and vice versa (NRC, 2010 ). There was an increase in HT crops and conservation tillage in the United States during the period of rapid GM crop adoption from 1997–2002 (Fernandez-Cornejo, Hallahan, Nehring, Wechsler, & Grube, 2012 ). Soybeans genetically engineered with HT traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GM crop in the United States, followed by HT cotton. Adoption of HT soybeans increased from 17% of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997 to 68% in 2001 and 93% in 2010 . Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10% of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 56% in 2001 and 78% in 2010 (Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2012 ). Some argue that the adoption of GM HT varieties resulted in farmers’ deciding to use conservation tillage, or farmers who were practicing conservation tillage may have adopted GM HT crops more readily (Mauro & McLachlan, 2008 ). Adoption of HT soybean has a positive and highly significant impact on the adoption of conservation tillage in the United States (Carpenter, 2010 ). Technologies that promote conservation tillage practices decrease soil erosion in the long term and fundamentally promote soil conservation (Montogomery, 2007 ), while reducing nutrient and carbon loss (Brookes & Barfoot, 2014 ; Giller, Witter, Corbeels, & Pablo, 2009 ; Mannion & Morse, 2013 ; Powlson et al., 2014 ). Adopting HT soybean has decreased the number of tillage operations between 25% and 58% in the United States and in Argentina (Carpenter, 2010 ). The introduction of HT soybean has been cited as an important factor in the rapid increase of no tillage practices in Argentina, and the adoption of no tillage practices in this region has allowed for wheat to be double cropped with soybean which has led to a fundamental increase in farm productivity (Trigo, Cap, Malach, & Villareal, 2009 ). Substantial growth in no tillage production linked to the adoption of GM HT crops has also been noted in Canada. Several authors have reported a positive correlation between the adoption of GM HT canola and the adoption of zero-tillage systems in western Canada (Phillips, 2003 ; Beckie et al., 2006 ; Kleter et al., 2007 ). The no tillage canola production area in western Canada increased from 0.8 million hectares to 2.6 million hectares from 1996 to 2005 . This area covers about half the total canola area in Canada (Qaim & Traxler, 2005 ). In addition, tillage passes among farmers growing HT canola in Canada dropped by more than 70% in this same period (Smyth, Gusta, Belcher, Phillips, & Castle, 2011 ). Fields planted with HT crops in this region require less tillage between crops to manage weeds (Fawcett & Towery, 2003 ; Nickson, 2005 ).

Reductions in tillage and pesticide application have great benefits because they minimize inputs of fossil fuels in farming systems and in doing so, they reduce the carbon footprint of crop production (Baker, Ochsner, Venterea, & Griffis, 2007 ). The mitigation of soil erosion is important with respect to environmental conservation and the conservation of productivity potential. The adoption of no tillage practices would also save on the use of diesel fuel, and it enriches carbon sequestration in soils (Brookes & Barfoot, 2014 ). Brookes and Barfoot ( 2008 ) suggested that the fuel reduction because of GM crop cultivation resulted in a carbon dioxide emissions savings of 1215 × 10 6 Kg. This corresponds to taking more than 500,000 cars off the road. In addition, a further 13.5 × 10 9 Kg of carbon dioxide could be saved through carbon sequestration, which is equivalent to taking 6 million cars off the road. The impact of GM crops on the carbon flows in agriculture may be considered as a positive impact of GM crops on the environment (Knox et al., 2006 ).

Herbicide Tolerance and Pest Management

Herbicide tolerance in GM crops is achieved by the introduction of novel genes. The control of weeds by physical means or by using selective herbicides is time-consuming and expensive (Roller & Harlander, 1998 ). The most widely adopted HT crops are glyphosate tolerant (Dill, CaJabob, & Padgette, 2008 ) colloquially (and commercially for Monsanto) known as “Roundup Ready” crops. Herbicide tolerant GM crops have provided farmers with operational benefits. The main benefits associated with HT canola, for example, were easier and better weed control (Mauro & McLachlan, 2008 ). The development of GM HT canola varieties has also been linked to incremental gains in weed control and canola yield (Harker, Blackshaw, Kirkland, Derksen, & Wall, 2000 ). Despite all of the weed management options available in traditional canola, significant incentives remained for the development of HT canola. The most apparent incentives were special weed problems such as false cleavers ( Galium aparine ) and stork’s bill ( Erodium cicutarium ), and the lack of low-cost herbicide treatments for perennials such as quackgrass ( Agropyron repens ) and Canada thistle ( Cirsium arvense ). Mixtures of herbicides can control many of the common annual and perennial weeds in western Canada but they are expensive and not necessarily reliable (Blackshaw & Harker, 1992 ). In addition, some tank-mixtures led to significant canola injury and yield loss (Harker, Blackshaw, & Kirkland, 1995 ). Thus, canola producers welcomed the prospect of applying a single nonselective herbicide for all weed problems with little concern for specific weed spectrums, growth stages, tank mixture interactions (i.e., antagonism or crop injury) and/or extensive consultations. Two major GM HT canola options are widely used in western Canada. Canola tolerant to glufosinate was the first transgenic crop to be registered in Canada (Oelck et al., 1995 ). Canola tolerant to glyphosate (Roundup Ready) followed shortly thereafter. The GM HT canola offers the possibility of improved weed management in canola via a broader spectrum of weed control and/or greater efficacy on specific weeds (Harker et al., 2000 ). The greatest gains in yield attributed to the adoption of GM HT crops has been for soybean in the United States and Argentina and for GM HT canola in Canada (Brookes & Barfoot, 2008 ).

The reduction of pesticide applications is a major direct benefit of GM crop cultivation: reducing farmers’ exposure to chemicals (Hossain et al., 2004 ; Huang, Hu, Rozelle, & Pray, 2005 ) and lowering pesticide residues in food and feed crops, while also releasing fewer chemicals into the environment and potentially increasing on-farm diversity in insects and pollinators (Nickson, 2005 ). Additionally, improved pest management can reduce the level of mycotoxins in food and feed crops (Wu, 2006 ). Insect resistance in GM crops has been conferred by transferring the gene for toxin creation from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into crops like maize. This toxin is naturally occurring in Bt and is presently used as a traditional insecticide in agriculture, including certified organic agriculture, and is considered safe to use on food and feed crops (Roh, Choi, Li, Jin, & Je, 2007 ). GM crops that produce this toxin have been shown to require little or no additional pesticide application even when pest pressure is high (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013 ). As of the end of the 21st century , insect resistant GM crops were available via three systems (Bt variants). Monsanto and Dow Agrosciences have developed SmartStax maize, which has three pest management attributes, including protection against both above-ground and below-ground insect pests, and herbicide tolerance, which facilitates weed control (Monsanto, 2009 ). SmartStax maize GM varieties were first approved for release in the United States in 2009 and combine traits that were originally intended to be used individually in GM crops (Mannion & Morse, 2013 ). Significant reductions in pesticide use is reported by adoption of Bt maize in Canada, South Africa, and Spain, as well as Bt cotton, notably in China (Pemsl, Waibel, & Gutierrez, 2005 ), India (Qiam, 2003 ), Australia, and the United States (Mannion & Morse, 2013 ).

Human Health

GM crops may have a positive influence on human health by reducing exposure to insecticides (Brimner, Gallivan, & Stephenson, 2005 ; Knox, Vadakuttu, Gordon, Lardner, & Hicks, 2006 ) and by substantially altering herbicide use patterns toward glyphosate, which is considered to be a relatively benign herbicide in this respect (Munkvold, Hellmich, & Rice, 1999 ). However these claims are mostly based on assumption rather than real experimental data. There is generally a lack of public studies on the potential human health impacts of the consumption of food or feed derived from GM crops (Domingo, 2016 ; Wolt et al., 2010 ) and any public work that has been done to date has garnered skepticism and criticism, including, for example, the work by Seralini et al. ( 2013 ). However, the GM crops that are commercialized pass regulatory approval as being safe for human consumption by august competent authorities including the Food and Drug Administration in the United States and the European Food Safety Authority in Europe. Improvement of GM crops that will have a direct influence on health such as decreased allergens (Chu et al., 2008 ), superior levels of protein and carbohydrates (Newell-McGloughlin, 2008 ), greater levels of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals including, multivitamin corn (Naqvi et al., 2009 ; Zhu et al., 2008 ), and maximum zeaxanthin corn (Naqvi et al., 2011 ) hold much promise but have yet to be commercialized. Malnutrition is very common in developing countries where poor people rely heavily on single food sources such as rice for their diet (Gómez-Galera et al., 2010 ). Rice does not contain sufficient quantities of all essential nutrients to prevent malnutrition and GM crops may offer means for supplying more nutritional benefits through single food sources such as rice (White & Broadley, 2009 ). This not only supports people to get the nutrition they require, but also plays a potential role in fighting malnutrition in developing nations (Sakakibara & Saito, 2006 ; Sauter, Poletti, Zhang, & Gruissem, 2006 ). Golden rice is one the most known examples of a bio-fortified GM crop (Potrykus, 2010 ). Vitamin A deficiency renders susceptibility to blindness and affects between 250,000 and 500,000 children annually and is very common in parts of Africa and Asia (Golden Rice Project, 2009 ). A crop like Golden rice could help to overcome the problem of vitamin A deficiency by at least 50% at moderate expense (Stein, Sachdev, & Qaim, 2008 ), yet its adoption has been hampered by activist campaigns (Potrykus, 2012 ).

Environmental Benefits

For currently commercialized GM crops the environmental benefits as previously pointed out are primarily linked to reductions in pesticide use and to reductions in tillage (Christou & Twyman, 2004 ; Wesseler, Scatasta, & El Hadji, 2011 ). Reductions in pesticide use can lead to a greater conservation of beneficial insects and help to protect other non-target species (Aktar, Sengupta, & Chowdhury, 2009 ). Reduced tillage helps to mitigate soil erosion and environmental pollution (Wesseler et al., 2011 ; Brookes & Barfoot, 2008 ) and can lead to indirect environmental benefits including reductions in water pollution via pesticide and fertilizer runoff (Christos & Ilias, 2011 ). It has been claimed that growing Bt maize could help to significantly reduce the use of chemical pesticides and lower the cost of production to some extent (Gewin, 2003 ). The deregulation process for GM crops includes the assessment of potential environmental risks including unintentional effects that could result from the insertion of the new gene (Prakash, Sonika, Ranjana, & Tiwary, 2011 ). Development of GM technology to introduce genes conferring tolerance to abiotic stresses such as drought or inundation, extremes of heat or cold, salinity, aluminum, and heavy metals are likely to enable marginal land to become more productive and may facilitate the remediation of polluted soils (Czako, Feng, He, Liang, & Marton, 2005 ; Uchida et al., 2005 ). The multiplication of GM crop varieties carrying such traits may increase farmers’ capacities to cope with these and other environmental problems (Dunwell & Ford, 2005 ; Sexton & Zilberman, 2011 ). Therefore, GM technology may hold out further hope of increasing the productivity of agricultural land with even less environmental impact (Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], 2004 ).

Some proponents of GM crops have argued that because they increase productivity they facilitate more sustainable farming practices and can lead to “greener” agriculture. Mannion and Morse ( 2013 ), for example, argue that GM crops require less energy investment in farming because the reduced application of insecticide lowers energy input levels, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. It has been suggested by other authors that the adoption of GM crops may have the potential to reduce inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides (Bennett, Ismael, Morse, & Shankar, 2004 ; Bennett, Phipps, Strange, & Grey, 2004 ). Others note that higher crop yields facilitated by GM crops could offset greenhouse gas emissions at scales similar to those attributed to wind and solar energy (Wise et al., 2009 ). Greenhouse gas emissions from intensive agriculture are also offset by the conservation of non-farmed lands. While untilled forest soils and savannas, for example, act as carbon stores, farmed land is often a carbon source (Burney, Davis, & Lobell, 2010 ).

The Economy

GM crops are sold into a market and are subject to the market in terms of providing a realized value proposition for farmers and value through the food chain in terms of reduced costs of production (Lucht, 2015 ). Currently the GM crops on the market are targeted to farmers and have a value proposition based on economic benefits to farmers via operational benefits (Mauro, McLachlan, & Van Acker, 2009 ). Due to higher yield and lower production cost of GM crops, farmers will get more economic return and produce more food at affordable prices, which can potentially provide benefits to consumers including the poor (Lucht, 2015 ; Lemaux, 2009 ). The most significant economic benefits attributed to GM crop cultivation have been higher gross margins due to lower costs of pest management for farmers (Klümper & Qaim, 2014 ; Qaim, 2010 ). GM varieties have provided a financial benefit for many farmers (Andreasen, 2014 ). In some regions, GM crops have led to reduced labor costs for farmers (Bennett et al., 2005 ). Whether GM crops have helped to better feed the poor and alleviate global poverty is not yet proven (Yuan et al., 2011 ).

Cons of GMO Crop Farming

The intensive cultivation of GM crops has raised a wide range of concerns with respect to food safety, environmental effects, and socioeconomic issues. The major cons are explored for cross-pollination, pest resistance, human health, the environment, the economy, and productivity.

Cross-Pollination

The out crossing of GM crops to non-GM crops or related wild type species and the adventitious mixing of GM and non-GM crops has led to a variety of issues. Because of the asynchrony of the deregulation of GM crops around the world, the unintended presence of GM crops in food and feed trade channels can cause serious trade and economic issues. One example is “LibertyLink” rice, a GM variety of rice developed by Bayer Crop Science, traces of which were found in commercial food streams even before it was deregulated for production in the United States. The economic impact on U.S. rice farmers and millers when rice exports from the United States were halted amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars (Bloomberg News, 2011 ). A more recent example is Agrisure Viptera corn, which was approved for cultivation in the United States in 2009 but had not yet been deregulated in China. Exports of U.S. corn to China contained levels of Viptera corn, and China closed its borders to U.S. corn imports for a period. The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) had encouraged Syngenta to stop selling Viptera because of losses U.S. farmers were facing, and there is an ongoing class-action lawsuit in the United States against Syngenta (U.S. District Court, 2017 ). Concerns over the safety of GM food have played a role in decisions by Chinese officials to move away from GM production. Cross-pollination can result in difficulty in maintaining the GM-free status of organic crops and threaten markets for organic farmers (Ellstrand, Prentice, & Hancock, 1999 ; Van Acker, McLean, & Martin, 2007 ). The EU has adopted a GM and non-GM crop coexistence directive that has allowed nation-states to enact coexistence legislation that aims to mitigate economic issues related to adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops (Van Acker et al., 2007 ).

GM crops have also been criticized for promoting the development of pesticide-resistant pests (Dale, Clarke, & Fontes, 2002 ). The development of resistant pests is most due to the overuse of a limited range of pesticides and overreliance on one pesticide. This would be especially true for glyphosate because prior to the development of Roundup Ready crops glyphosate use was very limited and since the advent of Roundup Ready crops there has been an explosion of glyphosate-resistant weed species (Owen, 2009 ). The development of resistant pests via cross-pollination to wild types (weeds) is often cited as a major issue (Friedrich & Kassam, 2012 ) but it is much less of a concern because it is very unlikely (Owen et al., 2011 ; Ellstrand, 2003 ). There are, however, issues when genes transfer from GM to non-GM crops creating unexpected herbicide resistant volunteer crops, which can create challenges and costs for farmers (Van Acker, Brule-Babel, & Friesen, 2004 ; Owen, 2008 ; Mallory-Smith & Zapiola, 2008 ).

Some critics of GM crops express concerns about how certain GM traits may provide substantive advantages to wild type species if the traits are successfully transferred to these wild types. This is not the case for GM HT traits, which would offer no advantage in non-cropped areas where the herbicides are not used, but could be an issue for traits such as drought tolerance (Buiatti, Christou, & Pastore, 2013 ). This situation would be detrimental because the GM crops would grow faster and reproduce more often, allowing them to become invasive (FAO, 2015 ). This has sometime been referred to as genetic pollution (Reichman et al., 2006 ). There are also some concerns that insects may develop resistance to the pesticides after ingesting GM pollen (Christou, Capell, Kohli, Gatehouse, & Gatehouse, 2006 ). The potential impact of genetic pollution of this type is unclear but could have dramatic effects on the ecosystem (Stewart et al., 2003 ).

Pest Resistance

Repeated use of a single pesticide over time leads to the development of resistance in populations of the target species. The extensive use of a limited number of pesticides facilitated by GM crops does accelerate the evolution of resistant pest populations (Bawa & Anilakumar, 2013 ). Resistance evolution is a function of selection pressure from use of the pesticide and as such it is not directly a function of GM HT crops for example, but GM HT crops have accelerated the development of glyphosate resistant weeds because they have promoted a tremendous increase in the use of glyphosate (Owen, 2009 ). Farmers have had to adjust to this new problem and in some cases this had added costs for farmers (Mauro, McLachlan, & Van Acker, 2009 ; Mannion & Morse, 2013 ). The management of GM HT volunteers has also produced challenges for some farmers. These are not resistant weeds as they are not wild type species, but for farmers they are herbicide-resistant weeds in an operational sense (Knispel, McLachlan, & Van Acker, 2008 ; Liu et al., 2015 ). Pink bollworm has become resistant to the first generation GM Bt cotton in India (Bagla, 2010 ). Similar pest resistance was also later identified in Australia, China, Spain, and the United States (Tabashnik et al., 2013 ). In 2012 , army worms were found resistant to Dupont-Dow’s Bt corn in Florida (Kaskey, 2012 ), and the European corn borer is also capable of developing resistance to Bt maize (Christou et al., 2006 ).

Although the deregulation of GM crops includes extensive assessments of possible human health impacts by competent authorities there are still many who hold concerns about the potential risks to human health of GM crops. For some this is related to whether transgenesis itself causes unintended consequences (Domingo, 2016 ), while for others it is concerns around the traits that are possible using GM (Herman, 2003 ). Some criticize the use of antibiotic resistance as markers in the transgenesis procedure and that this can facilitate antibiotic resistance development in pathogens that are a threat to human health (Key, Ma, & Drake, 2008 ). Many critics of GM crops express concerns about allergenicity (Lehrer & Bannon, 2005 ). Genetic modification often adds or mixes proteins that were not native to the original plant, which might cause new allergic reactions in the human body (Lehrer & Bannon, 2005 ). Gene transfer from GM foods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material unfavorably influences human health, but the probability of this occurring is remote. Other concerns include the possibility of GM crops somehow inducing mutations in human genes (Ezeonu, Tagbo, Anike, Oje, & Onwurah, 2012 ) or other unintended consequences (Yanagisawa, 2004 ; Lemaux, 2009 ; Gay & Gillespie, 2005 ; Wesseler, Scatasta, & El Hadji, 2011 ) but commentary by these authors is speculative and is not based on experimentation with current GM crops.

Environment

For currently commercialized GM crops the potential environmental impacts are mostly related to how these crops impact farming systems. Some argue that because crops like Roundup Ready soybean greatly simplify weed management they facilitate simple farming systems including monocultures (Dunwell & Ford, 2005 ). The negative impact of monocultures on the environment is well documented and so this might be considered an indirect environmental effect of GM crops (Nazarko, Van Acker, & Entz, 2005 ; Buiatti, Christou, & Pastore, 2013 ). Other concerns that have been raised regarding GM crops include the effects of transgenic on the natural landscape, significance of gene flow, impact on non-target organisms, progression of pest resistance, and impacts on biodiversity (Prakash et al., 2011 ). Again, many of these concerns may be more a function of the impacts of simple and broad-scale farming practices facilitated by GM crops rather than GM crops per se. However, there has been considerable concern over the environmental impact of Bt GM crops highlighted by studies that showed the potential impact on monarch butterfly populations (Dively et al., 2004 ). This begged questions then about what other broader effects there may be on nontarget organisms both direct and indirect (Daniell, 2002 ). In addition, there may be indirect effects associated with how GM crops facilitate the evolution of pesticide resistant pests in that the follow-on control of these pest populations may require the use of more pesticides and often older chemistries that may be more toxic to the environment in the end (Nazarko et al., 2005 ).

Bringing a GM crop to market can be both expensive and time consuming, and agricultural bio-technology companies can only develop products that will provide a return on their investment (Ramaswami, Pray, & Lalitha, 2012 ). For these companies, patent infringement is a big issue. The price of GM seeds is high and it may not be affordable to small farmers (Ramaswami et al., 2012 ; Qaim, 2009 ). A considerable range of problems has been associated with GM crops, including debt and increased dependence on multinational seed companies, but these can also be combined with other agricultural technologies to some extent (Kloppenburg, 1990 ; Finger et al., 2011 ). The majority of seed sales for the world’s major crops are controlled by a few seed companies. The issues of private industry control and their intellectual property rights over seeds have been considered problematic for many farmers and in particular small farmers and vulnerable farmers (Fischer, Ekener-Petersen, Rydhmer, & Edvardsson Björnberg, 2015 ; Mosher & Hurburgh, 2010 ). In addition, efforts by GM seed companies to protect their patented seeds through court actions have created financial and social challenges for many farmers (Marvier & Van Acker, 2005 ; Semal, 2007 ). There is considerable debate about the extent to which GM crops bring additional value to small and vulnerable farmers with strong opinions on both sides (Park, McFarlane, Phipps, & Ceddia, 2011 ; Brookes & Barfoot, 2010 ; James, 2010 ; Smale et al., 2009 ; Subramanian & Qaim, 2010 ). As the reliance on GM seeds extends, concerns grow about control over the food supply via seed ownership and the impacts on the diversity of seed sources, which can impact the resilience of farming systems across a region (Key et al., 2008 ). The risk of GM crops to the world economy can be significant. Global food production is dominated by a few seed companies, and they have increased the dependence of developing countries on industrialized nations (Van Acker, Cici, Michael, Ryan, & Sachs, 2015 ).

Productivity

Justification for GM crops on the basis of the need to feed the world is often used by proponents of the technology, but the connection between GM crops and feeding the world is not direct. GM crops are used by farmers and are sold primarily on the basis of their direct operational benefits to farmers, including the facilitation of production and/or more production (Mauro et al., 2009 ). Farmers realize these benefits in terms of cost savings or increased production or both and are looking to increase their margins by using the technology. Companies producing GM seeds can be very successful if they are able to capture a greater share of a seed market because they supply farmers with operational benefits such as simplified weed management (Blackshaw & Harker, 1992 ) even if there are no productivity gains. In addition, the traits in GM crops on the market as of the early part of the 21st century are not yield traits per se but are yield potential protection traits that may or may not result in greater productivity.

Conclusions

Genetic modification via recombinant DNA technology is compelling because it does provide a means for bringing truly novel traits into crops and the adoption of GM crops has been rapid in a range of countries around the world. Only a very limited number of traits have been incorporated to date into GM crops, the two primary traits being herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance. Nonetheless, farmers who have adopted GM crops have benefited from the operational benefits they provide, and current GM crops have facilitated the adoption of more sustainable farming practices, in particular, reduced tillage. The ongoing asynchronous approvals of GM crops around the world mean that there will always be issues related to the adventitious presence of GM crops in crop shipments and trade disruptions. Pollen mediated gene flow from crop to crop, and seed admixtures are challenges of GM crop farming and agricultural marketing as a result. The adoption of GM HT crops has also accelerated the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds, which has created additional operational challenges and costs for farmers. The GM crops commercialized to date have all been deregulated and deemed to be safe to the environment and safe in terms of human health by competent authorities around the world, including the European Food Safety Association. There remain, however, critics of the technology who point to a lack of public research on the potential risks of GM and GM crops. GM crops will continue to be developed because they provide real operational benefits for farmers, who are the ones who purchase the seeds. The novelty of the technology and its potential to bring almost any trait into crops mean that there needs to remain dedicated diligence on the part of regulators to ensure that no GM crops are deregulated that may in fact pose risks to human health or the environment, but there will also remain the promise of the value of novel inventions that bring benefits to consumers and the environment. The same will be true for the next wave of new breeding technologies, which include gene editing technologies such as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) (Cong et al., 2013 ). These new technologies have even greater potential for modifying crops than GM technology and they avoid some of the characteristics of GM technology that have underpinned criticisms including, for example, the presence of foreign DNA.

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How GMO Crops Impact Our World

How GMO Crops Impact

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Many people wonder what impacts GMO crops have on our world. “GMO” (genetically modified organism) is the common term consumers and popular media use to describe a plant, animal, or microorganism that has had its genetic material (DNA) changed using technology that generally involves the specific modification of DNA, including the transfer of specific DNA from one organism to another. Scientists often refer to this process as genetic engineering . Since the first genetically engineered crops, or GMOs, for sale to consumers were planted in the 1990s, researchers have tracked their impacts on and off the farm.

Why do farmers use GMO crops?

Most of the GMO crops grown today were developed to help farmers prevent crop loss. The three most common traits found in GMO crops are:

  • Resistance to insect damage
  • Tolerance to herbicides
  • Resistance to plant viruses

For GMO crops that are resistant to insect damage, farmers can apply fewer spray pesticides to protect the crops. GMO crops that are tolerant to herbicides help farmers control weeds without damaging the crops. When farmers use these herbicide-tolerant crops they do not need to till the soil, which they normally do to get rid of weeds. This no-till planting helps to maintain soil health and lower fuel and labor use. Taken together, studies have shown positive economic and environmental impacts.

The GMO papaya, called the Rainbow papaya , is an example of a GMO crop developed to be resistant to a virus. When the ringspot virus threatened the Hawaii papaya industry and the livelihoods of Hawaiian papaya farmers, plant scientists developed the ringspot virus-resistant Rainbow papaya. The Rainbow papaya was commercially planted in 1998, and today it is grown all over Hawaii and exported to Japan.

Learn more on Why Do Farmers in the U.S. Grow GMO Crops?

Do GMOs have impacts beyond the farm?

The most common GMO crops were developed to address the needs of farmers, but in turn they can help foods become more accessible and affordable for consumers. Some GMO crops were developed specifically to benefit consumers. For example, a GMO soybean that is used to create a healthier oil is commercially grown and available. GMO apples that do not brown when cut are now available for sale and may help reduce food waste. Plant scientists continue to develop GMO crops that they hope will benefit consumers.

Learn more about GMOs and the Environment .

Do GMOs have impacts outside the United States?

GMOs also impact the lives of farmers in other parts of the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with partner countries to use genetic engineering to improve staple crops, the basic foods that make up a large portion of people’s diets. For example, a GMO eggplant developed to be insect resistant has been slowly released to farmers in Bangladesh since 2014. Farmers who grow GMO eggplants are earning more and have less exposure to pesticides. USAID is also working with partner countries in Africa and elsewhere on several staple crops, such as virus-resistant cassava , insect-resistant cowpea , and blight-resistant potato .

Learn more about GMO Crops and Humanitarian Reasons for Development and GMOs Outside the U.S .

How GMO Crops Impact the World

How GMOs Are Regulated in the United States

Science and History of GMOs and Other Food Modification Processes

GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond

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  • v.8(4); 2017

The impact of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in modern agriculture: A review

Ruchir raman.

Faculty of Science (School of Biosciences), The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010, Australia

Genetic modification in plants was first recorded 10,000 years ago in Southwest Asia where humans first bred plants through artificial selection and selective breeding. Since then, advancements in agriculture science and technology have brought about the current GM crop revolution. GM crops are promising to mitigate current and future problems in commercial agriculture, with proven case studies in Indian cotton and Australian canola. However, controversial studies such as the Monarch Butterfly study (1999) and the Séralini affair (2012) along with current problems linked to insect resistance and potential health risks have jeopardised its standing with the public and policymakers, even leading to full and partial bans in certain countries. Nevertheless, the current growth rate of the GM seed market at 9.83–10% CAGR along with promising research avenues in biofortification, precise DNA integration and stress tolerance have forecast it to bring productivity and prosperity to commercial agriculture.

INTRODUCTION

Genetic modification (GM) is the area of biotechnology which concerns itself with the manipulation of the genetic material in living organisms, enabling them to perform specific functions. 1 , 2 The earliest concept of modification for domestication and consumption of plants dates back ∼10,000 years where human ancestors practiced “selective breeding” and “artificial selection” – the Darwinian-coined terms broadly referring to selection of parent organisms having desirable traits (eg: hardier stems) and breeding them for propagating their traits. The most dramatic alteration of plant genetics using these methods occurred through artificial selection of corn – from a weedy grass possessing tiny ears and few kernels (teosinte; earliest recorded growth: central Balsas river valley, southern Mexico 6300 years ago) to the current cultivars of edible corn and maize plants (Doebley et al., 2016, Fig 1 ). The use of similar techniques has also been reported to derive current variants of apples, broccoli and bananas different from their ancestral plant forms which are vastly desirable for human consumption. 3

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
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The evolution of modern corn/maize (top) from teosinte plants (bottom) by repetitive selective breeding over several generations. [Sources: 50 (top figure), 51 (bottom figure)].

The developments leading to modern genetic modification took place in 1946 where scientists first discovered that genetic material was transferable between different species. This was followed by DNA double helical structure discovery and conception of the central dogma – the transcription of DNA to RNA and subsequent translation into proteins – by Watson and Crick in 1954. Consequently, a series of breakthrough experiments by Boyer and Cohen in 1973, which involved “cutting and pasting” DNA between different species using restriction endonucleases and DNA ligase – “molecular scissors and glue” (Rangel, 2016) successfully engineered the world's first GM organism. In agriculture, the first GM plants – antibiotic resistant tobacco and petunia – were successfully created in 1983 by three independent research groups. In 1990, China became the first country to commercialise GM tobacco for virus resistance. In 1994, the Flavr Savr tomato (Calgene, USA) became the first ever Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GM plant for human consumption. This tomato was genetically modified by antisense technology to interfere with polygalacturonase enzyme production, consequently causing delayed ripening and resistance to rot. 4 Since then, several transgenic crops received approvals for large scale human production in 1995 and 1996. Initial FDA-approved plants included corn/maize, cotton and potatoes ( Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene modification, Ciba-Geigy and Monsanto) canola (Calgene: increased oil production), cotton (Calgene: bromoxynil resistance) and Roundup Ready soybeans (Monsanto: glyphosate resistance), 4 Fig 2 ). Currently, the GM crop pipeline has expanded to cover other fruits, vegetables and cereals such as lettuce, strawberries, eggplant, sugarcane, rice, wheat, carrots etc. with planned uses to increase vaccine bioproduction, nutrients in animal feed as well as confer salinity and drought resistant traits for plant growth in unfavourable climates and environment. 4 , 2

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A timeline of events leading to the current GM crop era.

Since their commercialisation, GM crops have been beneficial to both economy and the environment. The global food crop yield (1996–2013) has increased by > 370 million tonnes over a relatively small acreage area. 2 Furthermore, GM crops have been recorded to reduce environmental and ecological impacts, leading to increases in species diversity. It is therefore unsurprising that GM crops have been commended by agricultural scientists, growers and most environmentalists worldwide.

Nevertheless, advancements in GM crops have raised significant questions of their safety and efficacy. The GM seed industry has been plagued with problems related to human health and insect resistance which have seriously undermined their beneficial effects. Moreover, poor science communication by seed companies, a significant lack of safety studies and current mistrust regarding GMOs have only compounded problems. These have led many countries, particularly the European Union and Middle East to implement partial or full restrictions on GM crops. GM agriculture is now widely discussed in both positive and negative frames, and currently serves as a hotbed of debate in public and policymaking levels.

CHALLENGES IN COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE

The agriculture industry has been valued at an estimated US$ 3.2 trillion worldwide and accounts for a large share of the GDP and employment in developing and underdeveloped nations. 5 For instance: Agriculture contributes only 1.4% towards the GDP and 1.62% of the workforce in US in comparison with South Asian regions, where it contributes 18.6% towards the GDP and 50% of the workforce. 6 However, despite employing nearly 1 in 5 people worldwide (19% of the world's population), 7 the agriculture industry is projected to suffer significant global setbacks (population growth, pest resistance and burden on natural resources) by 2050, which has been elaborated further in this section.

Explosive Population Growth

The Food and Agricultural Organisation projects the global population to grow to approximately 9.7 billion by 2050 – a near 50% increase from 2013 – and further to an estimated 11bn by 2100. Current agricultural practices alone cannot sustain the world population and eradicate malnutrition and hunger on a global scale in the future. Indeed, the FAO also estimates that despite a significant reduction in global hunger, 653 mn people will still be undernourished in 2030. 8 Additionally, Ray et al. and other studies depict the top four global crops (soybean, maize, wheat and rice) are increasing at 1.0%, 0.9%, 1.6% and 1.3% per annum respectively– approximately 42%, 38%, 67% and 55% lower than the required growth rate (2.4%/annum) to sustain the global population in 2050. 9 Compounded with other problems such as improved nutritional standards in the burgeoning lower-middle class and projected loss in arable land (from 0.242 ha/person in 2016 to 0.18 ha/person in 2050) 2 due to degradation and accelerated urbanization, rapid world population expansion will increase demand for food resources.

Pests and Crop Diseases

Annual crop loss to pests alone account for 20–40% of the global crop losses. In terms of economic value, tackling crop diseases and epidemics and invasive insect problem costs the agriculture industry approximately $290 mn annually. 8 Currently, major epidemics continue to plague commercial agriculture. It has been projected that crop disease and pest incidences are expanding in a poleward direction (2.7 km annually), 10 indicated by coffee leaf rust and wheat rust outbreaks in Central America. These incidences have largely been attributed to an amalgamation of globalisation leading to increased plant, pest and disease movement, increase in disease vectors, climate change and global warming. 8

While integrated pest management and prevention techniques somewhat mitigate the pest problem, they are insufficient to tackle the transboundary crop-demics. The epidemiology of the Panama disease (or Panama wilt), caused by the soil fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Foc) 11 provides solid evidence in this regard. Since the early-mid 1990s the Tropical Race-4 (TR4) strain, a single pathogen Foc fungus clone, has significantly crippled the global banana industry. In 2013, the Mindanao Banana Farmers and Exporters association (in Philippines) reported infection in 5900 hectares of bananas, including 3000 hectares that were abandoned. In Mozambique, symptomatic plants currently account for >20% of total banana plantations (570,000 out 2.5m) since the reporting of TR4 in 2015. Additionally, TR4 losses have cost Taiwanese, Malaysian, and Indonesian economies a combined estimate of US$ 388.4 mn. 12 Therefore, an alarming increase in transboundary crop and pest diseases have broad environmental, social and economic impacts on farmers and threaten food security.

Burden on Natural Resources

The FAO's 2050 projections suggest projected natural resource scarcities for crop care. 8 Despite overall agricultural efficiency, unsustainable competition has intensified due to urbanisation, population growth, industrialisation and climate change. Deforestation for agricultural purposes has driven 80% of the deforestation worldwide. In tropical and subtropical areas where deforestation is still widespread, agricultural expansion accounted for loss of 7 million hectares per annum of natural forests between 2000–2010. 8 Additionally, water withdrawals for agriculture accounted for 70% of all withdrawals, seriously depleting natural water resources in many countries. This has particularly been observed in low rainfall regions, such as Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia where water for agriculture accounts for 80–90% 8 of the total water withdrawal. These trends are predicted to continue well into the 21st century and therefore increase the burden of natural resource consumption globally.

SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY GM CROPS

GM crops have been largely successful in mitigating the above major agriculture challenges while providing numerous benefits to growers worldwide. From 1996–2013, they generated $117.6 bn over 17 years in global farm income benefit alone. The global yearly net income increased by 34.3% in 2010–2012. 13 , 14 Furthermore, while increasing global yield by 22%, GM crops reduced pesticide (active ingredient) usage by 37% and environmental impact (insecticide and herbicide use) by 18%. 15 To achieve the same yield standards more than 300 million acres of conventional crops would have been needed, which would have further compounded current environmental and socioeconomic problems in agriculture. 2

To further emphasise the impact of GM crops on economies: two case studies – GM Canola (Australia) and GM cotton (India) – have been highlighted in this review.

GM Cotton (India)

In India, cotton has served as an important fibre and textile raw material and plays a vital role in its industrial and agricultural economy. Nearly 8 million farmers, most of them small and medium (having less than 15 acres of farm size and an average of 3–4 acres of cotton holdings) depend on this crop for their livelihood. In 2002, Monsanto-Mahyco introduced Bollgard-I, India's first GM cotton hybrid containing Cry1Ac -producing Bacillus thuringiensis ( Bt ) genes for controlling the pink bollworm ( P. gossypiella ) pest. 16 Initially, only 36% of the farmers adopted the new crop however this statistic soon grew to 46% in 2004 17 after Bt- cotton was approved nationwide. This was followed by approval and launch of Bollgard-II (a two-toxin Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab -producing Bt- pyramid conferring resistance to bollworm) by Monsanto-Mahyco, which subsequently enhanced Bt- cotton adoption among Indian cotton growers ( Fig 3 ).

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Adoption of GM canola (top) and GM cotton (bottom) in Australia and India respectively. The primary vertical axis shows the total acreage of cotton and canola along with the proportion of GM and non-GM crops grown per year, while the secondary horizontal axis depicts the percentage of GM crop adoption among farmers and growers per year. (Sources: 22 , 18 ).

Despite controversies, Bt -cotton's implementation has largely benefited Indian farmers and agricultural economy. Bt -cotton has increased profits and yield by Rs. 1877 per acre (US$38) and 126 kg/acre of farmland respectively, 50% and 24% more than profit and yield by conventional cotton. This translates to a net increase of Bt -cotton growers' annual consumption expenditures by 18% (Rs. 15,841/US$321) compared to non-adapters, highlighting improved living standards. 17 Bt -cotton adoption has also resulted in a 22-fold increase in India's agri-biotech industry due to an unprecedented 212-fold rise in plantings from 2002–2011 (accounting for ∼30% of global cotton farmland), surpassing China and making it a world leading grower and exporter. 7 million out of the 8 million farmers (88%) are growing Bt-cotton annually. Cotton crop yields have also increased 31% while conversely insecticide usage has more than halved (46% to 21%) enhancing India's cotton income by US$11.9 bn. 18 Therefore, Bt- cotton has resulted in economic prosperity among Bt -cotton growers, with 2002–11 often being called a white gold period for India's GM cotton industry.

GM Canola (Australia)

Canola in Australia is grown as a break crop, providing farmers a profitable alternative along with rotational benefits from continuous cereal crop phases and their related weed/pest mechanisms. Other benefits include broadleaf weed and cereal root disease control and better successive cereal crop growth. It is most prominently grown in Western Australia (WA), where it accounts for 400–800,000 ha of farmland and is the most successful of four break crops (oat, lupin, canola and field pea). From 2002–2007, Canola production in WA alone accounted for a yield of 440 mn tonnes valued at A$200mn. 19 Nevertheless Canola has been a high risk crop and particularly susceptible to blackleg disease (caused by fungus Leptosphaeria maculans ), and weeds such as charlock ( Sinapis arvensis ), wild radish ( Raphanus raphanistrum L) and Buchan ( Hirschfeldia incana (L.) Lagr.-Foss) which increase anti-nutritional compound content and composition in canola oil, degrading quality. 20

In 2008–09, two herbicide resistant GM canola varieties: Roundup Ready® (Monsanto) and InVigor® (Bayer Cropsciences) were introduced in Australia. Roundup Ready® contained gene variants with altered EPSP synthase (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate) alterations along with a glyphosate oxidoreductase gene making it glyphosate resistant. It gained OGTR approval after trials showed its environmental impact was less than half (43%) of triazine tolerant canola varieties 21 , 19 and remains the only OGTR-approved GM canola till date. The introduction of Roundup Ready® canola has had a positive impact on farmers by controlling weeds that were erstwhile difficult to mitigate. In 2014, GM canola planting area (hectares) was up to 14% in 2014 from just 4% in 2009 ( Fig 3 ), representing a near three-fold increase and contributing to Australia's growing biotech crop hectarage. This increase was more notable in WA, where GM canola was planted from 21% canola farmers in 2014, up from 0% in 2009. 22 This has led to more research and development of different canola varieties to improve oil content and quality, yield and maturity. 20

PROBLEMS AND CONTROVERSIES

Although a successful technology, GM crop use has been controversial and a hotbed for opposition. Their public image has been severely impacted leading to full or partial bans in 38 countries including the European Union ( Fig 4 ). This section highlights major controversies and reflects on some real problems faced by commercialised GM crops.

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Object name is kgmc-08-04-1413522-g004.jpg

The figure depicts the current acceptance of GM crops in different countries. Green: National bans. Yellow: Restrictive laws, Red: No formal laws (Source: 52 ).

Monarch Butterfly Controversy (1999)

The Monarch butterfly controversy relates Losey et al.’s publication in Nature wherein they compared Monarch butterfly ( Danaus plexippus ) larval feeding cycle of milkweed ( Asclepias curassavica) dusted with N4640- Bt maize pollen to a control (milkweed dusted with untransformed corn pollen). They observed the N4640- Bt reared larvae to eat lesser, grow slower and have higher mortality and predicted N4640- Bt maize to have significant off target effects and significantly impact Monarch populations due to the following reasons:

  • • Monarch larvae's main nutrition is derived from milkweed, which commonly occurs in and around the corn field edges.
  • • Maize pollen shedding coincides with monarch larval feeding cycles during seasonal summer.
  • • ∼50% of the Monarch population is concentrated within the US maize belt during summer, a region known for intense maize production. 23

Losey et al. ’s conclusions were challenged by academics for improper experimental design and validity and soundness of extrapolating laboratory assays to field testing. There were many subsequent studies performed, depicting Bt- maize to be highly unlikely to affect Monarch population. For instance: Pleasants et al., 24 reasoned that several factors, most notably rainfall (reducing pollen by 54–86%) and leaf pollen distribution (30–50% on upper plant portions/preferred larval feeding sites) reduced larval exposure to Bt- maize pollen 24 and Sears et al., 25 argued that Bt- maize production, should it rise to ∼80% would only affect 0.05%-6% monarch population. 25

Nevertheless, Losey et al. ’s results garnered acclaim in the press for raising both the public's and biotech companies' consciousness about possible off-target Bt- maize on monarch butterflies. However further attempts to extrapolate their results to other Bt and GM crops have been unsuccessful, with current evidence suggesting effectiveness in insect control without off-target effects. 25

The Séralini Affair (2012)

The Séralini affair concerns itself with a controversial GM crop study by Gilles-Éric Séralini in Springer during 2012–14. The original paper published in 2012 studied the effect of NK-603 Roundup Ready® Maize (NK-603 RR Maize) on rats. It used the same experimental setup as an earlier Monsanto safety study to gain maize approval 26 and reached the following observations:

  • • Significant chronic kidney deficiencies representing 76% of altered parameters.
  • • 3–5x higher incidence of necrosis and liver congestions in treated males.
  • • 2–3-fold increase in female treatment group mortality.
  • • High tumour incidences in both treated sexes, starting 600 days earlier than control (only one tumour noted in control).

The 2012 study attributed observations to EPSPS overexpression in NK-603 RR Maize, found the Monsanto study conclusions “unjustifiable” and recommended thorough long-term toxicity feeding studies on edible GM crops. 27 The paper divided opinion, with Séralini being framed as both as a hero of the anti-GM movement and as an unethical researcher. His paper drew heavy criticism for its flawed experimental design, animal type used for study, statistical analysis and data presentation deficiencies and overall misrepresentations of science and was retracted (Arjó et al., 2012,. 28 In 2014, Séralini republished his nearly-identical study in expanded form which since continues to fuel the GM crop debate.

GM Crops: An Imperfect Technology

Despite the above controversies being proven unfounded, GM crops are an “imperfect technology” with potential major health risks of toxicity, allergenicity and genetic hazards associated to them. These could be caused by inserted gene products and their potential pleiotropic effects, the GMO's natural gene disruption or a combination of both factors. 4 , 2 The most notable example of this is Starlink maize, a Cry9c- expressing cultivar conferring gluphosinate resistance. In the mid-1990s, the USDA's Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) classified Cry9c Starlink as “potentially allergenic” due to its potential to interact with the human immune system. In 1998, the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) granted approval for Starlink's use in commercial animal feed and industry (eg: biofuels) but banned it for human consumption. Following this, relatively small Starlink quantities (∼0.5% of the US corn acreage) were planted between 1998–2000. 29 , 30 In 2000, Starlink residues were detected in food supplies not only in USA but also EU, Japan and South Korea where it completely banned. Furthermore, the EPA received several adverse allergic event reports related to corn, prompting a worldwide Starlink recall. About 300 different maize products were recalled in US alone by Kellogg's and Mission Foods. Starlink inadvertently affected ∼50% of US maize supply and depressed US corn prices by 8% for CY2001. 31

Another problem faced by GM crops currently is pest resistance due to gene overexpression leading to pest evolution via natural selection. Indeed, an analysis of 77 studies' results by Tabashnik et al. depicted reduced Bt- crop efficacy caused by field evolved pest resistance for 5 out of 13 (38.4%) major pest species examined in 2013, compared to just one in 2005, 32 Table 1 ). Furthermore, such resistance can be evolved over several generations in a relatively short time as most insects have shorter life spans. In maize, S.frugiperda and B.fusca resistance was reported after just 3 and 8 years respectively, consistent with the worst case scenarios. In the former, it led to crop withdrawal in Puerto Rico and was reported to still affect maize growers in 2011, 4 years after crop withdrawal. In India, P. gossypiella resistance currently affects ∼90% Bollgard-II Bt- hybrid cotton growers and ∼35% (4 million ha) of cultivable cotton area in key regions. 32 , 33

Crops reported with >50% pest resistance and reduced efficacy.

1- Time to first reported resistance of pest to GM plant. 2-Toxin secreted by affected GM plant.

To mitigate the problems regarding GM technologies, a series of strict regulatory measures have been proposed to prevent cross-contamination of split-approved GM crops banned for human consumption. These include implementation and enforcement buffer zones to prevent cross contamination of crops, better laboratory testing to confirm adverse allergic event cases and an overall inclusion of stakeholders and representatives in policymaking and communication. 30 Additionally, Bt pest resistance could be controlled by implementation of high-dose Bt toxin standards in transgenic crops and evaluation of insect responses, integration of Host plant resistance (HPR) traits in cultivars to control secondary pests, 34 preparation of abundant non- Bt plants refuges near Bt crops and proactive implementation of two-toxin Bt- pyramids producing ≥ 2 distinct toxins against as single pest species. 32 These suggested measures in pest management and regulation if implemented could help the agriculture industry overcome the imperfect problems of GM crops while significantly regaining public trust of this technology.

GM AGRICULTURE: TRENDS AND FUTURE AVENUES

The GM seed market has changed drastically since 1996 from a competitive sector owned by family owners to one of the fastest growing global industries dominated by a small number of corporations. Analysts predict a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 9.83–10% between 2017–2022 for this industry where it is projected to reach US$113.28 bn, an approximately four-fold increase from US$26.7 bn in 2007, 35 , 36 MarketWatch, 2016). This has been attributed to a rising biofuel adoption in lieu of conventional fuels in Asia-Pacific (APAC) and Africa, leading to increase plantings of energy crops (wheat, sugarcane, corn and soybean) for production. Nevertheless, despite growth spikes in APAC and Africa, North America currently dominates the GM seed industry with a market share of ∼30%, and is forecast to do so in 2020 (MarketWatch, 2017).

The GM seed market has currently been consolidated by the “big five” companies: Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, Dupont, Syngenta and Groupe Limagrain ( Table 2 ). As of 2016, they account for 70% of the market (up from ∼60% in 2009). 37 , 38 The “big five” players are currently acquiring and forming joint ventures with smaller firms and competitors on a transnational scale, serving as strong entry barriers in this industry. 36 Since 2016, major ongoing Mergers and Acquisitions (M&As): Syngenta's takeover by ChemChina (completed June 2017- US$43 bn), 39 Bayer-Monsanto merger (ongoing- $66bn) 40 and Dow-Dupont merger (∼US$140 bn- antitrust approval) 41 have been happening in the industry. Only time will determine how these M&As impact the industry, growers and consumers.

A snapshot of the “big five” GM seed companies.

1 – Converted from EUR at current NASDAQ rates (July 2017), 2 – Ongoing Merger/Acquisition, 3- Completed Merger/Acquisition, 4- Public non-quoted company, 5- Sourced from Hoovers D&B, 2017, 6 – In this case, market share represents global market share and market capitalisation is local.

The latest reports indicate that the agriculture industry invests around $69 billion globally on its Research and Development (R&D). 42 This investment has fuelled research many emerging avenues for GM crop technology. However, innovation has strictly been influenced by the “big five” due to broad patent claims, and high research, legal and development costs for patent eligible products. For instance, the top 3 seed companies controlled 85% transgenic and 70% non-transgenic corn patents in USA in 2009. 36

In the GM seed market, R&D is currently occurring in the conventional areas of insect resistance, increased crop yield and herbicide tolerance. Increasing R&D has also been invested on precision site-directed nuclease techniques (CRISPR, ZFNs and TALENs) for desired gene integration in host plants. 14 , 43 Current studies show negligible/zero off target mutations (Schnell et al., 2015,. 44 This is starkly contrasting to conventional breeding techniques which are often associated with undesired alteration risks via linkage drag and random, unspecified mutations. 45 Additionally, biofortification and stress tolerance have been identified as areas for future GM seed research. Both fields are currently of major interest with a growing body of scientific studies. They tackle key problems: while biofortification addresses malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency; stress tolerance addresses biodegradation, climate change and shrinking cultivable area. Since the development of Vitamin-A biofortified rice in 2000, 46 studies highlight further extrapolation in enhancing human diet using biofortifications, with recorded success in iron and zinc. 47 Moreover, recent genetic modification studies in Arabidopsis and Barley have depicted adaptation to stress tolerance and biomass growth in adverse conditions (Mendiondo et al., 2016,. 48 Three stress-tolerant corn hybrids [Pioneer Optimum AQUAmax™ (Dupont Pioneer), Syngenta Artesian™ (Syngenta) and Genuity™ DroughtGard™ (Monsanto)] are currently being marketed for drought resistance, 49 showcasing enormous potential for economic profitability in the above areas.

GM crops can mitigate several current challenges in commercial agriculture. Current market trends project them as one of the fastest growing and innovative global industries, which not only benefit growers but also consumers and major country economies. However, it is imperative that the agricultural industry and science community invest in better science communication and regulation to tackle unethical research and misinformation. Imperfections and major GM technology can also be combated by stricter regulation, monitoring and implementation by government agriculture bodies, a globally improved risk mitigation strategy and communication with growers, therefore ensuring greater acceptance. With key innovation in precision gene-integration technologies and emerging research in biofortification and stress tolerance, GM crops are forecast to bring productivity and profitability in commercial agriculture for smoother progress in the future.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Although this review article is my own work, it would not have been possible without certain people. I would like to thank the editor and the reviewers for their helpful comments and remarks. I would also like to extend my gratitude towards the University of Melbourne staff, especially Dr. Matthew Digby and Mrs. Fiona Simpson for their encouragement in this venture. I would further extend my thanks to my peers, teachers and other people I met during my academic journey. Lastly, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation towards my family, who encouraged me to pursue a scientific career in Biotechnology and have been wonderfully supportive of my career goals. This review article is my maiden article in an academic journal, and I would like to thank all the readers for being a part of it.

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Ielts essay # 1374 - some people think genetically modified foods offer a viable solution, ielts writing task 2/ ielts essay:, with a growing world population, one of the most pressing issues is feeding a huge population. some people think that gm (genetically modified) foods offer a viable solution to this problem., to what extent do you agree or disagree.

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  1. Genetically Modified Crops Advantages and Disadvantages

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  1. Genetically Modified Food Essay: Pros & Cons of GM Foods

    This genetically modified food advantages and disadvantages essay aims to cover conflicting perspectives in the technology's safety and efficacy. In spite of the perceived benefits of genetic engineering technology in the agricultural sector, the production and use of genetically modified foods have triggered public concerns about safety and ...

  2. Pros and cons of GMO foods: Health and environment

    the risk of outcrossing, where genes from GMO foods pass into wild plants and other crops. a negative impact on insects and other species. reduction in other plant types, leading to a loss of ...

  3. GMO Pros and Cons, Based on Health and Environment Evidence

    GMO produce tends to be less expensive. Hybrid Images/Getty Images. GMO foods are designed to be healthier and cheaper to produce. Advantages of GMO foods include added nutrients, fewer pesticides ...

  4. Essay On Advantages And Disadvantages Of Gm Foods

    ADVANTAGES OF GM FOODS World population is increasing day by day which implies scarcity of food will be the major challenge that the world will be facing in the future. Genetically modified foods can meet this rising need. 1)STRONG GROWTH: GMO is typically designed to have a faster growth.

  5. GMO Pros and Cons

    Genetically modified (GM) crops have been proven safe through testing and use, and can even increase the safety of common foods. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained, "Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild, seedless watermelons.

  6. Genetically Modified Products, Perspectives and Challenges

    A number of studies show the economic benefits of using genetically modified products. Between 1996 and 2011, farmers' income worldwide increased by $92 million from the use of genetically modified crops. Part of the revenue is due to the more efficient treatment of weeds and insects, while another part is due to lower overall production costs.

  7. 12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

    Deeper red colors make food seem to be sweeter, even if it is not. Brighter foods are associated with better nutrition and improved flavors. 6. Genetically modified foods are easier to transport. Because GMO crops have a prolonged shelf life, it is easier to transport them greater distances.

  8. Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review

    Before we think of having GM foods it is very important to know about is advantages and disadvantages especially with respect to its safety. These foods are made by inserting genes of other species into their DNA. ... Health risks of genetically modified foods: many opinions but few data. Science. 2000; 288:1748-1749. doi: 10.1126/science.288 ...

  9. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

    In 1971, the first debate over the risks to humans of exposure to GMOs began when a common intestinal microorganism, E. coli, was infected with DNA from a tumor-inducing virus (Devos et al ., 2007 ...

  10. Genetically Modified Food: Advantages and Disadvantages Essay

    Genetically Modified Food: Advantages and Disadvantages Essay. This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples. The disadvantages of genetically modified foods outweigh the advantages.

  11. Pros and Cons of GMO Crop Farming

    Introduction. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) result from recombinant DNA technology that allows for DNA to be transferred from one organism to another (transgenesis) without the genetic transfer limits of species to species barriers and with successful expression of transferred genes in the receiving organism (Gray, 2001).Four crops, maize, canola, soybean, and cotton, constitute the ...

  12. The human health benefits from GM crops

    Nutritional benefits. Genetically modified crops have made significant contributions to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular goals 1 (reducing poverty) and 2 (reducing hunger). While increased yields have contributed to higher household incomes, which reduce poverty, the increased yields have also enhanced ...

  13. Myths and Realities about Genetically Modified Food: A Risk-Benefit

    The development and consumption of genetically modified (GM) crops are surrounded by controversy. According to proponents, only molecular biology approaches and genetic engineering tools are realistic food shortage solutions for the world's ever-growing population. The main purpose of this study is to review the impact of GM products on human, animal, and environmental health. People still ...

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    The term "genetic modified organisms (GMO)" has become a controversial topic as its benefits for both food producers and consumers are companied by potential biomedical risks and environmental side effects. Increasing concerns from the public about GMO, particularly in the form of genetic modified (GM) foods, are aimed at the short- and ...

  15. Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Foods

    Genetically modified (GM) foods are crops such as corn, beans, and other types of foods that have been genetically modified to give them more desirable traits. These traits can be nutrient traits, drought tolerance traits, and color traits, in addition to many others. These traits can then be transferred to other plants by extracting a gene ...

  16. IELTS Essay: Genetically Modified Foods

    This is an IELTS writing task 2 sample answer essay on the topic of genetically modified foods from the real IELTS exam. ... facing the world today is a shortage of food and some think genetically modified foods are a possible solution. ... essay on the topic of fast food becoming cheaper and more available and the advantages/disadvantages ...

  17. How GMO Crops Impact Our World

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  18. PDF Genetic Modified Foods: Advantages and Disadvantages

    Food regulatory authorities require that GM foods receive individual pre-market safety assessments. Also, the principle of 'substantial equivalence' is used. This means that an existing food is compared with its genetically modified counterpart to find any differences between the existing food and the new product. The assessment

  19. Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetically Modified Organisms

    Advantages of Genetically Modified Organisms. The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. Genetically modified foods promise to meet this need in a number of ways: Pest resistance

  20. (PDF) GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD

    genetically modified foods may have hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects on. humans although these claims have bee n. labelled as scientifically meaningless by. industries and food ...

  21. The impact of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in modern agriculture: A

    The global yearly net income increased by 34.3% in 2010-2012. 13,14 Furthermore, while increasing global yield by 22%, GM crops reduced pesticide (active ingredient) usage by 37% and environmental impact (insecticide and herbicide use) by 18%. 15 To achieve the same yield standards more than 300 million acres of conventional crops would have ...

  22. IELTS Essay # 1374

    Write at least 250 words. Model Answer: The issue of addressing the global challenge of feeding a rapidly expanding population has spurred discussions about potential solutions, including the adoption of Genetically Modified (GM) foods. While some proponents argue that GM foods present a viable answer to this problem, I fundamentally disagree.