Gideon’s Hot Take: How GMOs Can Feed The World
By Gideon Daley
So some of you might have heard of a little thing called climate change? You’ve probably watched on the news how climate change will cause more frequent crazy weather events like bushfires and floods, or how it’s causing sea waters to rise so much that small islands in the Pacific like Kiribati are under threat of sinking entirely. Well, those things are true and terrifying, but there are also other consequences of climate change that aren’t talked about as much, which have complex and interesting repercussions, and solutions, and I want to tell you about one of the coolest today!
Who here has heard of food security as a concept? Food security is basically the ability of all individuals to have access to healthy and nutritious foods at all times. To guarantee food security, production of foods, such as crops and agriculture, must be maintained. The ability to maintain food security is increasingly threatened by the encroaching effects of climate change, such as increasing numbers of natural disasters that threaten food production and supply. For an example of how climate change can damage food security look no further than Cyclone Larry, which in 2006 destroyed approximately $300 million worth of banana crops on the Queensland coast, leading to the loss of up to 4000 jobs in that industry (Sydney Morning Herald, 2006).
But, with the adverse effects of a changing climate, you can begin to see how crops that are essential to a specific cultures diet being destroyed can lead to some pretty horrific consequences. It’s believed one of the factors that prolonged the civil war in Mozambique back in 1991, which resulted in over a million casualties, was a drought causing poor crop yield resulting in food shortages and eventually famine (Messer, n.d.). Put this example on a global scale, and you can begin to see how lower-income people may begin to be completely deprived of necessary nutrients in their diets, before further price spikes may make food unaffordable to them altogether.
Insecure food security would also affect our healthcare system! If there should suddenly be an increase in illnesses relating to lack of nutrients from lack of food, the healthcare system would be severely burdened, and would likely need to reorganise how it treats patients. This burden would also mean that any patients who need treatment for any illness would be subject to longer waiting times, and would be competing for time for limited doctors, which could lead to a higher degree of unnecessary death or pain.
Long term repercussions also include the impact that food shortages will have on children and their educational capacity. Children who are hungry in school are less able to focus, meaning that their performance in school is diminished and their skills less developed. Not only does this mean that as these people grow their earning potential is decreased, but also that again, suppliers will have to function with less skilled workers, which inhibits their ability to further produce goods. This has massive repercussions for intergenerational inequality, as people who grew up with insecure access to food are likely to continue to live in such environments, meaning that their kids and so on will grow up with the same dilemma.
Oh no! So now that we have established that there is a very severe crisis going on with food security, what’s one way to deal with this issue? Lo and behold, in the absence of serious government intervention to mitigate the effects of climate change on food security, another saviour has arisen! Genetically Modified Organisms!
Wait a second, what are genetically modified organisms (GMO)? GMOs are basically any organism that has had its DNA modified in some way. These modifications can alter form and function, or even specific genes in a living organism, like say, a crop! (Health and Safety Executive, n.d.)
One of the major ways that GMO technology can help mitigate the impacts of climate change is being able to be engineered to be resistant to several pest and insect species. With climate change altering the weather in certain areas, that can mean new pests species are migrating into these areas, where ecosystems have never been exposed to them and have no form of resistance. This is where GMO technology can be utilised to ensure the protection of vital crops. Employing the use of such technology would help yields to remain resistant to migrating pest species, as explained by professor Stuart Thompson:
“This protects the yields of these crops against insect infestation, which is arguably more environmentally friendly than using sprays that could be toxic to other organisms. Crops of this type are likely to be useful, but we should increase the number of insecticide genes that we employ to prevent evolution of resistant pests” (Thompson, 2017)
More than that though, GMO crops can be genetically engineered to have higher concentrations of nutrients, which will be particularly important if other sources of these nutrients cannot be secured! Products like ‘golden rice’ have been providing sources of vitamin A to deficient populations with overwhelming success, and economic demand for these products is driving development of other GMOs, like enriched potatoes and bananas (CNBC Africa, 2017).
Sadly, many countries around the world currently ban the use of GMO crops. However, Australia has had tangible success from its use of GMO crops, with PG Economics finding “found the more efficient, higher yield GM crops increased farmer incomes by $1.37 billion, and lowered carbon emissions by 71.5 million kg” (Dengate, 2016). This means that Australia has an opportunity to capitalise off of its current use of GMO technology to become a competitor in the international market once climate change makes GMO technology a necessity. If action on climate change is going to remain minimal, then it is going to become necessary to prepare for the worst impacts of the crisis, and genetically modified food is a fantastic way to do that!
This post was written by Gideon Daley, Tasmania’s Communications Director for 2019. You can find out more about him here.
This article does not represent UN Youth Australia as a whole – this is simply an interpretation by one of our fantastic volunteers in hope to create ideas and increased dialogue surrounding this topic.
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