Genetically modified (GM) foods most often refer to crop plants that were created for human or animal consumption through the latest molecular biology techniques. The plants have been modified in a laboratory to enhance certain traits like increased resistance to herbicides, draught tolerance, flood tolerance or even improvements to nutritional content. This has taken place over time through selective plant breeding, but as a very slow and inexact science. Genetic engineering is a much more rapid and precise method to alter plants.
One of the most pressing concerns for the world today is the rapidly growing population. The food supply is going to need to increase dramatically to feed us all. GM foods hope to be able to solve this problem for the entire globe through a number of methods.
Pest resistance- Crop losses from insects can cause incredible financial hardships to farmers. This can be linked to starvation issues in developing countries. Through the use of GM crops they can reduce the amount of pesticides used by farmers to protect the crops. Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides is incredibly damaging to the environment.
Herbicide tolerance- Farmers often use herbicides to kill weeds that grow and kill their crops. Herbicides are also very damaging to the environment. Spraying herbicides is more cost-effective than pulling weeds for some crops though.
Disease resistance- Work with plant biologists to combat the viruses, fungi and bacteria that can kill entire species of plants.
Cold and Drought tolerance- As the human population continues to grow, the land dedicated to crop growth is going to need to expand into areas that were previously inhospitable to their growth. By making the crops more tolerant to frost or long periods of drought they can increase global food production.
Nutrition- By making the crops more nutritious they can reduce rates of malnutrition in the world. By adding additional vitamins and minerals to certain crops they can alleviate some of these problems.
In 2009, the US had 64 million hectares dedicated to the growth of GM crops. Brazil and Argentina followed with 21.4 and 21.3 million hectares of GM crops respectively. They were followed by India, Canada and China in the rankings. Currently, the land planted to GM crops has risen in developing countries. Soybeans and maize are the top two most widely grown GM crops in the world. 70% of global soybean production is GM and 24% of maize production is GM. Around the world, the use of GM crops is hotly contested and the other posts will look at some of the issues and views on the production of GM crops.