Saturday, March 24th, 2012 | Author:

When genetically modified crops were first created in the 1980s, they were seen as genetically engineered miracles and were actually created with very good intentions.  They could resist pests and diseases, grow in salty soil, clean up pollution and survive extreme temperatures.   A growing world population could harvest and eat food grown in regions that were formerly considered harsh and lifeless. Not only that, but scientists today hope that they could develop genetically modified tomatoes and potatoes that contain vaccines to cure diseases.

However, we found out in class this week that GM crops have some downsides as well.  We learned that some species of pests are becoming resistant to crops that were genetically modified to destroy these same pests.  Pollen from genetically modified crops are contaminating the fields of farmers who don’t want to grow GM crops.  I decided to do a little research and see what else I could dig up (no pun intended) on genetically modified crops.  Critics of GM crops tend to bring up the same points we learned about in class, but there was also another criticism that actually scared me even more.  Some of these critics, Anup Shah from in particular, said that GM crops were ruining entire economies, especially in developing countries.

Shuh explains that developing nations can’t afford the expenses of creating their own genetically modified food.  That shouldn’t be a problem; developed countries using genetically modified crops could simply trade the seeds of these crops so the farmers in developing countries can grow their own food.  However, there’s a factor that stands in the way of this happening: patent genes.

We’ve already learned that genetic engineering companies like Monsanto are refusing to allow farmers to save seeds from GM crops to prevent farmers from crossbreeding the GM companies’ patented crops to make their own.  That same regulation applies to countries around the world, including very poor developing ones. Not only that, but as  Nnimmo Bassey of the Friends of the Earth International points out in the video below, the pesticides embedded in the genes of the crop don’t always work.  This is particularly true in countries that farm to support their own families in developing countries, particularly those that use pesticides like DDT.  This causes the pest resistance we learned about in class.  The farmers can’t eat anything, they protest the rising food prices set by their governments, and the economy collapses.

So I’m closing out with one big question: Do you think GM crops are worth it?  Can we overcome the costs to reap their benefits, or will we have to choose a new method of agriculture?

Whitman, Deborah B. “Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?”, CSA. April 2000, accessed March 24 2012.  n.d.

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  1. kdiemer54 says:

    Thanks for the link, Kimberly! I didn’t donating food had such a bad effect. I wish I could actually see the movie. Do you know where I can find it?

    I also wonder just how quickly bacteria and viruses will adapt to the GM crops. That’s a very disturbing thought. How can we solve this problem?

  2. ehartma2 says:

    I would have to agree with Nnimmo Bassey. GM crops have very scary risk factors. What happens when the bugs and diseases, for example E Coli, become resistant to our natural defenses and lab engineered technologies? The risk for food contamination could sky rocket and become unmanageable. Similar to human’s irresponsible use of antibiotics, certain strains of bacteria have become resistant. Elderly people with weak immune systems are dying from previously treatable bacteria infections. So, if we continue to expand our use of GM crops I am afraid food related bacteria will become resistant or another natural system will defeat us.

  3. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    I do think GMOs are worth it if we use them sustainably- not just the environmental stuff but taking care to be socially sustainable, too. That means not punishing farmers using traditional seed or struggling in poor countries.

  4. kimberlyhutcheson says:

    This is a great topic! It’s crazy to think about how many ways GM crops can affect developing countries. US food aid is also a vehicle for GM crops to cross-pollinate. Although I couldn’t find the trailor online, but here’s a snippet about a great documentary, The Price of Aid. It talks not only about the adverse effects of donating food, but also how GM crops inhibit economic development.