10 November 2016

Nigeria: GMO - the Good, Bad and the Not So Ugly - Part - 1

analysis

With hundreds of debates going on about GMO foods and oppositions from Anti-GMO advocacy groups getting tougher by the day, I have always been inquisitive about this topic and concerned with the continuous intensity of the ongoing conflict. It's not a coincidence my first article as a contributor is about GMO and I predict there would never be an end to the discussion.

Like many, I was uninformed and joined the anti-GMO bandwagon without fully understanding what it is or being knowledgeable about it. As we all know, knowledge is power; the more you seek, the more you learn. And the more articles and books I read on Agriculture, Food Security and Scientific Research, the more I feel puzzled about where I stand. There are grains of truth in both sides of the argument.

If your mind is already set on your beliefs, then you may not find this article interesting but I want to urge that you read it still.

I wrote it with the intent to provide information for open-minded individuals, those willing to learn and see things from both perspectives.

I know some of my friends will probably send me a message after reading this piece. They would try to convince me to change my stance.

My brother will probably be the first or my friend who recently tagged me on an anti-GMO campaign on Instagram. I didn't like that by the way. (Instagram method of showing your approval of a post) I wondered if she knew my stance on this issue. I honestly don't know and have always been on the fence, meddling with both sides but of late, I have made a choice, which will be clear once you are done reading.

Let's be honest, there are lots of uninformed people out there who jump on any movement without carrying out any research or might not have access to adequate information. It can be frustrating to decipher through the mass information online and determine what sources are credible or which ones are not. What exactly does GMO mean?

"Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques (i.e., a genetically engineered organism) meaning a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified using recombinant DNA methods". "This new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods".

In terms of food or how it applies to farming, this is done for plants or crops to improve their durability, through situations such as drought tolerance, disease resistance, or to increase their nutritional value. These changes are also aimed at increasing crop yield and lowering costs. To better understand this, it basically means we are altering the gene of a plant to prevent it from disease and increase its nutritional value by engineering a crop's immunity through the application of basic science. I am not a Nobel Peace Prize Scientist, neither do I claim to be an expert in Gene Transfer (Disclaimer: I only had to take one Genetics class) but isn't Vaccination similar? Please correct me if I am wrong. We vaccinate a child to prevent them from disease in order to build their immune system. "Vaccination is the administration of antigenic material (a vaccine) to stimulate an individual's immune system to develop adaptive immunity to a pathogen". Do people realize the ideology of GMO's and Vaccines are more similar than we want to admit? How do you get to be anti-GMO but pro Vaccines? It makes me wonder, are we just uncomfortable with change? Or are we making decisions based on emotions rather than scientific research and results?

THE GOOD

Everyone is aware that the world population will increase to 9 billion people by 2050; global food production will have to double to support the population increase and prevent starvation. Research has shown that GMO crops are easier to grow because they have stronger ability to resist pests, a common problem in farming. This attribute helps farmers with producing greater amounts of food.

GMO plays a role in providing farmers with potentially larger profits and it's also economically efficient. Farmers will have a higher likelihood of increased income, which provides financial stability, re-investment into their business and an opportunity to educate their children.

Farmers have low production cost by having reduced use for pesticides and herbicides, using less chemical and fewer losses sustained from crop disease resistant.

To sufficiently feed the growing population of the world, deforestation is needed. But with genetically modified animals and crops, the use of this method will be minimized, meaning we can increase food production on our same land size.

Biotechnology has the potential to create more nutritious crops by having the ability to manipulate food and increase desired nutrients. An example is the introduction of Vit A (Golden Rice), which could possibly save the world from starvation and malnutrition.

I know the Golden Rice is currently focusing on Asia but in "Nigeria VitA deficiency affects nearly one in three Children under the age of five, increasing their vulnerability to immune system weakness and blindness"... . Harvest Plus. Hence why Vit A Cassava was introduced to Nigeria but I refuse to digress.

Better calorie consumption and dietary quality means farmers are healthy and can work harder as a result of increased income

It will decrease food prices, advanced crops and lower costs can lead to cheaper food. This will certainly help families who cannot afford to buy food, buy nutritious food and eventually prevent starvation

THE BAD

GM crops pose a threat to farmers who grow non-engineered crops. Inter-breeding from neighboring farms cannot be controlled. Example: Corn experts claimed Mexican corn (criollo) was bound to mix with improved varieties from the United States over the years. Experts claimed contamination in Mexican corn varieties was due to smuggling of GM seeds in the Mexican markets. If you are surviving on a harvest and you have a choice to plant between a corn seed that will give you 10tons per hectare or 20tons per hectare, you will take the 20tons seed presumably.

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