By Teddy Meissner
“When 50 million people in the richest country on the planet are hungry, that’s a crisis.” This statement by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) emphasizes one of our nation’s largest issues. High numbers of citizens have gone hungry across America following the 2008 financial collapse, and little has been done to stop it. Biotechnologies have played an important role in the effort to increase nutritional value, food security, and sustainability while reducing prices in America. These methods harness cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. These include both animal cloning and genetically modified crops, though the former should take a back seat to the latter; genetically modified crops boast more advantages than disadvantages. Thus, the solution to our hunger crisis lies in GMOs. In order to feed a growing population, Americans must stop cloning meats and start producing more genetically modified crops.
The solution to our hunger crisis lives in GMOs.
During his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama made it his mission to end child hunger by 2015. Rep. McGovern responded, stating, “We haven’t done a goddamn thing to do that, to be honest.” Since the 2008 economic crisis, there has been a dramatic increase in hunger levels from over 27 million consumers to about 50 million. According to the Cooperative Development Institute, in 2013, one in seven households was food insecure and 5.6 percent had very low food security. During this same time, households with children were 9.9 percent food insecure. These 3.8 million households were often unable to provide adequate and nutritious food for their children in that year.
In an effort to ease these difficulties, many programs have become available to help those who need food. The largest of these programs is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which benefits thousands of people around the globe through food stamp programs. Anticipated drops in funding for SNAP benefits may be on their way, but for now, those receiving stamps qualify for about $1.49 a meal. While this money is beneficial, $1.49 per meal is simply insufficient. With America’s population growing approximately three million people per year, hunger will certainly continue to present itself as a problem.
Animal cloning is the process through which an entire genetically identical organism is reproduced from a single cell taken from a parent organism. In January 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that meat and milk from the clones of cows, pigs, and goats, as well as their offspring, are as safe as the conventional sources of meat. In theory, cloning seems like a viable option to solve the current food crisis, but a closer look reveals that cloning animals has many negative implications. For example, animal cloning promotes farming while disregarding animal welfare and environmental impacts. Additionally, cloning is an unreliable technology that can result in the loss of subject organisms or severe
mental and physical injury. With more than 95 percent of cloning attempts resulting in failure, it is common to see oversized heads, twisted limbs, malformed kidneys, bloated fetuses, and immune system deficiencies, as well as surrogate mothers suffering from severe health problems. Is it worth continuing this practice for the mere five percent of animals that do make it through the cloning process unscathed?
The FDA disregards animals’ health problems and instead emphasizes that better technology is on the way. However, there is no data that suggests this is the case. As Rudolph Jaenisch, a cloning researcher at MIT, said, “There’s been no progress. I mean it. Zero. The only thing we’ve begun to realize is how big the problem is.” Another leading cloning researcher and professor at Rockefeller University, Peter Mombaerts, said that an “extremely efficient” version of cloning would have only a 20-30 percent success rate. Though a significant amount of money, research, time, and effort has gone into improving cloning, in its current form, it is inhumane and unjustifiable to continue with these efforts. Additionally, raising livestock for consumption utilizes many more natural resources than agriculture does.
For these reasons, if we really want to increase food production, we need to pursue better technology in agriculture. Genetically modified crops produce high yields at a great success rate, providing the best opportunity to produce more food. Before discussing GMOs, however, it is important to understand the benefits of a plant-based diet, and/or the benefits of balancing Americans’ meat and plant consumption.
In his article, “Why Everyone Should Eat More Plants”, Rich Roll tells us the average American consumes only six percent of their daily calories from fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seeds. This diet has resulted in high rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control and Pervention, hese health problems account for approximately 75 percent of the billions of dollars spent on healthcare every year. It is important to note, then, that a plant-based diet is the only nutritional protocol known to prevent, and in some cases reverse, all four of the major illnesses that plague us: heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and diabetes. If we ensured that 94 percent of our diet came from natural foods, these illnesses might simply vanish. A plant-based diet can, for example, help control a gene linked to cardiovascular disease and plaque buildup in arteries, or change the genetic expression and alter the function of critical cellular components responsible for forming and sustaining tumors. Toni Tarver, author of “The Chronic Disease Food Remedy”, informs some studies have even concluded that lycopene from tomatoes appears to lower the risk of prostate, lung, and bladder cancers, while other studies have shown that foods rich in anthocyanins, such as blueberries and strawberries, significantly reduce death from cardiovascular disease.
GMOs, then, have an important place in the future of the American diet. If more plants are grown in America, lifestyles will be healthier and the food crisis might vanish. By genetically modifying crops, we can cheaply produce large quantities of food, feeding large numbers of people who are in turn able to lead a healthy lifestyle. The need for increased crop production requires that the plants in question be able to cope with the challenges of production. Droughts, climate change, weather, and soil types are all factors that genetic modifications can address while increasing farmers’ yields and consistency. The need for an increase in food production of approximately 50 percent by 2030, constrained by land requirements and energy and water limitations, requires the expansion of GMO production.
The most common arguments against GMOs are that they have unexpected side effects, are environmentally unsafe, and are less healthy than eating organically. GMO foods have had antibiotic features that make them resistant or immune to various diseases and viruses. Genetic modification often mixes or adds proteins that aren’t indigenous to the original plant or animal, which can cause new allergic reactions in the human body. Additionally, there are also concerns that GMOs harm the environment with the chemical pesticides and herbicides commonly used with these crops. Birds, bees, and butterflies are important to our environment as pollinators and biological control agents. The toxicity of the chemicals used can put these critical species to our ecosystem at risk. Organic activists also attack the acceptance of GMOs; however, while organic farms may use less products to grow their crops, their crop yield is smaller and unpredictable due to relying on seasons, weather, and soil. Additionally, organic foods are higher in cost and are often impossible for most low-mid income families to afford.
Food security and sustainability continue to be some of the world’s most pressing issues, and the only logical answer is actively pursuing a more plant-based diet through the use of GMOs.
Currently, however, only theories can support the pitfalls of GMOs. In an article titled “Yet Another Study Confirms GMOs Are Safe, So Why Are Bans Still Spreading?”, it’s stated that, “the scientific debate over the risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is over; the science is settled. The problem is the anti-GMO movement is not based on science, but rather ideology — and ideology, at least for now, has trumped science.” The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has also repeatedly found genetically modified foods to be safe, noting that after billions of meals served, “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” Some studies have even found that genetically engineered crops can benefit the environment. The National Academy of Science’s 2010 report found that, up to the date of publication, GMO crops had reduced insecticide use, reduced the use of the most dangerous herbicides, increased the frequency of conservation tillage and no-till farming, reduced carbon emissions, reduced soil runoffs, and improved soil quality.
Food security and sustainability continue to be some of the world’s most pressing issues, and the only logical answer is actively pursuing a more plant-based diet through the use of GMOs. While the challenge of feeding the hungry will not be solved by any single approach, there have been more than 2000 studies that have examined the health and environment effects of GMOs and none have documented reliably any significant negative effects. The National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and the Royal Society of Medicine alongside dozens of major independent science organizations, have found no evidence that they are less safe than conventional or organic foods, and in some cases may be safer, less costly, and more sustainable. We cannot afford to ignore this viable option to stop hunger.