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Issue of the Week: Modification of our food


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Illustration by Holly Randall
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
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The three-day international conference on the genetic modification of rice concludes today. Researchers from around the world came to Tucson in order to discuss and share research on the state of global food and population concerns. However, does genetically engineered food hold the key to solving problems of global starvation? How far should we take genetic engineering?

Precautions needed despite benefits

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Laura Keslar
columnist

I am all for genetically modified foods. They are safe to eat; they introduce no new toxins to consumers. They provide healthy food to starving people. They even have the potential of helping eliminate some causes of blindness.

However, despite all that, precautions need to be taken with their production.

The National Academy of Science issued a report in August stating that genetically modified foods are safe to eat but that they also offer unlikely risks.

While many of these risks include allergic reactions to toxins used in produce, some of these risks are a little unexpected. And it is those risks that cause some people to worry.

One of the problems associated with GM crops is the potential to select for both secondary pests and herbicide resistance pests.

Just as with emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria, crops genetically modified to kill off insects eliminate the weakest bugs from the insect population.

In other words, the pests susceptible to the toxin in the newly modified crops will die, leaving only the most resistant strain of that pest. Because there is now a stronger, more-resistant strain of insects, farmers will need to use more pesticides.

So while supporting the research and practical application of GM foods, it might be in our best interest to listen to those environmental wackos and health food nuts and start exercising some precautions.

Laura Keslar is a pre-pharmacy junior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

Let's develop bioethics standards

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Ryan Johnson
columnist

While it's an honor to have such a high-profile conference hosted at the UA, we need to step back and realize that although genetics marches on with amazing breakthroughs, the field of bioethics seems to be stuck in a rut.

Bioethics decides what biological manipulation is acceptable and what is not. Is it OK to modify the genes of a plant to make it provide more nutrients? Is it only OK if we manipulate natural selection, or is it also OK if we achieve the results in a lab?

Whether you believe that genetic modification should be heavily restricted or almost always tolerated, the lack of concrete standards should be troubling. And what's worse, the debate is getting politicized, which means that it becomes difficult to achieve meaningful results.

The stakes are huge. On the one hand, genetic modification threatens to gradually progress from growing bigger strawberries to redefining who we are, but on the other hand it offers the potential to dramatically improve the livelihoods of the world's poor.

In one study done for the Copenhagen Consensus, a project that looked at different development proposals, genetically modified crops produced some of the highest benefits-to-cost ratios of all proposals, as high as 80-to-1 in the case of "Golden Rice" in the Philippines.

But it happened without passing any concrete international guidelines. If we don't start making standards now, it will be too late. So let's try to talk some of the 240 scientists in the Marriott into doing so.

Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

OK on genetically modified food

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Moe Naqvi
columnist

During the year of 1999, the first eruptions over the issue of genetically modifying food came into play among society. Genetically modifying food has elevated major concerns with product marketing, sale, morality and especially consumption. Although at first the practice of altering the genetic code of food might scare some, this is an overall helpful venture for the rest of the world. Altering the genetic code of food, although quite creepy, will bring great relief to Third World countries such as Africa and Montana.

Providing farmers in undeveloped and poverty-ridden countries with genetically modified rice seeds will bring about prosperous outcomes. Crop losses from pests can be quite drastic and lead to a devastating financial loss for farmers, as well as starvation of the land's inhabitants. Malnutrition is common in Third World countries where people are forced to depend on only one source of food, such as rice. However, the problem with depending on one crop is that it does not give a human all the necessary nutrients to stay healthy.

Modifying a seed to be coded with more vitamins and protection from herbicides and insects will allow for farmers to actually grow food. Not only will farmers be able to profit, but so will the inhabitants of that country who shall be receiving more nutrients than they normally would.

Some individuals are concerned with how far genetically modifying food should be taken, and it should only be taken as far as seeds. Anything that is not a seed should not be altered. Chickens, mashed potatoes, and Big Red gum do not need to be changed. That is completely unnecessary. They already have all the nutrients a person needs and they taste wonderful.

Modifying seeds will help other countries to elongate their life expectancy. And as long as other countries are being helped to flourish, there should be no outrageous conflicts upon this topic.

Moe Naqvi is a physiological sciences freshman. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

Modified foods won't help the Third World

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Brett Berry
columnist

It's quite amazing when you think that we are living in a day when we can genetically modify our plants and animals to any way we see fit. I mean, one California biotechnology company, Allerca, has even started taking orders for genetically modified hypoallergenic cats!

But our ability to genetically modify plants and animals goes far beyond making Garfield sneeze-free. The benefits to genetically altering our agricultural products are far-reaching. Our crops can be made to yield more food more efficiently, and they can also be made to be more resistant to drought.

Many argue that these benefits could help feed starving third-world populations-the increased yields and hardiness would help produce more food for the poor. But would that really be the case?

The vast majority of modified crops are grown in the United States, with some of the crops also being grown in places like Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and China. These five countries account for 98 percent of the GM crops grown in the world in 2003. Obviously, the technology has not been helping starving people in places like Africa as of yet.

But let's say that this technology does spread into third-world countries like those in Africa - I can guarantee it's not going to be through the small farmers in these areas. Only large, corporate farms would be able to afford this expensive technology, so the current farmers in these countries would likely be driven out of business. You may get more food, but you may also get more people living in poverty.

Brett Berry is a regional development senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

No need for GE foods

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Susan Bonicillo
Opinions editor

Despite the noble intentions of the rice researchers who came to the UA to discuss breakthroughs in the field of genetically engineered food, such efforts are largely unneeded.

Contrary to popular belief, there is enough food in the world to provide everyone in the world the recommended daily allowance of nutrients and calories.

The problem with global starvation has nothing to do with production or lack thereof. Rather the problem stems from an unbalanced distribution of foodstuffs around the world.

Instead of the doom and gloom forecast that we are shown by the media the reality is that there is no global food crisis. In fact, the future looks surprisingly bright. According to a 2000 report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, global food consumption will dole out a daily allotment of 3,000 calories per person by the year 2015, an amount that is sufficient to sustain the average person.

To blame the lack of resources on a burgeoning world population is just an attempt by the West - with the United States in particular - to justify its shameless practices of over-consumption and greed.

Third World countries take the blame for straining the world's resources, the common lament being if they did not have all those babies then starvation wouldn't be an issue.

However, America is the largest consumer of materials (food and otherwise) in the world to the point where over-nourishment is the problem, as evidenced by the obesity epidemic that America faces.

We should not look to modifying foods to produce higher yields. We have more than enough. The problem that we face lies in distributing these goods equitably across all nations.

Genetically engineering crops to have a higher yield would be a silent approval for the West to continue being greedy consumers to the detriment of the environment and other people. We need to see GE foods for what they are - a cosmetic solution to a problem that the West has created.

Susan Bonicillo is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

Better for our environment

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Lauren Peckler
columnist

Rice, rice and more rice. You'd think that because so much of the world consumes rice everyday, we wouldn't have any qualms about its genetic structure.

Well, just like everything else, turns out rice can be improved genetically. Besides the possibility of enhancing its nutritional value, or strengthening its immunity against diseases, genetically altering rice consequently helps the environment.

The environmental benefits of genetically altering rice are limitless. Basically, making any crop more resilient to diseases and more adaptable to different conditions sets off a chain reaction of environmental improvements.

Genetic altering can make rice resistant to drought as well as resistant to flooding. This means that it has the ability to survive in several different soil conditions. By not changing the soil, an entire ecosystem is preserved.

When factors like soil have to be modified - say, because of native insects or weather conditions - all facets of an ecosystem are affected by these changes. Pesticides and tillage are examples of changes that soil undergoes to meet the necessities of crops.

Air and water quality also become polluted by pesticides and tillage. When the topsoil is disrupted through tillage, extra carbon dioxide is emitted into the air, causing more ozone depletion.

Genetic altering can also facilitate in making crops yield more each year. This means that as the population continues to grow, crops won't have to expand. Deforestation no longer becomes a consequence of our rapidly increasing population.

By genetically improving a crop like rice that has to feed the entire population, less pesticide will be used and the soil won't need to be damaged - which both lead to cleaner water, air and soil.

Lauren Peckler is a sophomore majoring in English and sociology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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Laura Keslar
columnist
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Ryan Johnson
columnist


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