GMOs – A solution for world hunger or a socially erroneous development?
Man is a creature of habit. If something is good, he gets used to it and wants it to remain unchanged. As soon as something changes, he defends his habit, is afraid of that change. But soon after, the cycle begins anew: When change brings good things, society gets used to it and wants it to stay the same. Every new technology has to go through this cycle and prove that it supplies a positive outcome. Genetic engineering has been around since the 1970s and has not yet been able to convince the consumer of its benefits. The reason for this, however, is not the technology in itself.
Genetically modified Organisms (GMOs), which are used by the food production industry today, are extensively tested and require approval through lengthy regulation processes. The officials involved thereby ensure that the genetically modified (GM) seeds fulfill the required degree of safety. Only the long-term effects on humans and nature cannot be tested in 13 years which it takes a GM seed on average to be approved. This inevitably gives cause for doubt to humans that see change as a risk, but it is not only the long-term effects of GMOs that fuel the discussion surrounding the technology. The current use of GMOs, which is clearly profit-driven and harms nature, gives reason for caution as well:
- Farmers are dependent on companies the Bayer AG because the GM seeds are patented. (3)
- GM plants lead to the increased use of herbicides to destroy weeds which damages the already sensitive biodiversity (4) as well as human health. (5)
- GM plants support the growth of monocultures. (5)
- GM plants that offer countries of the Global South food security are waiting in vain for approval. (6)
These points already show: The economy has taken advantage of GMOs to drive crop yields and profits to unnatural heights without questioning the effects on society and the planet. However, the potential of the underlying technology remains undiminished and calls for a change in its application; this is where we must start and ask essential questions. To highlight three of them:
What are the ethical foundations for the development of GMOs and are they driven by the economy?
GM plants are patented - this allows multinational companies to control research, breeding and the entire food production chain. (7) In my view, the technology is being advanced for the wrong, principally profit-driven, reasons. While companies develop new GM seeds there is no alignment with ethical principles, which would be essential for a positive impact of the technology on society. The alignment with ethical principles must always be part of the process in order to guarantee protection and a favorable development for consumers and non-human life. (8)
The problem is that there is currently no unified ethical foundation on which research can be based. Due to that, the development of GMOs is driven by the economy. To change that, we need to shift the focus - away from economic growth, and towards the societal improvements that GMOs can enable. This could be achieved by establishing an ethical code that is legally effective, internationally valid and contains more than minimum requirements. (9) A main condition for such a measure would be including every affected party during the development of such an ethical code, especially young generations and people from countries of the Global South, as they in particular have to live with possible negative effects of GMOs.
How do we enable the development of GMOs without a Eurocentric focus ?
Our choice to shun genuinely safe, but genetical modified food is a luxury. (10) The main actors in the development of GMOs are those who live in prosperity and have the luxury of supplying themselves with every type of food in the world. Thus, they have a Eurocentric and/or Western focus on life which is reflected in their work with GMOs and they are probably not aware of. However, the development and review of GMOs should not be limited to making food better for the Western world, such as modifying apple peel to optimize it for the transport from New Zealand to Germany. In principle, a GMO should have (vital) benefits for the entire world population. Lobbying and unfounded fears must not play a role in the market introduction of GMOs, as is frequently the case today. (6)
Research on GMOs should become more colorful and cosmopolitan to broaden its current focus on luxury problems to issues the whole world is facing, such as with water scarcity. Because only those who are personally confronted with challenges can develop suitable solutions; an African local involved in agriculture in his land knows best which issues can arise and how to solve them. The implementation of this diversity, however, is difficult: The mindset change towards more cosmopolitanism and diversity takes time, but we need it more urgent now than ever before.
How can GMOs support the transformation towards a sustainable agriculture?
Food is an emotional issue as it is required for our survival. Therefore, developments in this area are influenced by numerous opinions from which neutrality suffers. Human discomfort with change also plays into this construct: GMOs are capable of optimizing our agriculture and make it more sustainable, whilst at the same time ensuring food security for the world's population. This technology could enable farmers to produce more yield on their fields – in using a combination of natural methods instead of chemicals to encounter pests and weeds, and GMOs to ensure safety and nutritional value of the harvest. It could also lead to a new understanding of nature and how evolution works if we take a step back from profit-driven growth, and look at the bigger picture questioning what contributes to the common good, what harms it and when is the use of genetic engineering reasonable. In order for GMOs to unfold their potential. For this to happen, the following is necessary:
- The use of GMOs should be “open-source” and should not be regulated by patents.
- Regulations for GMOs must be adapted: The effects on humans, animals and nature must be tested in realistic conditions and longer periods of time.
- Neutral research and development of GMOs must be guaranteed.
- Researchers must communicate continuously with the general public about GMOs, their progress and the advantages of it in order to establish common acceptance.
GMOs can be an integral the solution as to how we can continue to live a life worth living on our planet in the future. The fact that this technology is currently rated rather negatively is the result of wrong uses that developed out of a capitalist system. For me, the question posed in the title "GMOs - A solution for world hunger or a socially erroneous trend?" is therefore a rhetorical one: GMOs are part of the solution to put an end to world hunger. (12) Even if there are no long-term studies today and mistakes are possible, research thrives on the trial-and-error system. In 50 years from now, open questions about the negative effects of GMOs that we have today will be clarified and eliminated. But to reach this point, we need to transform today's agriculture. Because not using GMOs does not necessarily mean healthier food, which is better for the environment or more sustainable. In truth, it is a matter of dividing the power over GMOs among parties who care about the well-being of our society. It is about questioning and developing our capitalist system, giving it a social touch again.
Therefore, I would direct my research question to this complex of topics, since every question that came to my mind regarding the fact that the responsible use of genetic engineering in the food industry always leads to a node: the influence of the Western economy on GMOs. The main question that must be discussed in my view: How do we prevent economic monopolies on GMOs and enable a positive benefit of this technology for society and our planet?
1. Hänggi, Marcel. Null Öl. Null Gas. Null Kohle. Zürich : Rotpunktverlag. 2018. p. 49.
2. N.N. What is the Approval Process for a GMO to Come to Market? s.l. : s.n., s.a. THE FOOD DIALOGUES [weppage].
3. N.N. The Privatisation of Seeds. s.l. : s.n., s.a. RESET - Digital for Good (webpage].
4. Schütte G, Eckerstorfer M, Rastelli V, Reichenbecher W, Restrepo-Vassalli S, Ruohonen-Lehto M, Wuest Saucy AG, Mertens M. Herbicide resistance and biodiversity: agronomic and environmental aspects of genetically modified herbicide-resistant plants. s.l. : s.n. 2017, Environ Sci Eur, p. 29:5.
5. F., Castaignède. Vorsicht Gentechnik? ARTE F, 2016. TC: 00:31:00 - 00:32:06 (Human Health); TC: 00:07:38 - 00:07:54 (Monocultures).
6. Saletan W. Unhealthy Fixation. s.l. : s.n. July 15, 2015. Slate [webmagazine].
7. N.N. What’s wrong with GM crops? s.l. : s.n., s.a. STOP THE CROP [webpage].
8. Halsband A, Hirsch A,. Genetisch veränderte Lebensmittel. s.l. : s.n. 2017. Deutsches Referenzzentrum für Ethik in den Biowissenschaften.
9. Boff, Leonardo. Leben des Geistes, Ethik der Erde und Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. [trans.] Bettina Gold-Harnack. s.l. : s.n. February 24, 2016. leonardoboff.wordpress.com [blog post].
10. Bodnar, Layla Katiraee and Anastasia. Introduction to GMOs. s.l. : s.n. January, 2019. SCIMOMS. [blog post].
11. N.N. An African plant breeder’s opinion on GMOs. s.l. : s.n. September 7, 2015. BIOLOGY FORTIFIED [blog post].
12. Qaim M, Kouser S. Genetically Modified Crops and Food Security. 2013, PLoS ONE , p. 8(6): e64879.
13. Hobson, John M. The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics: Western International Theory, 1760-2010. s.l. : Cambridge University Press, 2012.
 A Eurocentric focus means the evaluation and development – unconsciously or reflected upon – of various topics, objects or technologies according to Western values and norms, that are seen as the only true benchmark and thus the center of all thought and action. (13)
- ISBN (eBook)
- Institution / Hochschule
- Technische Universität München – Munich Center for Technology in Society
- GMO Ethics Genetically Modified Organisms economy technology Technologie food food security development society eurocentric focus genetically modified food agriculture sustainability capitalist system responsibiliy food industry genetic engineering