Food Ethics: Should Environmentalists Oppose Genetically Modified Food?

1512 words - 7 pages

I will argue that environmentalists should not oppose genetically modified foods. Genetically modified foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) are crop plants that are modified in a laboratory to enhance desired traits, to offer greater yields, to improve pest and disease resistance, to increase nutrition, or to boost tolerance to temperature extremes, drought, and salinity (The Hutchinson Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide). This controversial concept has been debated among environmental activists, public interest groups, and other scientists and government officials since GMOs were introduced in 1996. However, genetic engineering has enormous potential benefits that ...view middle of the document...

Use of GMOs reduces our agricultural footprint because soils are not damaged by plowing and ecosystems are not as threatened by overuse of pesticides and pollution by erosion and runoff. The result is cleaner water and less overall pollution and contaminants (Rauch 373).
Second, genetically modified foods should be encouraged because the use of GMOs leads to greater efficiency, which may be “important as food supplies come under greater pressure from global population growth” (Hutchinson). As the global population increases, the use of farmland for crops must be wisely and efficiently used to address the pressure on food producers to increase output due to global population growth. Rauch states that the United Nation’s 2003 midrange projections estimated that the “earth’s population would grow by more than 40 percent, from 6.3 billion people to 8.9 billion in 2050” (373). Producing sufficient food to feed this increased population will require food output to double or even triple in quantity (Rauch 373). A larger population will demand higher food production, leading to “massive changes in the production, distribution, and stability of food products” (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications). Since GMOs produce higher yields of crops in the same amount of area required for traditional farming, genetically modified foods offer a method to reduce pressure and limit environmental damage to existing (and future) farmlands.
Greater efficiency of farming practices and production may also result in the preservation of areas that are not currently used for farming. For example, greater efficiency may lead to the less habitual destruction of rainforests. The farmland created from “the savannahs and tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Asia, and Africa by and large make poor farmland, but they are the earth’s storehouses of biodiversity, and the forests are the earth’s lungs” (Rauch 375). The increasing human population is directly responsible for the unnecessary loss of habitat and many species being displaced (ISAAA). Therefore, to “conserve forests, habitats and biodiversity, it is necessary to ensure that future food requirements come only from cropland currently in use”, which can be achieved with an increased use of GMOs globally (ISAAA).
An objection to this argument is that some environmentalists oppose GMOs, arguing that genetically modified foods have a negative environmental impact, especially for agricultural practices. For example, they contend that the modified genes created by genetic engineering can spread through pollen to other non-GMO plants outside of their intended cultivation area. “If a GMO is herbicide-tolerant,” some environmentalists believe this characteristic can spread to other plants with the possibility of creating “super-weeds” which will be difficult to suppress (Thompson 213). Others argue that widespread use of GMOs can lead to a reduction in the biodiversity...

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