Good, bad sides of biotech crops (First of two parts)-A A +A
Sunday, November 3, 2013
THEY are safe to eat -- safer than street foods. They can help arrest world hunger. More importantly, they can help save the environment.
They are called transgenic crops or genetically-modified (GM) as they have been subjected to biotechnology. British press calls them "Frankenstein food," named after a character created by novelist Mary Shelley.
Bio is derived from the Greek word bios, which means life. Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function.
The methodology for making GM foods sounds indeed like science fiction.
Scientists working in laboratories take genes from one organism – a plant, animal, bacterium or virus – and splice them to the genes of another organism (a food crop or animal) to produce genetically altered offspring that will reproduce for agricultural purposes.
Ismail Serageldin, during his time as vice-president of World Bank, sees biotechnology playing a crucial part of agriculture in the 21st century.
“All possible tools that can help promote sustainable agriculture for food security must be marshaled,” he said, “and biotechnology, safely developed, could be a tremendous help.”
Food production needs to be raised by 70 to 100 percent in the next 30 years, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This is as population is seen to rise to nine billion by 2050 from the present seven billion.
"The percentage of hunger has gone down but total numbers have not," said Dr. Wayne Parrott of the University of Georgia-Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Genomics. Ten years in the decade, people are eating more than what is produced globally, thus the worldwide crisis in food.
Through biotechnology, more crops can be grown on the planet. "At current rates of population growth, conventional techniques may soon be insufficient if farming is to keep pace with the scale of increases required in the 21st century," wrote Victor Villalobos in an article which appeared in Ceres, a FAO publication.
"We have the technology to meet the need of the future. What we don’t have yet is the will power, the regulatory system to allow use of the technology that we need," said Dr. Parrott, who recently visited the country.
The Philippines is liable to the poor of the world in helping solve hunger and malnutrition problems. For one, it is host to the field trial of the Vitamin A-enhanced golden rice being conducted by the International Rice Research Institute based in Los Baños, Laguna and the state-run Philippine Rice Research Institute.
The country is also host to the field trial of the GM Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant by the state-run Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
According to Dr. Parrott, the recent destruction of golden rice plants under study attracted global attention. "The global spotlight is now on the Philippines because Golden Rice gets more positive press in the world," he said.
The National Institutes of Health in Maryland reported that Golden Rice contains up to 35 micrograms of beta-carotene and is "effectively converted to Vitamin A in humans."
A regular intake of 50 grams of golden rice per day is enough to eliminate symptoms of Vitamin A deficiency. Its bioavailability or its conversion into Vitamin A in the human body has been tested favorable on the target Vitamin A-deficient patients.
Planting biotech crops is also good for the environment. It mitigates the effects of climate change brought about by global warming, curtails use of pesticides, and save lands for other uses.
"The ill effects of global warming can be reversed by the increasing the areas planted to genetically modified crops," said Dr. Parrot.
"Biotech crops are a land-saving technology, capable of higher productivity on the current 1.5 billion hectares of arable land, and thereby can help preclude deforestation and protect biodiversity in forests and in other in-situ biodiversity sanctuaries," pointed out Dr. Clive James, founder and chairman of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). (To be concluded)
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 04, 2013.