Genetic modification through the intentional disruption of the DNA in corn by integrating DNA from other organisms to create a crop that has superior characteristics is beneficial in many ways. Applying genetic modification to crops results in new strains of crops that are resistant to pests and diseases, tolerant of herbicides, cold weather, droughts and water salinity and can also have an increased nutritional value. With higher resistance and tolerance to insects and disease there are environmental benefits, such as, increased production of genetically modified corn; these include increased yield rates and a reduction in chemical and pesticide usage. Increased yield production means an allocation of resources for the farmers; leading to more supplies and still more production gains. Using fewer chemicals and pesticides has positive effects on the environment and those who consume the produce. Rivers, groundwater, and ecosystems in general, reap the benefits of less pollution from the chemicals which run off the farms. Those consuming the GM corn benefit from less pesticide residue left on the crop after harvest.
The nations with the largest percentage of genetically modified corn production are the United States, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, and Brazil. The largest production of corn comes from the Unites States, China, and Brazil. The global benefits of producing GM corn are seen economically and socially. Global trade of the GM corn as fuel and food is less of a liability to the market and those trading, because it is more resistant to damage from weather and insects; this can spur steady economic growth within impoverished countries. Social gain from producing GM corn is the positive effect on areas with little food from poor growing conditions. GM corn and other GM foods can be the next step against fighting global starvation.
Corn is one of humankind’s earliest attempts to genetically modify a crop plant through natural means. However, genetically modified, GM for short, corn is part an offshoot of the relatively recent discovery of the structure and component of the DNA in 1953 by James Watson and Francis Crick. The corn genome has not yet been fully sequenced. GM crops are a relatively young field of research, which is almost entirely conducted, not by universities, but by companies. The first GM crops were planted in the mid-1990’s with the NewLeaf Potato, marketed by Monsanto, being the first such crop approved for human consumption in 1995.
The first GM corn product was the StarLink Corn, created by Aventis. StarLink Corn produced a protein based insecticide call Bt, short for Bacillus thuringiensis, to combat the infestations of the European Corn Borer, a small beetle. By itself, Bt has been a popular pesticide spray since the 1960’s because there were very few environmental effects. This GM corn was, however, not approved for human consumption, but was used to feed animals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) 1998 registration for StarLink was restricted to use as animal feed and excluded consumption as food. The farmers saw a large increase in yield.
In September 2000, the media reported that Starlink corn somehow had found its way into the food supply of humans. In early October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that StarLink corn was intermingled with corn in the food chain, and by the beginning of November the FDA reported recalls of several products. Aventis discontinued the sale of StarLink corn in 2000.
There were ten short-term studies done on the health and safety of humans if GM products were consumed. The five studies conducted by the companies showed no adverse effects, while four independent studies showed negative effects that cannot be explained. There is a dearth of peer-reviewed long term studies that is troubling to both proponents and opponents of GM crops.
Corn happens to be the most tested plant. Since 19
87, there have been over 9,000 permits issued by the US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to field-test GM crops. GM corn was planted in 12.4 million hectares in 2002.
Bt corn has reduced the need for pesticides. There was a saving of almost 2 million pounds of pesticide within a couple of years, about a 50% savings of a previous usage. One surprising side effect, according to a recent International Council for Science (ICSU) study, has been that GM corn crops have lower levels of mycotoxins, a potential carcinogen. Mycotoxins result from fungal activity when insects bore holes into the corn. With fewer insect holes, there is less fungus, and hence less mycotoxins.
GM corn may inadvertently create strains of bugs that grow resistant to the Bt. To prevent this from happening, farmers are required to grow 10% of the crop as normal “refuge” corn. It is hoped that pests that feed on the “refuge” corn would mate with pests that have been developing Bt resistance, resulting in offspring that continue to carry the Bt susceptibility. [Charles]
In the spring of 2000, Nature magazine reported pollen from Bt corn could kill the larvae of monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies feed on milkwood weed, which grow close to corn crops. The toxins that affected the European corn borer (moth larvae) would also affect its cousin, the larvae of the monarch butterfly. Eventually, the USDA conducted studies which confirmed that only one of the Bt corn variety, Event 176, could produce such an effect. And luckily, that variety was not one that was widely planted. Another encouraging news is that that there have been no known cases of Bt resistant emerging in response to planting of Bt crops. [Mellon]
Another problem is the ownership rights of the intellectual property of the seeds. Some seeds from GM crops can drift into non-GM crops as in the case. The GM crop companies want to charge a technology fee wherever their patented genetic material is found and has filed several suits against farmers, who have in turn, counter sued.
Recently, the European Commission gave the go-ahead to Switzerland based Sygenta to allow Bt-11, a variant of the StarLink Bt corn, for consumption by humans. Also, amylase corn is being developed to reduce the cost of ethanol production. GM corn is also being researched to see if the corn can be a pharmaceutical agent to fight diseases like diabetes and Hepatitis B. These are called Pharma-Corn. Over 130 acres of pharma crop field-tests were planted in 2002 and several are in clinical trials.
Genetic engineering is also called genetic modification, and is the backbone of Genetically Modified foods (GM foods). Genetic engineering is the intentional changing of an organism’s genome (an organism’s hereditary information) to create different characteristics than it would normally display. This is done by introducing DNA from another organism into the test organism creating recombinant DNA, which is a DNA sequence created from multiple sources.
Applying genetic modification to crops, results in new strains of crops that are resistant to pests and diseases; and tolerant of herbicides, cold weather, droughts and water salinity and also to increase nutritional value. Pest resistance can eliminate the use of pesticides and lower the cost it takes to raise the crop and make it available for sale. Herbicide tolerant crops are genetically engineered to have resistance against a single, powerful herbicide, which would lower the amount of herbicides necessary to grow the crops. Disease resistance allows a GM crop to avoid being attacked by viruses, fungi and bacteria that would kill them and reduce the yield (amount of crop harvested). Some GM crops are able to survive a frost that would normally kill small plants and damage the crop because of a gene derived from cold water fish that has been introduced into the plant’s gene sequence[Whitman]. More land can be cultivated with the use of plants that have been engineered to survive long drought periods and cope with high salinity in the ground. In parts of the world where there is one essential crop to sustain the population, it is hard for those people to consume proper nutrition. Unless they grow a GM crop that has been engineered to have a higher amount of essential vitamins to a diet [Whitman].
GM corn, also known as Bt corn, was created to deter insects from feeding on the crop, specifically the European corn borer (ECB). Bt corn gets its name from the Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt) bacteria that is poisonous to the ECB. The isolation of crystalline proteins in the Bt bacteria that are the specific cause of toxicity to the ECB is integrated into the corn crop using genetic modification to create the new Bt corn[Wheelwright]. When the ECB ingest the Bt toxin, they experience internal bleeding. Humans are not affected by Bt toxins because the toxins react in a basic level pH environment, as in the gut of ECBs and other similar insects, and the human stomach is acidic[Wheelwright]. The Bt toxins are considered so harmless that the Environmental Protection Agency holds no limit for the amount of residue on raw produce of plants treated with Bt [Wheelwright].
Farmers planting the Bt corn see increased yields from less crop damage due to the ECB. Efficiency of the cultivated land increases as the yields per acre increases. The market price decreases and the supply increases with the greater efficiency of the land. Therefore there is more availability for the Bt corn to be used for more ethanol fuel production, powering the United States more sustainably. The animal feed supply increases with greater efficiency, reducing the cost for farmers purchasing the feed for livestock, in turn lowering the cost of meats and produce at the market. Bt corn for human consumption shows a decrease in market price as efficiency increases.
Crop scientists believe the recombination of crop genomes is only acceleration of the natural cycle and evolution of plant’s defense systems against predators and illness[Wheelwright]. Claiming most plants have some level of protective proteins which has been created from natural pollination across a species, giving rise to the most successful and resistant strands of that plant[Wheelwright].
While the production of genetically modified corn has many benefits to society, its long term effect on the environment is still very much a grey area. There are many short term environmental benefits that can easily be seen with our increased production of genetically modified corn; these include increased yield rates and a reduction in chemical and pesticide usage. The long term consequences of genetically modified corn can potentially be a double edged sword. While the high pest resistance of might appear to be a benefit to the environment, it can also lead to significant decreases in genetic diversity, which can impact the environment severely.
One of the main benefits to the environment that genetically modified corn provides is a significant increase in yield rates. Corn is a very high maintenance crop that typically requires a large amount of chemicals to sustain, and these chemicals are very damaging to topsoil; since 1960, the United States has lost nearly half of its topsoil to corn production [Schreiner, 171]. As Zachary Schreiner explains in his 2009 article, “Frankenfuel: Genetically Modified Corn, Ethanol, and Crop Diversity”, the increased yield rates of genetically modified corn means that more corn can be produced without increasing the amount of chemicals used, and thus providing larger crops without an increasing the negative environmental effects.
Many strains of genetically modified corn have had their resistance to pesticides enhanced, which in turn means that less pesticide is required in their production. One of the main strains of genetically modified corn, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn is created with a high pest-resistance to lepidopteran insects [Wu, 716]. This resistance means that the crops require less pesticide than natural corn strains, which in turn decreases the amount of harmful chemicals in the runoff. This advantage might not be entirely significant to the nation’s pesticide use though, as the amount of insecticide that the US uses on corn is significantly less than other crops, such as soybeans [Mellon]. Bt corn’s pest-resistance is its most significant advantage over non-modified strains, but this resistance can also be harmful to the environment in the long run.
One of the strongest arguments against the use of genetically modified corn is the decrease in genetic diversity that Bt corn’s pest-resistance has caused. In nature, a crop’s genetic diversity is essential to its ability to survive. When a particular pest problem or disease wipes out on strain of a crop, the diversity in the crop allows it to adapt and survive the problem. Bt corn is quickly becoming one of the dominant strains of corn, due to its resistance to pests. Strains of Bt corn that were produced in the United States are being found in the crops of other countries, such as Mexican corn crops that are hundreds of miles away from the US’s corn fields [Schreiner, 172]. If genetically modified corn continues to decrease the crop’s genetic diversity, it can cause the corn crop to be unable to adapt to environmental changes, and possibly die out.
While there are many short-term environmental benefits of using genetically modified corn, they must be weighed against the long-term effects that a decrease in genetic diversity might have.
The nations with the largest percentage of transgenic corn production are the United States, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, and Brazil. In addition, the largest production of corn comes from the Unites States, China, and Brazil. The global impact of producing transgenic corn comes mostly from an economic standpoint. Bt corn is resistant to pests which allows cost benefits to farmers who use it in two ways.
The first way is the main reason the corn was genetically engineered to start with. The Bt corn crops that farmers use have a higher yield than normal corn because less of the crop is destroyed by pests such as the European corn borer. The percentage increase of yield varied from 11% - 65% depending on each nation’s agricultural foundation [James]. Countries with a higher yield such as South Africa, greatly benefit depending on their approach to farming; however, regardless of method, all nations that utilized genetically modified corn saw an increase on production. The ecosystem of the country also is a factor to which the benefits of Bt corn is determined. Countries with a tropical or mega-temperate environment have a much stronger benefit from Bt corn because of the higher concentration of pests such as the European corn borer. The second profit saving benefit comes from the fact that the amount of insecticides used to preserve the corn is reduced as the corn kills of pests that try to feed on it. The substitution of Bt genes in corn would effectively replace insecticide use. The reduction of insecticide use on corn could remove up to 30% of the global corn insecticide market [Raney]. On top of reducing insecticide costs for farmers, the harmful exposure to insecticides would be reduced creating a safer environment. Lowering insecticide use on crops lowers levels of mycotoxin which is especially high in developing countries. The use of Bt corn has a much stronger emphasis on this point in developing countries.
The global demand for corn is increasing. As the population increases a source of food obviously must increase as well. The quantity of corn traded is projected to increase 150% by 2020 [Raney]. An increased demand can only be achieved through more maize produced per unit land. This is usually achieved through improved technology. Developing countries do not have access to the more advanced technology and this is where the global demand for Bt corn increases. With the genes in the seed, a farmer can increase his production per unit land without an overhaul of existing infrastructure.
Genetically modified corn has a larger potential global impact than other genetically modified foods. There is more acreage of land that can sustain corn production. The Bt genes can increase corn production by up to $3.7 billion and decrease loses to 4.5% [Raney]. This increase in production is only from the first generation of Bt genes. With newer genes in development and a shift towards genetically modified corn, even greater increases in production can be achieved.
From its beginning, genetically modified corn has shown significant increases towards the corn production of farmers throughout the world. Higher yield rates come with the increased use of genetically modified foods such as Bt corn. The pest resistance of this genetically modified corn has several economical and safety benefits. By using Bt corn, farmers can reduce the amount of insecticides sprayed saving money. Less insecticide usage also reduces the amount of harmful chemicals that farmers and consumers are exposed to. By having fewer pests that are able to bore into the corn stalk, lower levels of mycotoxins are achieved. This has the benefit of reducing millions of consumers the risk of consuming unnecessary carcinogens from corn pests. Corn producers also cut costs by having to use less insecticide. Finally, from the economical standpoint, much higher crop yield rates are achieved through the use of Bt corn. This increase in corn production allows a larger amount of corn to be traded as the demand for corn is going up. The environmental benefits are less clear as corn is a high maintenance crop that requires many chemicals, such as insecticide, that destroy topsoil. Utilizing Bt corn allows higher amounts of corn to be grown in the same amount of space as traditional corn reducing the amount of topsoil and runoff damage per tonnage of corn. These benefits have already been observed in the first generation of Bt corn with more promising results in the future as more research and advanced genes are introduced. Nations that are already producing large amounts of corn as well as developing countries that cannot afford large, expensive technologies for improved crop cultivation can all utilize Bt corn. Genetically modified corn has seen clear benefits to producers and consumers and maintains a great potential in helping meet the increasing demand for food.
Burnell, Dawn. “Genetically Modified Crops: Will They Help of Hurt.” Strange Horizons. 4 Oct. 2004. Web. 30 June. 2011. <http://www.strangehorizons.org/2004/20041004/gmcrops.shtml>
Charles, Dan. “Genetically Modified Corn Helps Common Kind, Too.” National Public Radio. 7 Oct. 2010. Web. June 30. 2011. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130405227>
James, Clive. “Global Review of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2002 Feature: BT Maize.” ISAAA Briefs. ISAAA, 2003. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/29/download/isaaa-brief-29-2003.pdf>
"Genetically Modifed Plants: Global Cultivation Area Maize." GMO Compass. 29 Mar. 2010. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/341.genetically_modified_maize_global_area_under_cultivation.html>
Gewin, Virginia. “Genetically Modified Corn – Environmental Benefits and Risks.” Public Library of Science. 13 Oct. 2003. Web. 30 June. 2011. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC212689/>
Mellon, Margaret; Rissler, Jane. “Environmental Effects of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Recent Experiences.” Genetically Modified Foods—the American Experience. Union of Concerned Scientists. 12 June 2003. Web. 30 June. 2011. <http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_genetic_engineering/environmental-effects-of.html>
Raney, Terri. “Economic Impact of Transgenic Crops in Developing Countries.” Current Opinion in Biotechnology Volume 17 (2006) p1-5 Web. 30 June 2011. <http://www.agbioworld.org/pdf/raney.pdf>
Schreiner, Zachary R.F. “Frankenfuel: Genetically Modified Corn, Ethanol, and Crop Diversity.” Energy Law Journal, Vol. 30.1 (2009): p169-191 Web. 30 June. 2011. <http://content.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/pdf23_24/pdf/2009/QSJ/01May09/41027992.pdf?T=P&P=AN&K=41027992&S=R&D=bth&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLe80Seqa44yOvsOLCmr0meqLFSsK%2B4TbeWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGsr1CyqbNNuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA>
Wheelwright, Jeff. "Genetically Altered Corn." Discover Magazine. Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1 Mar. 2001. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://discovermagazine.com/2001/mar/cover>
Whitman, Deborah B. "Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful?" CSA. Proquest, Apr. 2000. Web. 30 June 2011. <http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php>
Wu, Felicia. “Explaining Public Resistance to Genetically Modified Corn: An Analysis of the Distribution of Benefits and Risks.” Risk Analysis: An International Journal, Vol. 24.3 (2004): p715-726 Web. 30 June. 2011. <http://content.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/pdf25_26/pdf/2004/2C2/01Jun04/13515101.pdf?T=P&P=AN&K=13515101&S=R&D=eih&EbscoContent=dGJyMNLe80Seqa44yOvsOLCmr0meqLFSsK64Sa%2BWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGsr1CyqbNNuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA>
Benefits of Genetically Modified Potatoes
Despite some controversy and significant opposition; especially in Europe, potato crops genetically modified for optimal starch composition are gaining prevalence. Over the past few years potato crops have gained prospects in the chemical industry; being utilized not only for human, and livestock consumption, but also for production of alcohol and starch. For this reason genetic modification efforts have focused on creating potatoes with starches in a more ideal form for production.
Natural potatoes contain two main types of starch known as amylose and amylopectin. Both are used in the processing industry to develop different products. The chemicals possess very different properties and for production purposes are more useful if one were without the presence of the other. The mixture of the two in potatoes entails expensive and environmentally harmful processes to separate the starches. Due to its wider variety of diverse applications, efforts currently have emphasized creating amylose-free potatoes. Traditional breeding methods have proved unsuccessful, but genetic modification methods have shown great promise in developing amylopectin potatoes. Once approved by European regulatory authorities, amylopectin potatoes could be growing in crops soon.
Genetically Modified Foods and Patent Law
The danger of genetically modified crops is not in the health dangers, but rather the idea that one can patent and therefore own a specific genome due to the alterations that one made to the DNA. The current patent controls on GM farming give the patent owners full control over the crops, even after the crops have been sold. This is contrary to business practices governing most tangible goods industries wherein once the consumer has bought the product, the consumer may do what they wish with the product. Instead, when farmers buy seed from these companies they receive a license to plant the seeds for only one season, rather than outright selling the seeds for the crops, which give the farmers full control of their property. The most famous example of this is the decision made by the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Monsanto Co. v. McFarling. Monsanto Company sued McFarling for saving seed for use the next season, a practice that has been common among farmers for centuries, because this dictated a breach of the Monsanto Company’s Technology Agreement, which McFarling had signed. The ruling stated that Monsanto was within its rights as a patent holder to restrict the “use of the goods made by the licensed product.” (Mueller) The Federal Court commented that because it had never before encountered such a problem, the court ruled in Monsanto favor because the new seeds were almost exact copies of the seeds protected under the patent. (Mueller) As citizens we need to carefully consider the consequences of the ability of companies to patent parts of a biological organism’s genome.
Genetically modified foods and food chain
GM is still a young field to science and human. It has only been 6 years since the human consumption. 6 years is not enough to know the full effects to the food chain. In some genetically modified foods, pesticides are implanted as part of the production. Some of these enhancements for the benefit of human may unintentionally harm the food web. There haven't been many studies of the health risk of animals consuming GM crops. Potential risk of the animals being poisoned by the pesticides that are fixed inside the crop may cause a major shift in the food chain. Last year a study about caterpillars of the monarch butterfly was conducted in the U.S. and showed that 44% of caterpillars of the monarch butterfly died due to the consumption of pollen from GM corn. Another study from Britain showed that the skylark, a native farm bird, lost their habitat for food due to GM sugar beets that fight herbicides. In the other hand, GM products bring a lot of benefits to both environment and human, but the technology is still at its early stage of growing. Studies surrounding the potential threats and danger in the long term are yet to be done. By eliminating each risk to its minimized scope, GM will be the rising technology for the next generations yet to come.
Ali Nazemi II
**The Value of genetically modified foods
Norman Bourlaug has saved over a billion people in his life time. The use of genetically modified corn and food in general is a key factor to the perpetuation of life on earth. As food quantity dwindles, the need for better crops has become a greater and greater. Mankind's future depends on entities like genetic modified corn. As a former biologist I have a pretty significant background in genetics concept. The focus of my personal argument is on how genetically modified corn could save lives. Humans beings are a J curve species and in due time the population will need to be put in check. For the time being, it is essential that we support our population while we can and genetically modified foods are a key element to the perpetuation of our species.
I'll reference this article for other users to read a bit Norman Borlaug about the man who has saved more lives than any person on earth.