3. Is genetic modification a smarter way to feed the world?
A smarter way to feed the world demands a nuanced way of looking at Genetic Modification (GM). Discussion appears to have been mainly focused on only one facet of genetic modification, despite its multifaceted nature: the genetic manipulation side (with emotional prejudices often inhibiting the ability to gain a clear picture of the concept as a whole).
At PlantLab, we consider GM a technique used to make existing agricultural methods resistant to nature, which is – in the eyes of man – unkind to crops. Many breeders are engaged in developing crop strains that can adapt to current agricultural methods. It is not surprising that GM is being pursued considering the threats that disease and drought pose to crop production. In short, one can conclude that most of the advancements made in open field agriculture have been attempts to interfere with the plant itself, with the exception of keeping unwanted insects and fungi at a distance. In a controlled environment like our Plant Production Unit, however, it is not necessary to interfere the plant itself. Rather than breeding and modifying crops, we work to improve the growing environment of those crops.
There is another application of GM. Suppose that increasing the amount of a certain molecule in a crop improves its nutritional value for humans or offers new medicinal properties. Or suppose, for instance, we could eliminate the bitter taste that Stevia has by borrowing a gene from sugarcane. This could then be used to address one of the biggest causes of obesity and diabetes. However, this borrowing can only be performed through GM because these crops cannot be crossed. Are we against these types of applications of GM? Our planet can easily be inhabited by 9 billion people, but how do we ensure all of those people have access to nutritious food? Why would we be against technologies that could improve and even save the lives of many of us? A lack of understanding of GM cannot be a reason. We must work to develop our knowledge and understanding, as history has taught us that fear is a bad motivation.