Medium 9781789240542

GM Food Systems and Their Economic Impact. CABI Biotechnology Series 7

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The development of transgenic crops is revolutionary, but what does it mean for food production, prices and the environment? This is the first book to examine the economic evidence in a methodical way. It initially describes the historical evolution of biotechnology and defines key terms, before moving on to explore transgenic technology and food regime concepts. The book analyzes genetically modified organism (GMO) policy as part of overall agrarian policy, considering neoregulation in the USA, the EU, Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and Serbia; as well as discussing agricultural performance, support and trade relations. The effect of transgenic food production on world food prices is also examined, along with food security at global and regional levels, and the links between GMOs and world hunger. The environmental implications of transgenic technology are considered through analysis of pesticide and fertilizer usage and efficiency, and pesticide consumption in GMO and non-GMO producing countries. Finally, the book considers the entry of transgenic ingredients into the food chain and lists the products affected.Ê

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1 Ancient, Classical and Modern Biotechnology

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1

Ancient, Classical and Modern

Biotechnology

The process of mankind’s development and food production has proceeded pari passu through the millennia. As Sauer pointed out, ‘man evolved with his food plants, forming a biological complex’, regardless of whether the man was a hunter-gatherer, a food-­domesticator or a modern large-scale food manufacturer (Sauer, 1963, p. 155).

The first changes took place seamlessly, without increasing the food supply and without significant changes in the environment. An exception was the use and control of fire by early man, which caused the transformation of forest into grassland, permitted large migrations by enabling people to extend their ranges into habitats that were impossible to live in before, extended the period of activity independent of daylight, provided protection from predators and insects, and caused the evolution of man’s digestive system due to adjustments to cooked food. Wrangham et  al.

(1999, p. 573) assumed that cooking ‘doubled the energy value from carbohydrate in underground storage organs and increased it by 60% in seed.’

 

2 Genetically Modified Foods in the Light of Food Regimes

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Genetically Modified Foods in the Light of Food Regimes

Understanding of the world food system in a broader context, its crises, food prices, environmentally hazardous agro-industrialization, and food sovereignty movements, as well as the diffusion of transgenic foods, is almost impossible without analyses of food regimes.

Buttel (2001, pp. 21–24) wrote: ‘Beginning in the late 1980s, the sociology and political economy of agriculture began to take a dramatic turn. The extent of the shift in the literature was not entirely apparent at the time, because at a superficial level the concepts and vocabulary of late 1980s and early 1990s agrarian studies did not depart sharply from those of the new rural sociology. The lexicon continued to be primarily that of Marxist/ class categories. But only 5 years after the seminal piece – Friedmann and McMichael’s

1989 Sociologia Ruralis paper on food regimes – was published, the sociology of agriculture had undergone a dramatic transformation. . . this article on food regimes was arguably the seminal piece of scholarship in the abrupt shift away from the new rural sociology, and

 

3 Does Transgenic Food Production Affect World Food Prices?

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Does Transgenic Food Production

Affect World Food Prices?

Food prices are of special concern to poor countries and poor people. As previously stated, the second food regime mechanism failed to solve world hunger, leading the

FAO to call a World Food Summit in 1974 to examine global food production and consumption. To be sure, this was not the first attempt to solve hunger, since the Great

­Depression in the 1930s with its disastrous effects on ‘consumer purchasing power and on the incomes of primary producers, underlined the need for some form of intergovernmental arrangement for staple food-stuffs . . .

In the early 1930s, Yugoslavia proposed that in view of the importance of food for health, the Health Division of the League of Nations should disseminate information about the food position in representative countries of the world. Its report was the first introduction of the world food problem into the international political arena’ (Shaw, 2007, p. 6).

 

4 Food Security and GMOs

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Food Security and GMOs

Despite a growing area under genetically modified crops around the world, many nations have continued to fight the introduction of transgenic food. Resistance exists on all continents. After the abolition of the moratorium on the cultivation of GMO,

­Europe adopted strict labelling and traceability regulation for all food derived from

GMOs on the grounds of human and animal health, and environmental protection. The

EU has left its members a choice whether or not to grow GMOs, even if one GM maize

MON810, is already authorized to be grown within the Union. Scotland, Wales and

Northern Ireland in the UK, Austria, the

Wallonia region in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia,

Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece,

Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and

Slovenia, have taken the ‘opt-out’ clause of a

European Commission rule to abstain from growing GMO crops. ‘A controversy over GM food arose in 2000 when it was discovered that some food aid donations contained

 

5 Is GMO Farming an Eco-Friendly Choice?

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Is GMO Farming an

Eco-Friendly Choice?

As already mentioned in Chapter 4 the Green

Revolution caused numerous negative consequences (Matson et al., 1997), of which the consequences of intensive use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides have been particularly accented (Mickaël et al., 2012; Pingali,

2012; Sun et al., 2012; Whitehorn et al., 2012;

Liu et al., 2015a). Transgenic technology had been promoted as a solution for environmental problems. The father of the Green Revolution,

Norman E. Borlaug in his paper published in

Plant Physiology put it:

Transgenic varieties and hybrids of cotton, maize, and potatoes, containing genes from

Bacillus thuringiensis [Bt] that effectively control a number of serious insect pests, are now being successfully introduced

­commercially in the United States [US].

The use of such varieties will greatly reduce the need for insecticides. Considerable progress also has been made in the

 

6 GMOs: What are We Eating?

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GMOs: What are We Eating?

Legislative frameworks of different countries and public attitudes towards transgenic crop cultivation have already been discussed in

Chapter 2. Our analyses have shown that national GMO politics should be analysed not separately but as an integral part of agricultural policy. Each country accepts or refuses transgenic products depending on its overall agricultural policies. The countries whose main goal is to achieve self-sufficiency have adopted, with various degrees of success, strong regulatory oversights. The countries whose main goal is to expand exports have approved a weak regulatory approach to

GMOs. In addition, in Table 5.1 we presented an overview of land area under transgenic crops of 28 transgenic crop producing countries. EU countries, Bangladesh, Costa Rica,

Vietnam, Chile, and Mexico dedicated less than

1% of their arable land to transgenic crop production; China, Australia, Myanmar, and

Colombia less than 3%; Pakistan, Philippines,

 

Concluding Remarks

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Concluding Remarks

From Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus

(3rd century CE), through Thomas Robert

Malthus (18th century), to Paul Erlich (20th century), numerous authors have made their grim predictions of an overpopulated planet and mass hunger, believing in the impossibility of achieving food security for the growing population. However, science, technological advance and innovation have since negated these pessimistic predictions. During the past decades, the food production rate has managed to surpass the population growth rate. The Green Revolution made a great breakthrough in agricultural production by combining high-yield grain cultivars, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation.

Selected genetic traits have increased the yield, yield stability, and wide-scale adaptability of certain varieties. However, the problems of achieving food security have become relevant again, because of the alarming predicted population growth rate, and the consequent need to increase global food production by about 70% by 2050. One of the solutions offered to solve global food security has been transgenic technology. But, after 20 years of implementation and after occupying about 13% (i.e. c.180 million hectares) of arable land, the scientific debate on the consequences of GMOs has not slowed down.

 

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