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article imageOp-Ed: Are new plants needed to tackle world hunger?

By Tim Sandle     Jul 12, 2013 in Environment
World population growth will, by many estimates, lead to a shortage of food. One particular researcher has recently stated that the solution is developing GM foods. Is this the answer, or does it present new environmental and health risks?
The world’s population is growing fast (a population clock can be seen here). The current global population is estimated to number 7.097 billion by the United States Census Bureau (USCB). Current UN projections show a continued increase in population with the global population expected to reach between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by 2050.
The population growth means further problems in terms of hunger and feeding the population. According to the World Food Program 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat (malnutrition, also a concern, is an even more concerning measure). Certainly to deal with the current situation and to deal with the future population expansion requires new strategies. One consideration is in relation to plants and agriculture: is the planet growing the right types of plants to feed a future population?
Although there are many varieties of plants across the planet, it has been estimated that fewer than a dozen flowering plants out of the 300,000 known species, account for 80 percent of humanity's caloric intake. Discussing this issue, Cornell University plant geneticist Susan McCouch has written in the science journal Nature that scientists and governments must consider unused plants to feed the world in the near future.
In particular, McCouch writes, gene banks need to be examined to find the optimum types of plants to feed the growing global population: “Gene banks hold hundreds of thousands of seeds and tissue culture materials collected from farmer's fields and from wild, ancestral populations, providing the raw material that plant breeders need to create crops of the future."
Whilst McCouch’s recognition of the problem is important her response will probably mean carrying out genetic modifications to crops and manipulating the seed banks. Is this the right direction to be going in or does it present new, as yet unknown, dangers? Professor Robert Watson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) thinks so. He told the Independent a little while ago that: "We have to look at all the technologies, policies and practices, all forms of bio-tech, including GM."
However, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) foresees problems: “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food.” According to the Institute for Responsible Technology the risks include infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.
Please use the comments section below to give your views.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Plants, Gmo, Genetically modified, Hunger, Population
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