by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 17, 2007 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms
Corn is among the top three genetically modified (GM) crops planted in the United States each year. According to Bloomberg.com, 73% of all corn planted in 2007 was genetically modified equalling over 65 million acres of GM corn. Of course, corn is for more than just human consumption. It is used as animal feed, corn sweeteners, paper, textiles, adhesives, and fuel alcohol. Much of the increase in demand for corn is driven by the demand for grain-based ethanol.
Last week, Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. announced the combination of their efforts to create the SmartStax GM corn which will have eight genetic modifications to address three areas of concern:
Above-ground insect control with protection against insects such as corn earworm, fall army warm, and cutworms.
Below-ground insect control with protection against corn rootworm.
Weed control with herbicide tolerance
When drought resistance and nitrogen absorption traits can be genetically engineered in SmartStax GM corn, they will be incorporated as well. The seeds are expected to be available by the end of the decade and will become Monsanto’s primary insect-resistant corn within the next 10 years.
Dow and Monsanto will also be asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency to remove regulations requiring that farmers plant at least 20% of their corn fields with non-genetically modified corn to minimize the potential of pests developing resistance to pesticides. But a 2003 PLoS Biology feature on genetically modified corn and accompanying environmental benefits and risks states that many farmers violate EPA standards. In the same article, another risk is mentioned as well:
After seven years of GM crop production and no apparent health effects, potential environmental risksâ€”particularly gene flow into other speciesâ€”have eclipsed food safety as a primary concern. As pollen and seeds move in the environment, they can transmit genetic traits to nearby crops or wild relatives. Many self-pollinating crops, such as wheat, barley, and potatoes, have a low frequency of gene flow, but the more promiscuous, such as sugar beets and corn, merit greater concern.
But it is just as clear that genetically modified corn has many advantages, including a reduction in the need for agrochemicals, hardier crops that can survive difficult growing seasons, less soil erosion, and lower levels of cancer-causing fungal mycotoxins in GM corn because there are fewer insects to bore holes that allow the fungus in.
Jonathan Rauch also points out in The Atlantic in Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?:
Recall that world food output will need to at least double and possibly triple over the next several decades. Even if production could be increased that much using conventional technology, which is doubtful, the required amounts of pesticide and fertilizer and other polluting chemicals would be immense. If properly developed, disseminated, and used, genetically modified crops might well be the best hope the planet has got.
As with most decisions we have to make, the pros and cons of genetically modified food makes the debate difficult to sort out. I leave you with some videos below the fold on GM food. The first is a video straight from Monsanto and the latter three from DW-TV called The Genetic Conspiracy: Following the Trail that aired earlier this year. None of the videos are balanced. The Monsanto video evokes peace and happy feelings while DW-TV is scaremongering. Hard to decide what to think with all this propaganda flying around.
Genetically Modified Crops with Mini-Chromosomes...
Techno Tuesday Cartoon on Genetically Modified Food...
DNA Quote: Stewart Brand on Genetically Modified Food...
DNA In Your Food...
(Genetically Modified) Food for Health...
Genetically Modified Organisms Bring in the Cash...
Genetically Engineered HTC Touch Diamond Phone...
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