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Costs and Benefits - The Analysis

     The costs and benefits of genetically modified organisms have been controversial since their inception.  The benefits of genetically modified crops are potentially much greater than those of crops that are traditionally-bred, but they arrive bundled with the stigma that GMO's are unnatural, foreign, and potentially harmful.

 

Benefits of GMO's

    Genetically modified crops have been proven to work.  They accomplish their goal, whether that goal is to grow bigger or faster, to resist pesticides, to produce a vitamin, or to grow in harsh conditions.  

image courtesy of worldbank.org

Because of these special abilities, genetically modified crops are a valuable resource to farmers, who always seek to increase their yield per area farmed while decreasing their costs.  GMO's help to create a surplus of food in the United States, a surplus which can be exported to third world countries in an attempt to combat world hunger.

image courtesy of huris.com

Drawbacks of GMO's

    On the other hand, the benefits that farmers seek from GMO's are only realized when their government and their consumers are receptive to GM products.  Some cultures and countries have currently banned the import of GM products.  Many companies, even companies based in the United States, have followed suit.  The companies want to be able to label their products GMO-free, making them more attractive to consumers.  This severely limits the market for GM surplus food and GM seed for future crops.  The European Union is against GM products, buying only non-GM corn,  rice, and soybeans from the US.  More surprisingly, many starving third world countries completely reject US aid because the United States cannot guarantee to these countries that the aid would be GMO-free.

image courtesy of refugeecamp.org

Specifically, Zambia recently "declined a $50 million line of credit from the US Department of Agriculture because of provisions that it would have to purchase GMO commodities" (planetark.org).  In many cases, other countries hold the view that the US exports GM products because the US does not want them and will not consume them.

    Traditionally-bred crops are used in order to avoid potential boycotts or complete rejection both in the US and abroad.  However, when farmers bow to these pressures, consumers miss out on the many potential benefits of GMO's.  This is a debate that has only just begun.  It is nowhere near a solution anywhere in the world.  And it will continue as long as people hold prejudices, both warranted and unwarranted, about the safety of GM products.

 

Copyright 2002 Department of Biology, Davidson College, Davidson, NC 28035

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