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Local View: Don't fear innovations that can feed the world

Every year, a whopping 83 million people are added to the global population, and world hunger becomes an increasingly critical issue. How will we feed all these new people when we have serious trouble distributing food worldwide as it is?

Thomas RohladerA possible solution is the genetic modification of crops, or GMOs. Through this process, scientists can alter crops to express a gene advantageous for farming, such as increased fruit productivity or requiring less water to grow.

There are currently 18 million farmers around the world who harvest GMO crops, most of them in developing countries. For example, in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Vietnam, golden rice has been genetically modified to be rich in Vitamin A in order to combat Vitamin A deficiency, one of the most critical global health issues, according to the World Health Organization.

As with any emerging technology, there are potential risks that must be addressed.

A major concern is that GMOs could have adverse health effects. The worry is that genetically modified crops will interbreed with natural crops, creating "Frankenfoods" that could be wildcards and unsafe for consumption.

However, a 2013 research study conducted almost 2,000 reviews, research papers, and reports that analyzed the health effects of GMOs on consumers. It determined that "the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops." There was not a single stray mutation, negative reaction to an allergen, or disastrous cross-bred crop.

Furthermore, GMOs are already everywhere in the U.S. According to the 2011 International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications report, 94 percent of our nation's soybeans, 95 percent of sugar beets, and 90 percent of cotton are genetically engineered. Not many people realize that and incorrectly treat GMOs like a potential epidemic that must be prevented.

Anti-GMO groups also tout that GMOs raise the prices of crops because of extensive DNA work geneticists have to complete to engineer the crops. This is simply not true. Geneticists only need to engineer one strand of DNA to create an entire generation of crops, and this improved efficiency far outweighs the costs. According to a Forbes article by Michael Stebbins, GMOs actually have prevented food costs from rising more rapidly than they already were because GMOs are more efficient to farm.

Some fear Big Agriculture will take over small-time farmers because they have access to this new technology. That concern is well-placed, but someone who goes hungry every day won't care who grew their food.

So the questions moving forward are: Will GMOs save the billions of starving mouths of the future? Or will they suffer because we are too fearful of innovation?

Thomas Rohlader is a senior at Hermantown High School who researched and wrote this originally for a college-level composition class.