The introduction of Genetically-Modified (GM) Foods is a current hotly debated topic in the worldwide media and generally affects the worldwide population. GM foods are based upon cloaning natural crop genes from one species to another, which do not have to be close alike conventional methods e.g. soya and maize. The objective of their use is to make crops pest, weather and disease resistant and herbicide tolerant (www.foodfuture.org.uk).
At present, GM crops are not grown in the UK but are in other parts of the world. It is a factor in the process of continuing globalisation. GM seeds have been introduced into the global food chain but worldwide concerns have caused divisions and controversies due to the uncertain consequences, lack of public agreement and economic repercussions. It involves everyone – consumers, producers, governments across the world are major players in the GM foods issue. This paper seeks to answer why it is a global issue, the economic factors involved, the eco-system and biodiversity, political factors and finally summarising of how and why it is viewed as a global topic for investigation.
GM foods is a global issue because it highlights who is feeding the world and by what methods. It questions whether the world will starve due to different food production methods and shows the globalisation of agricultural trade. Shiva (2000) argues GM foods will not produce large volumes of food production, quite the opposite, claiming genetic engineering will create hunger. Self-sufficient local economies who produce just for their own consumption are being coerced into producing for export. GM foods also involves the global economy which is the interplay of individual economies such as the US and Africa marketplaces.
GM seeds are shipped to production areas and the finished product is traded back. Genetic modification aims to meet the global food supply. However, some would argue the biotechnology corporation’s enthusiasm for genetic technology as ‘feeding the world’ is now viewed as a public relations strategy to promote GM foods in a hostile consumer reaction climate (www.geneticsforum.org.uk). The GM food issue is a global debate whereby the US accuses the EU of stating feeble scientific arguments in slowing down the development of GM crops. GM foods also still have immense scientific uncertainty regarding ecological and human health hazards.
Hence, many EU countries are opting to restrict their use as further research is undertaken. But the US is trying to promote the interests of bio-technological firms like Monsanto (www.geneticsforum.org.uk). GM foods also impact on the world’s future generations of animal, plant and human species; therefore it is important the issue is deliberated and implemented carefully.
A further reason as to why it is a global issue is because many countries are involved in the research and production of GM foods, the UK are trialing certain crops and the US are pre assigned to caring and feeding the locals and their families, by the patriarchal economy and biotechnology companies shifting their work to the periphery. However, women across the world no matter what labour they partake in are pushed to the peripheral labour force.
Food production is moving from labour-intensive to capital-intensive due to the advent of genetic engineering and the requirement of specialist machinery. Humans are viewed as contaminators if directly involved in food production, to be re destroying local indigenous economies and their resources (land and labour). Western corporations are producing the specialist machinery to produce GM foods highlighting the monopoly over the rest of the world and farmers. The global economy is growing at the expense of small local economies.
The free flows of global trade with many deregulated restrictions allows easy trafficking of GM crops. The objectives of global corporations and market economies are taking importance over people’s opinions, but the majority believe survival, sustainability and health are at stake. There is the danger of an ‘anything goes’ culture in research and development institutions, whereby large new product investment is brought to market quickly for investment recovery (www.geneticsforum.org.uk).
The objectives of gaining competitive advantage and gaining larger investor returns, global corporations need ever expanding markets involving ever more consumers in gaining rising growth. Free trade regulations and counter processes protecting corporate profits are viewed as respectable but those protecting the environment are considered as obstructions to growth (www.geneticsforum.org.uk). Shiva (2000) argues that the globe and its people need urgent consideration when discussing the impact of GM foods, claiming that equality will not be gained through GM food production. However, inequality is still evident without GM foods in the equation.
There is an epidemic of farmer suicides in both rich and poor countries – due to high debts and poor agricultural land due to the increasing use of pesticides. However, they were promised vast rewards by using hybrid seeds, sold by Western corporations which require heavy pesticide use. Vast land areas have become non-arable and waterlogged. Western corporations and food wholesalers e.g. supermarkets, are forcing local farmers to accept much lower prices for their products than before, but due to higher costs cannot sustain production and so do not survive. Meanwhile, consumers are paying more for the products as prices rise and so the mighty corporations reap higher profits but do not pass these on to the small farms (Shiva 2000).
Consumption of local food products has fallen in India as food prices have doubled, this shows the poor are consuming less but the farmers are producing much more – mainly for export purposes. This is creating vast wealth for dominant global corporations such as supermarkets and bioengineering plants. Whilst at the same time luring local poor populations into further poverty (Shiva 2000). Small food production farms are being shut down due to global legislation.
For example, local processing of food oils e.g. sesame, coconut, etc, were constrained by a ‘packaging order’, which made oil production illegal without plastic/aluminium packaging. Also, the consumer want for healthier products, for example shown by research into developing healthier oils, is changing the local, natural food production methods. Furthermore GM oils that aim to substitute traditional ones (e.g. palm and coconut) could have a negative impact on economies of traditional oil-producing countries.
Patenting is a concerned issue for small local poor economies as large western corporations are in effect, embezzling local knowledge by patenting food ideas as their own such as Basmati rice. The poor have to pay for what was once theirs and should still be. This leads to large corporations possessing the patents, selling the seeds to local poor economies as they have the legal right (www.geneticsforum.org.uk).
Shiva (2000) claims this local knowledge is used as wealth property in world food trade. This shows the profound effect of global legislation primarily enforced by the World Trade Organisation, allowing patenting of indigenous knowledge. Western corporations have seized the opportunity whilst local originators were too unknowledgeable to realise this. Although patenting is supposed to be creating novelty phenomena, these natural occurrences such as rice products are not, but are shown as being.