The GM Food Debate

 This post develops and updates two previous resources produced by the BioethicsBytes team: Bioethics Briefing Number 2: Crop plant and genetic modification and Guide to streamed media 2. Genetic Modification. It consolidates recent media coverage of genetically modified (GM) crops and their wider implications for both local and global society. Through a series of short streamed videos it will provide teachers, students and others with the main arguments for and against genetically modified crops. The bioethical issues surrounding GM crops can be found extensively in both GCSE (AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC) and A level UK Curriculum.
GM Food

BBC - Topics: GM Food

The first of these media resources is Science in Europe – GM Food and You (5 min 48 sec, also available on Youtube). Funded by the European Commission, this short film aims to deliver some of the conflicting arguments about GM crops in an intelligible way. It is undoubtedly from a European perspective and as such applies a ‘precautionary principle’ approach to the topic, listening to both the scientific evidence and the wider societal implications. This has ultimately meant that in Europe regulation has so far been very stringent and any allowance of these farming techniques has been minimal.

This resource would be useful to open up discussion, as it covers the following topics: 
  • Potential future prospects for GM food technology.
  • The issue of safety for consumers.
  • Environmental issues of: reduced biodiversity, super-weeds and irreversibility of the technology. (See Prince Charles’ comments on this particular issue)
  • The beneficiaries of GM: farmers, consumers, developing world
  • Precautionary approach from Europe
Science in Europe - GM Food and You

Science in Europe - GM Food and You

The following video clips are from BBC news coverage. After a relatively quiet couple of year, a number of issues have led to GM crops becoming a hot topic for the public again. This include:

  • Food poverty in developing countries. Many developing countries around the world are suffering from food shortages. There are numerous factors that have caused this: difficult agricultural conditions, drought – climate conditions, lack of financial investment and political issues such as war. This has caused the demand for food to be substantially greater than supply, meaning that developing countries are now actively considering GM farming techniques and/or accepting GM food aid.
  • World food shortages. The cost of food and the materials needed to grow it have risen sharply in recent years, resulting in farmers producing less. In addition the global demand for food has increased due to an ever growing world population.  
  • The use of biofuels . On the one hand biofuels have been applauded for their potential in combating climate change (although this is itself disputed), whilst on the other their increased production has been blamed for soaring food prices. This is primarily because the production of biofuels ultimately requires agricultural land, and thus its increased production has reduced food production capacity.
  • Continued concerns regarding safety for farmers, consumers and the environment

The BBC news video article below provides a good synopsis of what are GM crops and some of the issues that surround the topic.

BBC News artcle - GM crops

BBC News article - GM crops

The following streamed news videos provide arguments from both sides of the debate:

  • Lord Dick Taverne (FOR) – talks of how GM farming has helped 11 million small scale cotton farmers by  improving both their health and income. He also explains that there have been substantial trials in America to assess the safety of GM crops and as of yet there has been no results which suggest anything other than the technology is safe. He admits that GM food does not hold all the answers for global food shortages but  will however help improve the situation.
  • Lord Peter Melchett (AGAINST) – begins by voicing his concerns regards safety. He believes the future is uncertain because scientists do not know impact the technology will have on the environment. He also explains that it will become increasingly more difficult to farm ‘organic’ produce if GM food is allowed to be grown. And finally he talks of how the consumer will not benefit from GM food as food prices will only marginally be reduced. He explains that this will result from the high cost of the seeds brought by the farmers to grow GM food.
The GM Debate (FOR)

The GM Debate (FOR)

The GM Debate (AGAINST)

The GM Debate (AGAINST)

In the final set of suggested resources, the BBC’s Jeremy Cooke investigates how GM crops could help Africa. There are three very short films (each approx one and a half minutes) in which he explains that world food shortages have contributed to sharp increases in food prices to increase sharply, to the extent that food is often too expensive for the locals to buy. Therefore Africa is looking towards GM food production to help ease this difficult situation.

Could GM help Africa?

Could GM help Africa?

The resources above aim to give a snapshot of the current issues concerned with GM food production. Many of these arguments contain greater detail and discussion, and therefore further detailed analysis of issues can be found in BioethicsBytes resources mentioned at the top of this post. It is important that when discussing the different facets of the GM Debate the following questions are asked:

  • Do you have an intrinsic issue with scientists inserting genes from one species into another?
  • Who would be the winners and losers in the production of GM food? The farmers? The consumers? The biotechnology companies? The environment?
  • Are you confident that GM food is safe? What safeguards would you expect in GM food production?
  • How do you think GM food production might affect the environment? What might the consequences be?
  • How does GM food affect the farming of ‘organic’ produce?
  • What other/additional answers to global food shortages might there be? 

4 Responses to The GM Food Debate

  1. The Guardian newspaper on Wednesday 13th August carried comments from several scientists exposing the flaws in Prince Charles’ arguments

  2. David Gerard says:

    The point Charles missed is that GM is for Monsanto to take ownership of everything. Science doesn’t address abuse of the law.

  3. […] Saved by Havencircle on Thu 13-11-2008 It only takes a spark Saved by learnal on Thu 13-11-2008 The GM Food Debate Saved by jdevaney on Mon 10-11-2008 Poverty – what is the cure? Saved by oriolvespa on Mon […]

  4. […] food poverty in developing countries and the ever increasing price of food across the globe (See The GM Food Debate). Both the availability and price of food has meant that people are now looking to viable […]

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