Can genetic engineering produce crops that increase food production?

The most important argument for convincing the public and decision-makers about the value of genetic engineering of food has been the claim that it will produce new, valuable crops that may contribute importantly to the solution of the world hunger. Does this have scientific support?

There is not any one single gene known to be responsible for such productivity enhancing properties as high yield, increased nitrogen fixation, increased hardiness, etc. Such valuable properties are commonly the consequence of combinations of many different genes interacting with each other and the environment. All properties of a plant are dependent on complex interactions within and outside the organism (see The new understanding of genes). For this reason, the effects of a foreign inserted gene is unpredictable and combined insertions are manifold more unpredictable.

In addition, the artificial insertion of foreign genes disrupts the ordinary sequnece of the genetic code words that is believed to be important for normal functioning (see What is genetic engineering? and Genetic engineering possesses inherent unpredictability ). This adds further to the unpredictability of gene insertions.

Because there are natural protection mechanisms against uptake of foreign genes (constituting the socalled species barrier), even plants with single inserted genes tend to be genetically unstable. This instability is most probably increased considerably with the insertion of several genes.

For these reasons it seems, with presently available technology, unrealistic to develop valuable and genetically stable new crops through the insertion of several different genes. It remains to be proven that this will be possible in the future.

To believe that it is possible to produce fertile, healthy, stable and valuable plants by inserting many different "desirable" genes appears thus to be wishful thinking with no support in present scientific knowledge.


The belief that genetic engineering may contribute to the development of crops that would contribute importantly to global food production within a foreseeable future is not supported by scientific facts.

In fact, world hunger is not the consequence of food shortage but of socioeconomic factors as shown in scientific analysis by Dr. Peter Rosset in "It is a myth that world hunger is due to scarcity of food". Rosset's conclusion is supported by a recent FAO document arriving at the same conclusion (see "FAO report reveals GM crops not needed to feed the world").

So the main argument of Biotechnology companies to convince decionsmakers to promote GE-foods has no scientific basis.

Related articles:

  • "FAO report reveals GM crops not needed to feed the world" [EL]. In this report, the United Nations organ for agriculture concludes "The largely positive answers mean essentially that for the world as a whole there is enough, or more than enough, food production potential to meet the growth of effective demand, i.e. the demand for food of those who can afford to pay farmers to produce it." This progonosis is based on the application of conventional agriculture only.

  • Food? Health? Hope?: Genetic Engineering and World Hunger The Cornerhouse (1998) Briefing 10.

    Excerpt from the article:

    "Far from staving off world starvation, genetic engineering is set to threaten crop yields; to force farmers to pay for their rights to fertile seed; to undercut foreign demand for some Third World produce: and to undermine poorer farmers' access to land on which to grow food. Its cruelly deceptive promise of a technical fix for many people's lack of food not only conceals the unjust distribution of land and of economic and political power which underpin world hunger today: if adopted widely, genetic engineering technologies in agriculture would also entrench and extend these forces.

    Far from relieving modern agriculture of the need to douse the soil with damaging petrochemicals, agricultural genetic engineering is tailored to reinforce farmer dependence on chemical herbicides and fertilizers. Like the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it is guaranteed to set in train the further evolution of plants and insects resistant to the chemicals, resulting in unprecedented pest outbreaks and weed problems. At the same time, it is likely to reduce crop biodiversity still further and to trigger crop failures. Genetic engineering builds new health risks into an agricultural system already crowded with dangers for both farmers and consumers.

    Far from opening up new opportunities for farmers and consumers, a gene revolution in agriculture is part of a wider package encompassing international legislation and trade restrictions designed to tighten corporate control over food production. Instead of encouraging smallholder independence and farmer-friendly innovations in multiple cropping, non-chemical farming and agricultural diversity, companies promoting genetic engineering (and their allies in governments, trade bodies and research institutions) are working full-time - in accordance with sound business principles - to increase poor peoples' dependence on the corporate sector for seeds, agricultural inputs and produce, to restrict agricultural research to a single narrow channel compatible with corporate profit-taking, and to increase debt among those who can least afford it."

    Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology

    "Genetically Engineered Food - Safety Problems"
    Published by PSRAST

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