Written by Ashley Ng and Dev Bhakta

The world population is predicted to grow to 9 billion people in 2050 and every 1 in 9 people is malnourished.

To increase food production, many governments have turned to genetically modified (GM) crops. Last year alone, over 179.7 million hectares of genetically modified crops were produced worldwide, nearly 10 times the amount produced in 2003. The success of GM crops is attributed to environmental and economic factors. For example, GM crops can be engineered to conserve water in agricultural production and to grow despite dire environmental conditions, which enables farmers to produce more efficiently and consistently and, thus, steadily increases the world food supply.

However, GM crops can also incur significant costs on society and our environment. GM crops can be modified to resist herbicides, which are sprayed to kill weeds. However, weeds can become resistant to herbicides, leading to the increased use of herbicides. If technology cannot keep up with the weeds’ adaptations, weeds would overrun agricultural land and, consequently, reduce food production.

Recently, research about Roundup, a herbicide that reduces weed growth, has focussed on potential links between Roundup and cancer. Roundup is a pesticide that is sold with a certain variety of genetically modified corn developed by Monsanto. The main ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, which when absorbed, travels to weed roots and blocks the enzyme that is necessary for plant growth. This results in the “dying out” of weeds, leaving farmers with just their crops. However, with no control of where this Roundup travels, there are concerns over how it could affect foods that are consumed by humans and animals.

To view these concerns an experiment done in 2012 with mice with ingesting maize sprayed with Roundup showed higher chance of having a tumor for these mice. However, there is still no proof, since there is no causation linking Roundup to this increased chance of cancer, as ingestion level of genetically modified corn had no correspondence with level of sickness. Although genetically modified corn is created to avoid having pesticides and herbicides, there is still a link to health issues as the mice demonstrated. Further research on GMOs is necessary in order to discover the true relationship of herbicides, such as Roundup, with the sickness caused by eating these crops as well the genetically modified crops.   

With the looming possibility that GM crops will have environmental and economic consequences globally, members of the ECOSOC should evaluate whether or not the benefits of GMOs outweigh the risks.