Eric Stubben is a mechanical engineering sophomore and Mustang News conservative columnist. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Eric Stubben

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Around the world, one person dies of starvation every 3.6 seconds. Yes, that’s a real statistic. When you think about it, starvation is one death the world can prevent. It doesn’t involve the sophisticated ties of war or advanced medical research. Preventing starvation only requires one thing: food.

Luckily, we live in an era where we are able to genetically modify seeds to create stronger, healthier and more tolerant crops. Genetically modified crops can create a higher crop output, save farmers money, increase vitamins and nutrients in food and do much more. It’s a controversial method and has drawn debate from every corner of the globe, but modified crops are the key to a successful, sustainable agricultural future.

There are many myths as to what a genetically modified crop is, so I’ll start with a quick explanation. A genetically modified crop is one that has its DNA altered as a seed to enhance one or more traits of that crop. Some enhanced traits include extreme weather resistance or added herbicide resistance. Contrary to some popular portrayals, genetically modified crops are injected without any harmful chemicals, and no chemicals are sprayed on them to create genetic modifications.

In the United States, genetically modified crops are already very popular. The USDA reports that 93 percent of soybeans, 85 percent of corn and 82 percent of cotton grown in the United States are genetically modified. Most of these crops are grown to be herbicide resistant from seeds produced by Monsanto Corporation, the largest genetically engineered seed supplier in the world.

In 2010, reports showed that genetically modified crops were being grown in nineteen developing countries around the world. To add to that, though most of the world’s genetically modified crops are harvested in the United States, 90 percent of the farmers that actually grew genetically modified crops around the world were in developing countries.

One example of a genetically modified crop success story lies in South Africa, the continent’s largest grower of genetically modified crops. Monsanto’s program, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) produced a variety of corn that used genetic material from common soil in the corn’s genetic material. As a result, the corn produced 25 percent more in output than before in the same region, even through a moderate drought. If programs like this are successful, they can be implemented into other common crops to help feed more people globally.

Moreover, genetically modified crops have uses outside of bolstering crop strength. Genetic modifications can also target certain vitamins and nutrients within crops. For example, scientists are working with farmers in the Philippines to create rice  — called “golden rice” for its gold color — that has an increase in Vitamin A. Though Vitamin A won’t necessarily do much to improve world hunger, it can improve world health. Vitamin A deficiency is common in developing countries and can lead to blindness. Along with this golden rice, other scientists and farmers around the world are in experimental stages of modifying various fruits and vegetables to hold more antioxidants, key fundamentals to heart health.

With all the benefits from increased crop outputs and vitamins and minerals, it’s easy to expect genetically modified seeds to cost a high premium. But while they are more expensive, genetically modified seeds have shown huge increases to farm economy revenues. In Burkina Faso, genetically modified crops have increased their total economy by an estimated $100 million per year. If genetically modified crops can consistently help economies in developing countries around the world, they can open doors to increased nutrition and lower starvation rates worldwide.

Of course, I can’t write an entire article about genetically modified crops without addressing their vocal opposition. They often cry out about studies that show genetically modified crops affect cattle and their meat when they graze on them. Sometimes the opposition complains that Monsanto’s crops blow over and “contaminate” organic crops, which led to the “Occupy Monsanto” rallies in 2013. But the reality is to this day, the USDA has not reported one case of illness related to genetically modified crops. We as humans eat one gram of DNA per day, and eating altered DNA does not harm us.

Other critics like to criticize Monsanto’s hold on the modified seed market as being unethical and leading to lobbyists and politicians holding an iron fist over agriculture. It’s a fair point, but the market and other modified seed corporations cannot grow while being suffocated by protestors and uninformed critics.

The benefits of genetically modified crops are still being explored, but they are already enormous. Genetically modified sugars are used in biofuels to increase their efficiency. Modified seeds are increasing output on crops, decreasing crop protection costs for farmers and boosting economies, especially in developing countries. By researching and implementing genetically modified seeds, we are taking steps to fight world hunger and increase world health.

There is only so much I can say in 900 words, but what’s most important is for people to do their own research. Truth and fiction get jumbled in the thousands of stories and arguments that genetically modified crops provoke. Genetically modified crops bring about debates on ecology, the economy and health. Their arguments are deep, varied and complex. But through all the smoke and blurred lines, genetically modified crops will be the future of agriculture.

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