What Are We Really Paying for Genetically Modified Food?


There is the science of GMOs, there is the fear and hysteria over GMOs but where are the numbers on GMOs? In other words, what does it cost us to delay or forgo the adoption of this technology?

Consider this: according to World Bank estimates ,the Maternal Mortality Rate in India is 200 (MMR is the number of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth per 100, 000 live births). Compare this to China (21) or Germany (7) and clearly there is a long way to go. One of the main causes of a high maternal mortality rate is iron deficiency anemia. Yet the possibility of bringing fortified bananas ,developed in Australia, to Indian consumers to address this issue was blocked by anti-GMO groups.Here was the possibility of improving health outcomes,  not only  at birth, but in the life cycle ahead as children born to anemic mothers are more prone to stunting. The number of lives lost/negatively impacted by this blockade is not going to be a small one.

While we do not have exact numbers for that story, a recent study has looked into the actual cost of the delay in making Golden Rice available in India .  The study looks at the perceived costs of adopting Golden Rice ,and  how raising doubts about the benefits makes these perceived costs larger and the ultimate cost to the country. In this case, the opposition to Golden Rice and delay in its availability to those suffering from Vitamin A deficiency was estimated at  1.4 million life years over the past decade. The paper can be read in its entirety here.

From another perspective, here is a study which calculates the impact of foregoing growing GM crops like corn, soybean and canola. The yields for these crops would fall, prices for these crops and their derivatives would be 5%-9% higher , prices of related cereals and oil seeds would also be higher by 3%-4%.

This is merely a pointer to the issue at hand and I would like to emphasize that the studies should be read in full to understand that there is a real cost to delaying or opting out of adoption of GM technology. It is, of course, much easier to go the “GMOs kill Butterflies” route than actually follow the data and the equations: one reason why talking about the food system is so fraught!

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2 responses to “What Are We Really Paying for Genetically Modified Food?

  1. It’s interesting to see your thoughts on this. I’m inclined to agree with you that GMOs do have a place in reducing hunger and improving nutrition. At this stage though, I feel that they should be limited to those purposes. I think a lot more research still needs to be done on some GMO crops to make sure that they don’t cause secondary problems (like dead butterflies!). I’m also very uncomfortable with seed patents. Sharing knowledge to improve the world is one thing, protected knowledge for the purpose of profit when it involves the most basic aspects of the health of people worldwide is another altogether.

    • Thanks for visiting and also for your comment! As with any technology we need to be careful how we use GMOs. They are by no means the answer to every problem but do have a lot of potential which we could explore. I share your concern about the butterflies, (although part of the problem there is climate change as well as large scale deforestation in Mexico)and we can address this by making sure that milkweed loss is halted but this should not be a reason to demand the abandonment of GMO crops. Regarding patents,research and development on GMOs can be done by governments, non-profits, research institutes which could avoid the issue of corporate patents, a case in point is Golden Rice which was made available free by the scientists who developed it. However, the process of bringing seeds to the market is a long and difficult one today (Golden Rice has been around for 20 years but is not in the market yet). The intense opposition to GMOs makes the regulatory process demanding and expensive so that only thebig corporations would have the long term funds to last that out which is ironic! Some countries like Bangladesh which recently adopted Bt Eggplant/Brinjal have a more vigorous role for the public sector. Perhaps they are also motivated by the fact that genetic modification could provide solutions to combat climate change eg crops that can grow in drier/wetter conditions ,and this would be important in areas threatened by sudden changes in growing conditions.

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