By Liam Scott
NEW YORK (UN Press Corps) - The Commission of Sustainable Development recently commenced a debate about the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs first appeared in 1994, and have since received mixed reactions from the international community because GMO crops have undergone genetic transformation; subsequent environmental and health concerns persist. Despite these downsides, GMOs have evolved to present themselves as a modern way to combat hunger and malnourishment.
Although mainly developed states contributed to the discussion, they did display an understanding of the benefits that GMOs can bring to underdeveloped states. In short, GMOs can help developing states primarily because GMOs contain higher quantities of nutrients.
The cons regarding GMOs were made clear. Primarily, Australia argued that health and environmental effects from GMOs remain ambiguous. However, according to the WHO “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health” (“Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods”).
Still, environmental concerns may prove valid: “Between 1996 and 2008, U.S. farmers sprayed an additional 383 million pounds of toxic herbicide on GMOs”. The Australian delegate continued, saying that a lack of government transparency in Australia about GMOs has contributed to aversion toward the idea as a whole.
Harmful economic impacts were also mentioned, as GMOs could harm largely agrarian economies. Overall, this concern is not shared by developed countries like the UK because the UK’s economy is not based on agriculture.
The delegate from France maintains a rather anti-GMO stance. However, the delegate from France supports GMOs for only food production in developing nations. According to Russia, this means that France’s bloc is against GMOs everywhere for non-food items, like cotton.
A bloc composed of countries including the UK, Russia, the Netherlands, and Vietnam present a more liberal view on GMOs. This bloc agrees with France in that GMOs can help developing states in terms of food production.
However, this bloc argues for GMO’s in terms of non-food items as well, like cotton. According to the delegate from Vietnam, “heavy regulation” would be instituted in regards to GMOs that are cotton and other non-food items, in an effort to appease warier delegates.
The delegate from Vietnam added that information campaigns that are “not propaganda” would prove helpful in “destigmatising GMOs” through education. The bloc also mentioned that more GMO-research, like what the UK delegate says the UK presently conducts, can similarly help to educate a population who might be averse to GMOs.
Ultimately, these two sides find themselves divided by a blurred line. Commonalities remain, but glaring differences do as well.