GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived benefits either to the producer or consumer of these foods. This is supposed to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefits (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both. Initially GM seed developers wanted their products to be accepted by producers and have focused on innovations that provide direct benefit to farmers (and the food industry generally).
One of the objectives for developing plants based on GM organisms is to enhance crop protection. GM crops currently on the market are mainly aimed at increased levels of crop protection through the introduction of resistance against plant diseases caused by insects or viruses or through increased tolerance of herbicides.
Resistance against insects is achieved by incorporating into the food plant the gene for toxin production from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). This toxin is currently used as a conventional insecticide in agriculture and is considered safe for human consumption. GM crops that inherently produce this toxin have been shown to require lower quantities of insecticides in specific situations, e.g. where pest pressure is high.
Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants. Virus resistance makes plants less susceptible to diseases caused by such viruses, resulting in higher crop yields.
Herbicide tolerance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from a bacterium conveying resistance to some herbicides. In situations where weed pressure is high, the use of such crops has resulted in a reduction in the quantity of the herbicides used (World Health Organisation, 2018).
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