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Environmental Studies

GM Crops And The MDGs

Millennium Goals
Major Questions

Golden Rice and India

Findings & Framework for Progress
References & Links

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What are the Millennium Development Goals?

"The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest" (UN Website, 2007).

The Eight Specific Development Goals:

1.    Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2.    Achieve universal primary education
3.    Promote gender equality and empower women
4.    Reduce child mortality
5.    Improve maternal health
6.    Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7.    Ensure environmental sustainability
8.    Develop a global partnership for development

The debate over genetically modified crops directly touches on five of these eight goals, and peripherally affects the other three, making it an incredibly relevant and important issue to understand.

GM Crops And Their Relevance To The Goals:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger: If the often cited potential to increase crop yields and to fortify crops against pests, droughts, and other abiotic stressors proves true, that would make genetic modification appear to be one very promising tool in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by reducing the risk of crop failure and making crops more productive.
  • Achieve universal primary education: Malnutrition has serious effects on cognitive and physical development.  If genetic modification proves capable of addressing micronutrient deficiencies, increasing crop yields, and helping to alleviate poverty, it seems likely that children would face less demand for their labor at home and would simultaneously be more prepared to succeed in an education system.
  • Promote gender equality and empower women: Genetic modification would seem to have little effect whatsoever in this regard, with the exception that it could help  current cultural systems and power structures to remain viable, thus possibly delaying some form of cultural change, although it would be imprudent to speculate as to what sort of change that might be.
  • Reduce child mortality: "Over half of all infant deaths in developing nations are associated with a lack of essential vitamins and nutrients" (Acharya, 2004).  Once again, the possibility of addressing micronutrient deficiencies would seemingly make it difficult to deny the potential benefits of genetic modification.
  • Improve maternal health: Iron deficiency causes anemia, which is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.  If current diets could be fortified with extra iron, there would be potential for great progress.  Likewise, other improvements in micronutrient consumption would also help to improve maternal health.
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases: Malnutrition, which "affects approximately one in five people living in developing countries" Acharya, 2004), amplifies the effects of infectious diseases.  Lack of essential vitamins and minerals weakens the immune system, thus increasing the likelihood that infection will develop into disease and limiting the ability of the body to recover.  Clearly, the ability to improve diets in developing countries would provide a great opportunity to help combat the spread of disease.
  • Ensure environmental sustainability: One of the promises coming from  supporters of biotechnology is that genetic modification will allow for greatly reduced reliance on all forms of agricultural chemicals by engineering resistance and greater yields directly into the seed, thus eliminating the need for expensive and environmentally damaging chemical inputs.  There is however, a dangerous potential loss of biodiversity with the widespread adoption of genetically homogeneous modified crops, as well as a potential, however unlikely, for extensive damage caused by a loss of control of gene flows once modified varieties are introduced.
  • Develop a global partnership for development: Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General, has said that "We will have time to reach the Millennium Development Goals--worldwide and in most, or even all, individual countries--but only if we break with business as usual" (UN Website, 2007).  The manner in which genetic modification is approached by the world community will have huge implications for the structure of this "global partnership," and also for the success--or  failure--of the Millennium Development Goals.

UN Logo

    Image 3: The Symbol of the United Nations

hungry mother and child

Image 4: A hungry mother and child 

African Classroom

Image 5: Child at school in Zambia


Image 6: An area which has not been managed
with sustainability in mind.

Last updated:  5/8/2007


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