GM Crops: How secure are our major foods? | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

GM Crops: How secure are our major foods?

With an ever increasing world population food security is a growing problem, but GM crops could be the answer. Rachel Taylor gives her opinion.

In the face of climate change, researchers from the University of Leeds have published a timescale in Nature predicting the extinction of major food crops and highlighting the “transformations” that need to take place to minimise the impact of climate change.

Agricultural practices are generally considered to improve food security and reduce poverty in less economically developed countries, feeding an estimated 800 million undernourished population throughout the world. On the other hand, climate change will have a massively deleterious effect on good practices, making it difficult to adapt plants in the face of stress factors such as drought or flooding.

the world’s population is expected to increase to 9.6 billion by 2050, meaning food production will need to increase to over 110%...

With the world’s population expected to increase to 9.6 billion by 2050, food production will need to increase to over 110% in order to sustain such a massive increase. While this is unlikely to happen in the next 30 years, scientists are working hard to look for genes that may increase a plant crop’s stress tolerances. However, with the genetic adaptation of plants, comes anti-GM protests and scare-mongering amongst the public. With this in mind the CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) funded the University of Leeds study that set out to quantify the most likely points at which changes in crops will occur.

Co-author Julian Ramirez-Villegas has determined that “rather than focusing on what we need to do by a certain time, we know that there is a range of options and then we put deadlines on these options.” The team assessed the most vulnerable crops to climate change and those that would have a destructive effect on a large population, which meant looking at crops in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was found that three crops: beans, maize and bananas are “more unstable and are therefore projected to have large amounts of area under transformational change”.

It was found that three crops: beans, maize and bananas are more unstable...

Transformation of areas and crops is “unavoidable” Dr Ramirez-Villegas explained, there will be a certain point, often referred to as the ‘Malthusian Limit’, where the population of the world will outweigh the amount of crops we can produce to sustain life and massive changes in agriculture will need to be made. It was reported that in 2015, researchers made temperature-resilient beans, a ‘climate smart’ crop, which could mean that millions of people could be fed once the vulnerable wild type bean is no longer grown.


Many of the general public do not agree with GM crops

Dr Ramirez-Villegas suggests that "we need to work on the barriers to the adoption of technologies, as we know that in Sub-Saharan Africa, adoption levels are sometimes low," however, I believe that in order to do this education is essential. We need to teach everyone, not just those in poverty, that we can benefit from new technological advances in food security measures and that GM is not to be feared.

The research has been described as the “strongest evidence yet that climate change could have damaging consequences for food production and health worldwide".

Sci & Tech Editor. Biological Sciences student. Keenly interested in the subjects of plant sciences and genetics. (@Rachel_Taylor95)


2nd April 2016 at 10:56 am

Images from

International Rice Research Institute and John Brightley