Through Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), mankind sought to solve the food shortage problem by producing more crops on limited land. We have been developing GMOs that have improved resistance to insects, pests, weeds, and virus infections as half of the world's grain harvests are disappearing during cultivation or storage. GMO use began in U.S. in 1996, and 57 countries around the world now allow the use of it. Four crops account for most of the worlds GMOs : beans, corn, cotton, and canola. In addition, six countries - the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, and China - produce more than 90 percent of the world’s total GMO's output.So far, no GMO cultivation has been allowed in Korea, and only imports of six GMO farm products are allowed. Focusing on soybeans and corn, the most commonly used for foods for livestock feed, GMO is more controversial in Korea than any other country in the world. Currently, scientific judgments about GMOs in Korea say they are ‘safe’, but the social judgments of consumers think they are ‘dangerous as their safety has yet to be proven’.
In the past the GMO development process, herbicide-resistant GMO crops to increase food production have been treated as a major point, but the latest development is trending toward improving quality of life, such as improving health. Now research is focused on developing crops with enhanced nutrients and health features, and consumer-oriented GM crops used in additives, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. In the U.S., fried potatoes using GM potatoes, which reduce the production of carcinogens, and Arctic apples which are made to have unchangeable color are on the market. Recently, there has been a growing global trend in which 'genome editing technology' is being used beyond GMO to develop crops and food products. This technology differs from GMO in that it can change genetic traits without inserting other species of external genes. In line with this trend, Korea is continuing its research on future biotechnology, including the development of disease-resistant crops such as grapes and apples that are resistant to fungal diseases, and the development of pigs that have increased muscle.
Despite the global GMO development trend, the Korean government has yet to respond properly. The government asserted that Korea has reached the level of global genetic engineering technology by spending huge on research over the past 14 years but failed to make it practical as the government did not approve a single case about it. Moreover, despite the natural need to secure biotechnology, which is expected to function as a global future food source, it was too passive and shortsighted for the Rural Development Administration to declare a halt to research on GMO practicality in 2017 in the face of opposite public opposition. The government should make a ‘strategic choice’ when it comes to setting policies on regulating crop development, promoting industries and securing high-tech technologies. This refers to a way of keeping national interests in mind securing minimum safety standards by considering dynamics or costs and benefits among countries. In order not to repeat Korea's past history of being left behind by the ‘closed-door policy’, Korea must enter the global future food war.
Currently, stances and regulations on GMOs differ from country to country. The United States, which sells GMOs, and the European Union, which exports surplus Non-GMOs, are waging a silent war. Japan is also easing bioengineering regulations following the U.S, to the extent that it plans to exclude genome-editing organism from safety regulations unlike GMOs. Yet the Korean government's GMO management policy does not seem to be able to follow these international trends at all. Korea should also actively embrace new technologies that are essential to securing competitiveness of the future global bio and food industries. Naturally there can be an opposition. However, if the government swiftly allows the market to sell GMO products that have been secured safety and sets up an indication system for consumers to know and buy them in the market, it can resolve the conflict.
Now, state-level GMO development research is not an option but a necessity. We should no longer give up our future growth food in an era of unlimited competition among countries.
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