Today, after the previous columns briefly describing genetic engineering and GMO traits found in agriculture, it’s time to wrap this up. So IS GMO technology a Blessing or a Curse? That is up to the reader to decide based on facts and reasoning. To help let’s list the potential benefits followed by the potential pitfalls as objectively as possible.
• Higher yields - In 2010 estimates indicate the world’s corn crop was 31 million tons larger while the soybean crop was 14 million tons larger than without the use of biotech crops. This doesn’t include the next generation of GMO crops increasing production and nutrition in the developing world.
• Improved resistance to insects and diseases resulting in healthier plants using fewer pesticides. This also produces higher quality foodstuffs with less yield loss.
• Fuel and labor savings from decreased trips over the field and greater adoption of conservation tillage.
• Herbicide tolerance for crops allowing for better water and nutrient use efficiency in addition to increased crop quality. This also allows for the use of safer, less persistent herbicides.
• Improved water and air quality with the adoption of conservation tillage, the use of fewer pesticides, increased nutrient efficiency and more water efficient crops.
• Increased producer income with lower input costs.
• Improved cold, heat and drought tolerance for crops. Improved nutrition for foodstuffs.
• Decrease in the time it takes to bring a hybrid or variety with a desired trait to producers.
• Pharmaceuticals – Plants developed as edible, easy to store vaccines.
• Government regulation and scrutiny insure these crops are safe.
• Unintended harm to non-target organisms such as butterflies and bees. Lab studies have demonstrated this in the field but not in the field. This area also includes the elimination of weed species from fields that beneficial organisms rely on to reproduce and grow.
• Development of resistance to pesticides such as the Bt toxin and glyphosate. Critics point to the increasing number of weed species that have developed resistance to glyphosate due to overuse.
• Transfer of traits (herbicide and insect) resistance to non-target species. This includes the development of “super weeds” and the crossing of traits to non GMO crops.
• The cost of the technology to producers and consumers.
• The concentration of this technology to a handful of corporations.
• Allergies and potential effects to human beings from these genetic changes. This includes allergies when genetics are transferred from other species to common crops and potential carcinogenic effects. As of today, no repeatable reputable studies have stood up to scientific scrutiny demonstrating this.
• We don’t know what will happen due to poor government oversight.
As you might guess, there is more. It is up to each individual to thoughtfully examine and weigh the evidence in order to determine their thoughts on genetically engineered crops.