Plenty of people in public and the media have discussed the impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the environment. Many claim that they are harmful, but is it true? Is it possible that GMOs are not all bad, with no benefit to the planet? Despite popular belief, there are several reasons GMOs benefit the environment. This article will examine how GMOs affect agriculture and the environment.
GMOs Reduce Agricultural Inputs
One of the most significant environmental advantages of GMOs is fewer inputs. The capacity to produce crops efficiently with fewer inputs (like pesticides and fuel) is a substantial benefit for the nearly 18 million farmers worldwide who cultivate GMOs. These crops have helped raise agricultural yields by 22% while reducing pesticide use by 8.6% during the past two decades.
GM agricultural technology has increased yields by improving insect and weed management. Consequently, farmers that cultivate GM crops have decreased the environmental effect of crop protection techniques. As a result, farmers can produce more food for a rising global population and minimize agriculture's environmental impacts using GMOs.
GMO Farmers Have Improved Efficiency
GMOs also benefit the environment by enabling farmers to produce more crops on fewer acres. Insect resistance, drought tolerance, and immunity to disease are genetically engineered features that reduce crop loss from pests, illnesses, and severe weather.
Crop biotechnology was responsible for an extra 306 million tons of soybeans, 549 million tons of maize, 36 million tons of cotton lint, and 15 million tons of canola between 1996 and 2018. These increases came without the need for additional land. Farmers would have required 59 million more acres of land to raise the same quantity of crops without GM technology.
Therefore, the environmental effect of genetically modified crops has already been massive. Furthermore, fuel savings associated with fewer pesticide and herbicide spray runs (compared to traditional crops) have resulted in an appreciable reduction in GHG emissions.
Safety Fears Persist in Many Markets
Researchers worldwide have studied GMO crops to ensure their environmental consequences are safe. In addition, they examine any discrepancies between the GM plant and conventional plants to ensure that the GM variety develops similarly to the non-GMO kind.
Furthermore, independent 3rd party experts and organizations have performed their own studies. The Royal Society of Medicine (UK), the World Health Organization, the International Seed Federation (ISF), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and many other regulatory agencies worldwide have confirmed the safety of GMO crops.
GMOs May Benefit Bees and Other Pollinators
The EPA has studied the environmental dangers of GMOs and their influence on beneficial insects such as honey bees and ladybugs. It also evaluates and determines tolerance thresholds for herbicides used on herbicide-tolerant crops.
There is no evidence that GMOs have precipitated a drop in bees or other pollinators. Extensive field testing with commercial herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant GM crops has shown no negative impacts. The decrease in pesticide use linked with insect-resistant GM crops, as well as reduced tillage potential with herbicide-tolerant yields, may even benefit bee populations and other pollinators.
Some Organizations Voice Concerns About the Long-Term Effects
Although so many organizations have given GMOs the green light, some point out the unintended consequences of biotechnology. For example, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network published a report highlighting the four most common observations of GMO detractors.
According to the report, herbicide-tolerant GMOs increased the use of herbicides like glyphosate. Between 1994 and 2016, herbicide sales in Canada increased by 199%.
In addition, using certain herbicides alongside genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops has resulted in the emergence and spread of "superweeds" - weeds that are immune to traditional herbicides. The report states that 37 weed species have evolved resistance to the pesticide glyphosate in the last two decades.
Likewise, some insects have gained tolerance to the poisons found in genetically modified insect-resistant crops. The first incidence of pesticide tolerance was reported in Canada in May 2019.
Finally, some governments now believe that contamination from GMOs can have significant environmental, economic, and societal consequences. GM crop "gene flow" may threaten wild crop relatives, non-GM crops, and organic farming. There have been GM canola, flax, wheat, and pig escapes in Canada, while more recent contaminations have surfaced in Thailand and Japan.
GMOs Have Improved Output. Continued Study Will Illuminate the Long-Term Effects
Whether or not to include GMO products in your diet is a personal decision. As it stands, many organizations have stated that there are no health risks to GM crops. Moreover, the introduction of GMOs has increased production in an increasingly crowded world, and we should not discount anything that conserves arable land and reduces greenhouse emissions. Nevertheless, we should not ignore potential adverse effects and appreciate the hard work of researchers who do their best to help us make good decisions for our health and the environment.
Hard to Escape – When it comes down to it, it's almost impossible to escape GMOs at the grocery store. Many of the most common ingredients in packaged foods are GMOs.
If you want to avoid them, shop for organic foods around the grocery store's perimeter.
Recognize the Tradeoffs – Dealing with the environment is much less straightforward than we make it out to be. Try not to let your desire to help the planet make you too judgmental of the decisions you have to make. For example, do you want lower emissions and pesticides or less gene manipulation? Both may be good, but you might only be able to have one.
Keep it Simple – Don't get lost in the weeds. Whether you appreciate GMOs or not, do your best to eat simple, whole foods sourced from local farms. Whether GM or not, local food sources are generally the best choice for the environment and your health.