Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops

Opponents of genetically modified (GM) crops are quick to point out the potential risks involved in planting GM crops and in eating foods with GM ingredients. Some of the risks, such as the potential for encouraging the emergence of "superweeds" that are resistant to the herbicides used on GM crops, and the inadvertent cross-pollination of normal crops by GM crops in nearby fields, are real. Others, such as the potential for causing future unspecified human health problems, are as yet undocumented.

Are there any known benefits of GM crops, other than for the farmer? A recent meta-analysis published in PLOS one concludes that indeed there are. The authors of the analysis reviewed all of the previous reports of the economic and agricultural impacts of three GM crops (soybeans, maize, and cotton) published in English between 1995 and early 2014; 147 studies in all. They found that in addition to improving farmer's profits by 68%, the use of GM crops increased crop yields by 22% and decreased chemical pesticide use by 37%.

Increased profits for farmers is not a bad thing, for it means they pay more taxes and have more money to spend (stimulating the economy). Increased crop yields allows more people to be fed per acre of agricultural land; something to think about as Earth's human population continues to rise even as the amount of arable land remains constant. Finally, reducing chemical pesticide use by more than a third can only be good for the environment.

I'm not saying that GM crops are perfect. I'm well aware that there are risks, some of which may still be unknown. I'm just saying that in any dialogue about whether we should allow GM crops, we should consider both the risks and the benefits, and not just focus on one or the other. Do not be fooled into thinking that there is only one side (yours?) in this debate.

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