Genetically modified (GM) crops, agricultural plants which have had their DNA modified using genetic engineering techniques, are safe to eat and do not harm the environment, according to a report issued in May by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The report also found farmers planting GM cotton, maize, and soybean generally benefitted economically. For instance, farmers using crops genetically modified to contain the insect-resistant trait Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) suffered fewer crop losses and used less insecticide. The added benefit of widespread planting of Bt crops decreased the number of some agricultural pests regionally, resulting in reduced crop damage even on fields not planted with Bt crops.
According to the report, it is unclear whether the technology is better for the climate than conventionally grown crops.
The report’s release comes as the federal government is reviewing how it regulates biotech crops.
Moving Past the Process
Hank Campbell, president of the American Council on Science and Health, says it’s important to have a national body announce GM crops are safe.
“It’s time to move past the process in America and focus on results,” Campbell said. “Organic crops are just a means of self-identification, costing more while offering no special benefits when compared to GM crops.”
“No one has, no one can, and no one will be able to find a biological pathway where anything is expressed differently in humans who consume GM fruits and vegetables,” Campbell said.
Fighting Global Warming
Mischa Popoff, a former organic farmer and a former U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited organic crop inspector, says he has never understood the thinking behind the argument GM crops are “good for climate.”
“It’s a rationale for a perfectly good technology which requires no such rationale,” Popoff said.
“We don’t use cell phones because they’re easier on the environment,” said Popoff. “Sure, it so happens cell phones are far-far-far easier on the natural environment than old-fashioned landlines, but we use cell phones because they’re convenient, not because of any environmental benefit.”
Monsanto is a leading proponent of the view GM crops help to battle man-caused climate change, and Popoff says Monsanto should be called out on it.
“This is an understandable marketing ploy: trying to gain public acceptance by playing into widespread-but-misguided fears of climate change,” said Popoff. “However, it harms the public’s understanding of how and why civilizations adopt new technology.
“The only thing worse than an organic activist who attacks GM crops [by] pretending they threaten organic crops is a GM crop executive who defends GM crops using fears of human-caused climate change to garner support.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
“Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects,” The National Academies Press, May 16, 2016: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/genetically-engineered-crops-experiences-and-prospects