There’s two sides of the debate when it comes to the potential impact of GMOs on the environment.
One side outlines the potential positive impact, while the other side outlines the potential negative.
Both sides are outlined below.
Potential Positive Impact Of GMOs On The Environment
- There’s currently a scientific consensus that GMOs overall aren’t a big risk for the environment
To date, more than 3,000 scientific studies have assessed the safety of these crops in terms of human health and environmental impact. These studies together with several reviews performed on a case-by-case from regulatory agencies around the world have enabled a solid and clear scientific consensus: GM crops have no more risk than those that have been developed by conventional breeding techniques.
In addition, there is also extensive literature that compiles the socioeconomic and environmental benefits that transgenic crops have reported in two decades of commercialization
- Reduced land use
What is increasingly reported about GMO farms is that they produce higher yields.
Higher yields means producing the same or a higher amount of food from the same plot area of land.
Reduced land use is beneficial for a range of reasons environmentally.
GM crops increase productivity on existing agricultural land and protect biodiversity by sparing lands not intensively cultivated. Through enhanced adoption of conservation tillage practices, the reduction of insecticide use, and the use of more environmentally benign herbicides that increase yields, GM agriculture has alleviated pressure to convert additional land into agricultural use.
- Reduced soil erosion and soil contamination
GMO crops and foods are reported to increase conservation tillage, decrease pesticide use, and decrease fertilizer use.
Decreased overall tillage means soil is disturbed less, and less synthetic chemicals means less soil contamination.
- Reduced water pollution
GMO crops and foods that are engineered to be more pest resistant and need less nitrogen, don’t need as much pesticide or fertilizer.
A common issue in agriculture is run off of pesticide chemicals and nitrogen from fertiliser into water sources, which pollutes the water.
Less pesticides and fertilizers has the potential to decrease water pollution.
- Reduced air pollution
As outlined above, GMOs can reduce the need for pesticides and fertilizer.
Pesticides can get into the air and reduce air quality, and nitrogen can break down and emit ammonia or nitrous oxide into the air.
GMOs can reduce air pollution in this way.
- Can help conserve water
GMO seeds can be engineered to retain moisture longer, which reduces the need for freshwater irrigation.
This helps conserve water.
- Reduced impact on climate change, water scarcity/freshwater resources, land use and other environmental issues
GMO seeds that use less inputs, less energy, less land, less water etc. – all help address bigger environmental issues like global warming, water scarcity, land use and land erosion and more.
Potential Negative Impact Of GMOs On The Environment
- Can create super or herbicide resistant weeds
Weeds in certain parts of the world or on different farms have started to show resistance to certain herbicides, and this has been linked to herbicide tolerant GMOs
Herbicide resistant weeds can be hard to eradicate and can take over other plant species in their environment, as well as require more or different herbicides to eradicate
An example of herbicide resistant weeds has been seen in North America with glyphosate resistance (GR) shown by the weeds there. The more you spray glyphosate, the more likely it is that the weeds will evolve to survive glyphosate treatment.
- Can reduce biodiversity
Through having GMOs that are engineered all the same, and especially if super weeds or super plants develop and take over other plant populations
Whereas, with natural foods, crops and plants, may produce more diversity in gene sets
- More water pollution
If super weeds develop, and GMO crops are sprayed with MORE herbicides, this increases the chance of runoff of these herbicides into water sources
– http://earthopensource.org, bettermeetsreality.com
The increased amount of spraying due to GR weeds leads to a higher amount of glyphosate found in our groundwater, surface water, soils, and precipitation
The glyphosate can pollute through runoff, pesticide-drift, and leaching through the ground.
- More air pollution
If more herbicide is used, or insecticides – to treat weeds and pests – this increases the amount of chemicals in the air and lowers air quality as well as polluting the air
- More soil contamination, and more soil erosion
If more pesticide is used on weeds and pests, this increases the amount of chemicals that seep into the soil, and increases soil contamination.
Also, if resistant weeds develop, more soil tillage is required and this erodes the soil further
- Unintended effects on biogeochemistry
Especially through impacts on soil microbial populations that regulate the flow of nitrogen, phosphorus and other essential elements
- The transfer of inserted genetic material to other domesticated or native populations
Generally known as gene flow, through pollination, mixed matings, dispersal or microbial transfer.
This can happen out in the wild between natural and GMO plants, crops and foods.