There seems to be three sides when it comes to the use of GMOs.
There’s those who oppose it (such as organic and sustainable farming supporters), those who support it (such as the big GMO companies), and those who fall somewhere in between or are unsure.
What this guide outlines is potential ways to use GMOs in society in the future while taking a a balanced view of each side.
Why It’s Argued We Need GMOs Into The Future
There’s various issues facing society now and over the next 50-100 years, such as:
- a growing population
- a need for increased food production to feed more people
- a lack of suitable agricultural land to grow food (due to urbanization, salinization, desertification, and environmental degradation)
- water scarcity issues
- climate change and global warming from greenhouse gas emissions
- air, soil and water pollution
- + more
Now consider that GMO food and crops can be genetically engineered to reportedly:
- retain more water and need less water to grow
- produce higher yields
- use less land
- grow in poorer quality soils, fight pests and pathogens
- need less inputs and use less energy (producing less greenhouse gases)
- need less pesticide and fertilizer (leading to less pollution)
- + more
Based on the reported capabilities of genetically engineering crops and food – these capabilities have the ability to address many of the issues we face.
According to blogs.umass.edu, GMO has already shown immense benefits:
- ‘Over the past 50 years, population grew substantially and the demand for efficient food production increased. GM crop development accelerated immensely in the past 30 years to try and sustain the global demands for food.
- According to the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center, “in Bangladesh and India, four million tons of rice, enough to feed 30 million people, is lost each year to flooding,” and their team engineered a species of rice with a flood resistant gene (Ronald, 2014, p.2). This flood resistant gene enables more plants to survive floods, and more people are subsequently able to eat the plants.
- In our current food system in the Unites States, 80% of food contains derivatives from genetically engineered crops. (Ronald, 2014). The food market is already reliant on GM crop production to feed the people alive right now, and the demand for GM crop production will only increase as the population grows in the future.
- Certain staple crops like cultivated papayas and bananas would be extinct due to noxious diseases if GM resistant varieties were not developed (Ronald, 2014).’
According to TheConversation.com, reports on the adoption of GM technology has already shown favorable results:
- In the most comprehensive meta-analysis (of 147 publications) to date, researchers from Goettingen University have concluded that the adoption of GM technology has:
- Reduced pesticide use by 37%
- Increased crop yield by 22%
- Increased farmer profits by 68%.
- The yield and profit gains are considerably higher in developing countries than in developed countries, and 53% of GM crops are grown in developing countries.
Why It’s Argued We Don’t Need GMO’s Into The Future (or, why we don’t need to heavily rely on them)
However, there are also sources that point out:
- GMOs have their potential drawbacks
- By using GMOs to address other issues – we are simply using a band aid to cover up existing issues instead of solving those issues and putting in place solutions for them instead.
We’ve outlined some of the potential cons of GMOs.
But, Earthopensource.org also outlines potential cons and also outlines how there are other options and solutions outside of GMOs to help us going forward:
‘a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:
- Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
- Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
- Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
- Do not increase yield potential
- Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
- Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
- Have mixed economic effects and disrupt markets
- Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
- Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
- Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
- Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.
… there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.
The quality and efficacy of our food production system depends only partly on crop genetics. The other part of the equation is farming methods. What is needed are not just high-yielding, climate-ready, and disease-resistant crops, but productive, climate-ready, and disease-resistant agriculture.’
What Might Be The Best Use Of GMOs Into The Future, & The Best Way Of Managing GMOs?
At the two opposite ends of the spectrum, you have farming with GMO seeds, and then a more organic type of farming with natural seeds and natural inputs – essentially sustainable type farming.
What might be the best approach instead of taking one side (organic/sustainable, or GMO), is to look at the benefits and risks/drawbacks of both models, and combine the best parts of both farming practices while keeping negative short and long term impact to a minimum.
Different countries, different growing conditions, different crops and foods – all have their own challenges and solutions for farming and agriculture.
An individualised approach to each situation (each GMO and non GMO crops or seed) might need to be studied and reported on when making statements about them. This can contribute to an overall approach.
The approaches should consider all factors:
- the environment
- consumer/human health and safety
- farm workers
- the government
- independent scientists and researchers
- GMO companies
- Developed, and developing countries
- + other relevant factors and parties
TheConversation.com puts it this way:
‘… [we] propose that the case-by-case scrutiny of GM crops would allow the organic industry to show it is willing to use the smartest technologies for improving the sustainable productivity of food and fibre production.
Many labs around the world … are full of bright young innovative scientists who want to make the world cleaner and greener.
We have GM crop plants with enhanced nutritional qualities, pest and disease resistance, larger grain sizes and the ability to produce more food with lower fertiliser inputs. Many of these plants have been modified with only a few DNA letters altered from the “wild” genes.
Adoption would massively improve the productivity of organic agriculture, and the productivity boost would help make organic food price competitive. So let’s talk about GM organics.’
RoyalSociety.org builds on this idea:
Crop genetic improvement, by GM or conventional approaches, is only one of many methods that can be used to improve crop performance. Others involve improvements in farm practices, irrigation, drainage, and herbicide, pesticide and fertiliser use. Better food storage and transportation to reduce waste can also play their part in securing a reliable supply of foodstuffs.
Genetic methods to improve sustainable increases in yield are very attractive because seed can easily be distributed to producers. It is also an attractive commercial target, because seed is a definable product that can be traded.
Other developments include the use of GPS (global positioning systems) in what is called precision agriculture, so that fertilizers and pesticides are applied only where they are needed and in the right amounts. Remote sensing combined with computer technology is leading to better prediction and prevention of disease epidemics. And robots are being developed that could selectively kill the weeds growing among crop plants.
New understanding of the interactions between crops and other plants or with microbes in the soil will also inform a farmer’s choice of crop management.
None of these innovations, including GM, are exclusive of each other and although some may be more expensive to implement than others, all could play a part in delivering sustainable agriculture that meets global needs.
One example of addressing a specific issue with GMOs such as the creation of herbicide resistant weeds, and the increased use of glyphosate herbicides, is provided by blogs.umass.edu:
- create stacked herbicide resistant crops (resistant to different types of herbicides)
- encourage farmers to spray their crops with different herbicides other than just glyphosate
- use a wider variety of weed management methods such as crop rotation, cover crops and mulches, reduced tillage, precision agriculture, adequate seeding rates, seed quality, etc
- test using Roundup Bioactive (which can be up to 14 times less toxic) instead of the original Roundup
Changing the management practices of using herbicides will reduce the detrimental effects that many GM crops have on the environment, while simultaneously allowing humans to enjoy their benefits.
TheConversation.com has an idea for approaching the regulatory process of GMO’s:
- A reasonable balance between [the US and European] regulatory approaches is probably the most sensible way forward. Genome editing shouldn’t completely escape regulation.
- If it can be demonstrated that the edited plant doesn’t contain any new genes (including CRISPR machinery) then the regulation should be much less stringent than for transgenics, because the changes are so similar to conventional plant breeding. Sequencing the genome of the edited crop is a good way to provide evidence of this…
- Ideally, regulation should focus more on questions around the types of genetic modifications that we should allow in our crops than the way that they were introduced and where they came from.
- But edited organisms shouldn’t be completely excluded from regulation. Evidence should be requested, and provided, that new crops are functionally equivalent to the products of conventional breeding and the subsequent approval process should reflect this.
- The primary priority for policymakers and regulators is to ensure crop safety. Maintaining an open and transparent dialogue will be crucial so that the public can trust the decisions.
Some Of Our Ideas For Improving The Management Of The GMO Industry Going Forward
- Combine the best parts of GMO with the best parts of organic and sustainable farming (while minimising negative impact and risk) – instead of just choosing one or the other
- Consider forming an international GMO body with representatives from each country, that comes to some consensus on using and managing GMOs going forward, based on reliable/credible/non bias research, data and results from field studies
- Bridge the gap between the US approach and the European approach to GMO growing regulations
- Have a fully independently funded GMO research and testing organisation that has a fully transparent research process (there should be no question over how much access they are given to seeds or what restrictions they face in their research). They should have no conflict of interest either – the funding should be provided by an independent source such as the government
- Have a completely transparent research process that GMO companies, researchers and the public can completely understand in a simple way. There should be no issue over the credibility of independent studies or how long term the studies are
- Have some awareness over the monopoly a small number of companies has over GM seeds and some types of herbicides (such as Roundup)
- Assess each GMO and non GMO food/crop/seed differently and individually instead of GMOs generally
- Assess each growing environment different
- Consider the short term, as well as the long term impact of GMOs – differentiate between them in reports and findings
- Address other world issues directly (like overpopulation, climate change, water scarcity etc.) instead of using GMO as a cover up band-aid solution
- Understand that agriculture is a business for farmers – you can’t expect them to pursue a certain type of farming if it has high risk and lower revenues//profits unless you subsidise them for it and help cover their risks and lost profits
- Any solutions and ideas must eventually be refined to a point where they practical, but consider the benefits and risks for all parties and factors
Ultimately, this process isn’t a simple or straightforward one. It will take time, testing and refinement to get right.