Can GMOs Help Feed the World?


Can GMOs Help Feed the World?

The claims about genetically engineered foods have been quite lofty. Monsanto and other proponents of biotechnology are fond of saying that genetic engineering is necessary if the world's food supply is to keep up with seven billion people and counting. They claim GE crops produce higher yields, solve pest and weed problems, are safe for humans and the environment, and are the cure for world hunger.

As John Robbins writes, if Monsanto's true goal is addressing hunger, then their seeds would be designed to fix the core problems that underlie the hunger issue, such as:[1]

  • Able to grow on substandard or marginal soils
  • Able to produce more high-quality protein with increased per-acre yield, without the need for expensive machinery, chemicals, fertilizers or water
  • Engineered to favor small farms over larger farms
  • Cheap and freely available without restrictive licensing
  • Designed for crops that feed people, not livestock

If GE foods were really a viable way to eliminate world hunger, then meeting these challenges would be a powerful argument in their favor, would it not? So, what does the science say?

Monsanto gets a failing grade across the board.

With nearly 100 million acres of GE food now planted worldwide, Monsanto's crops have yet to do one thing to alleviate hunger, particularly for the world's less fortunate. In fact, most of that acreage is devoted to growing corn and transgenic soybeans for livestock feed.

GE Crops Produce a Higher Yield ... Right?

No—their yield is actually lower. Overall, research has shown a 5 to 10 percent reduction in yield for GE soybeans versus the conventional variety. Other GE crops are performing equally poorly.[2] These plants are weak, malnourished and fail with the slightest environmental stress or drought. Agronomists and plant scientists have made far greater advances in yields with conventional breeding methods than with GE crops.

The yields of GE cotton have been particularly abysmal. Scientists have determined that growing GE cotton in the US can result in a 40 percent drop in income. In India, the situation is much worse with up to 100 percent failure rates for Bt cotton, leaving farmers in total financial ruin. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, more than 182,900 Indian farmers took their own lives between 1997 and 2007 as a result of GE crop failures—a staggering 46 farmer suicides each and every day.[3]

GE Crops Require Fewer Chemicals ... Don't They?

It turns out that GE crops fail miserably in this respect too. GE crops actually need more toxic chemicals, not less. Eighty-five percent of all GE seeds are engineered for herbicide tolerance—specifically, Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" cotton, corn, soy, and canola seeds. As a result, pesticide use has increased dramatically. Since the introduction of GE crops, more than 120 million pounds of additional pesticides have been used in the US.[4]

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