Volume 3 Issue 4

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Page 26 | Abby's Magazine - One of the most often touted benefits of Genetically Engineered (GE, also known as GMO) crops is that they are essential to feed the world's growing population. There are currently 7 billion people on this planet and expected to rise to 9.5 billion by 2050. If consumption trends continue, in order to feed that many people, we would need to grow one-third more food. Let's first look at this argument from an agricultural perspective. The vast majority of GE crop production does not go towards direct food consumption; rather, it is used for the production of animal feed and Ethanol. These are crops engineered to withstand, work in partnership with, and self-generate pesticides. They are not engineered to increase yield or face climate-related challenges to growth, such as drought tolerance. There is one variety of corn has been bred for drought resistance, but it is likely to only be effective in 15% of US corn fields and is not effective in severe or extreme drought, which we are expected to have more of in the coming years. Increases in yield from GE crops are a result of a decrease in yield lost to pests from Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) crops, pesticides, and an increase in fertilizer use (made from petroleum, defeating the purpose of ethanol). Unfortunately, growing weed and pest resistance is already decreasing their effectiveness, requiring much more dangerous pesticides and making useless one of the most used organic pesticides, Bt. These minimal increases in yield have come with major externalities, including but not limited to water pollution, pollinator loss, and soil degradation, that put future food security at risk. After decades of attempts, Big Biotech has not been successful in breeding GE seeds that increase yield or reduce water use. Conventional breeding outperforms genetic engineering when it comes to nitrogen use efficiency (the ability for crops to pull nitrogen out of soil, developing a more efficient use of fertilizer, ultimately decreasing the demand for fertilizers) and water use efficiency (WUE). Overall, conventional breeding is responsible for most of the successful advances in yield. It also happens on a much shorter timeline at a much lower cost. Industry studies show that it takes a minimum of ten years to develop a GE crop and nearly $150 million; whereas conventional crops take only $1 million to develop, improvements WUE and drought resistance naturally occur at an estimated 1% each year. While Big Biotech develop GE crops in a lab, farmers are improving traditional crops in the field. Due to this drag rate, by the time GE crops are finally released, they are actually behind their conventional counterparts. Conventional crops could also be more effectively bred to work in partnership with the cultural food needs and geographical climate and soil challenges unique to specific regions. Forcing GE crops into developing countries with higher existing biodiversity puts that biodiversity and future food supplies at risk by threatening native species and practices. There are an abundance of types of crop varieties (both already in use and wild) accessible to breeders and growers. It is important that we tap into this vast resource to expand nutrient diversity and accessibility. Considering the changing climate and increasing pressures on and demand for our scarce resources, Abby's Magazine - July/August 2015 | Page 33

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