The growing use of biotech crops worldwide has generated its fair share of controversy and questions, but more and more scientists agree that biotech, or genetically modified, crops and foods have an important role to play in the future of global agriculture. Recently, the Genetic Literacy Project—a nonprofit organization aiming to improve public awareness and understanding of issues around genetics and biotechnology—compiled a list of 10 key reasons why the world needs biotech crops and foods, clearly outlining the benefits that this technology can bring to farmers, countries, and individual consumers. Read on to learn more.
Biotech crops contribute to food security.
Thanks to the use of biotech crops, farmers were able to grow nearly 312 million more tons of food over the last 15 years than would have been possible using only conventional crops.
Small farmers are among those who benefit most from crop biotechnology.
Of the 17 million farmers worldwide who are growing biotech crops, 90% are farming very small plots of land (just 10 hectares or less). The limited size of these farms makes farmers extremely vulnerable to crop damage from insects, disease, or other environmental factors: the very things that modern biotech crops are engineered to resist. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the rate of biotech crop farming in developing countries, where most of these small farms are located, is at least three times faster and five times larger than in industrialized countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
Biotech crops boost economic growth.
Worldwide, GM crops bring an average of $130 in economic benefits for every hectare planted. That’s an impressive amount considering that the last 16 years have seen a 100-fold increase in the global number of planted biotech crop acres: from 1.7 million hectares during the early days of GM crop use to today’s figure of 170 million hectares.
Biotech crops help farmers reduce chemical use.
GM crops are designed to be able to withstand damage or competition from pests and weeds, meaning that farmers do not need to rely nearly as much on pesticides and herbicides to protect their crops and ensure a healthy growing season and harvest. The ISAAA estimates that the use of pest-resistant biotech crops leads to 521,000 fewer pounds of pesticides being used every year; herbicide runoff is similarly reduced by 70%.
Biotech crops boost yields.
Biotech crops can deliver great gains when it comes to yields and productivity. In some cases, GM crop yields can be 7-20% higher than yields produced by conventional crop varieties. As the global population increases, the ability to get more food from the same amount of farmland will be critical in ensuring food security and helping to avert a global food crisis.
Biotech crops lead to increased incomes for poorer farmers.
Because GM crops typically produce greater and more reliable yields, they are instrumental in helping increase the incomes of the farmers growing them. This increase in turn has the effect of lifting more families out of poverty and reducing malnutrition, particularly in developing countries. In India, for example, undernourishment in families has dropped in proportion to the growing rate of adoption of GM cotton; experts estimate that if all non-GM cotton growers in India began planting Bt cotton, the resulting income boost would reduce food insecurity by as much as 20%.
Using biotech crops helps promote sustainable farming practices.
When compared with conventional crops, biotech crops do not need as much in the way of field operations, particularly tillage: the process of turning over or loosening the soil after harvest and a practice that can lead to the erosion of vital topsoil and nutrients due to rain and wind erosion. Reducing tillage therefore leaves more residue of the previous crop intact, thus adding more healthy organic matter to the soil and also reducing the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are produced when tilled residue breaks down.
Foods made with biotech crops or GM ingredients are safe to eat.
In spite of the popular myth that eating GM foods can be harmful to human health, or can even cause death, a quarter-century of independent research from a huge variety of organizations in many different countries have yet to find scientific evidence documenting that consuming GM foods impairs or harms our health in any way.
GM foods can boost nutrition and promote health.
In contrast to popular mythmany biotech crops are actually engineered to be higher in nutrition than their conventional counterparts. A number of these crops are currently awaiting approval, including Golden Rice, which is enhanced with vitamin A; a mustard seed oil which is high in carotene; and enriched sweet potatoes.
Biotech crops complement conventional and organic farming techniques.
Another pervasive myth surrounding biotech crops is that they can “contaminate” conventionally or organically grown crops. However, this claim has been widely rejected by independent scientists.