The Problem With Genetically Engineered Crops

So I read the peer-reviewed article, Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops: A misguided strategy for the twenty-first century?, and it was pretty interesting. My focus for this blog is intended to be on the the struggles or issues many modern gardeners face. I have heard a lot lately about genetically engineered (GE) crops, or genetically modified organisms (GMO), so I decided to look into it and ask my informants what their opinions of GE crops are. Then, I intend to find out what they think about GE crops, after I inform them of the information in the article. It will be interesting to see what their opinions and experiences have been with GE crops and the related herbicides.

Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops: A misguided strategy for the twenty-first century?, by Debbie Barker, was published in 2014, for the Society for International Development (SID). Debbie Barker is the international director for the Center of Food Safety (CFS) and was formerly the the director of the International Forum for Globalization (IFG), a think tank on economic globalization issues (IFG, 2017, http://ifg.org/debbie-barker/). In the article, Barker covers three main misconceptions, 1) GE crops will help alleviate the poverty and hunger epidemics, 2) The use of GE crops means less use of chemicals in agriculture, and 3) GE crops have a higher yield than non-GE crops.

  1. “A major cause of malnutrition is because of decreasing diversity in diets” (Barker, 2014, pg 194). According to Barker, encouraging home gardening, to supply a greater variety of crops will do more for a society in need than a GE crop that is packed with one thing that the consumer needs. “Growing more species of plants creates biodiversity that is needed to maintain the long-term stability of any ecosystem” (Barker, 2014, pg 194).  Biodiversity, the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem, is essential to the survival of an ecosystem. Without biodiversity there would be no balance and no life. The common mono-crop system used to farm GE crops is not helping the case. The mono-crop system is the practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, without crop rotations or without growing multiple crops at once on the same piece of land. In order for the piece of farming land to be efficient there needs to be a rotation of crops to keep the soil fertile and producing.
  2. While most people believe that GE crops are great because they have so many new advances that make growing them easier, the truth is that there have only been two successful traits of the GE crops. These traits are 1) herbicide resistance and 2) pest-resistance (Barker, 2014, pg 193). However, chemicals often drift and end up in water sources and/or terrestrial habitats and can cause unforeseen harm. Monsanto is a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation. Monsanto is a leading producer of GE seeds and the herbicide, Roundup (Wikipedia, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto). Monsanto produces their signature Roundup Ready GE crops, which makeup around 85% of the GE crops grown in the United States today (Barker, 2014, pg 194). These GE crops are glyphosate resistant. Glyphosate is the leading ingredient in Roundup and is a broad spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds and grasses that compete with the crops. Due to the glyphosate resistance, the crops could be sprayed thoroughly with Roundup and would be relatively unaffected but the weeds around the crops would be eradicated. However, some weeds, appropriately nicknamed super weeds, have built up a strong tolerance for glyphosate. Although herbicide resistance in weeds is common if you use it enough, glyphosate was supposed labeled unlikely to build resistance in weeds, however, it the resistance has occurred at an unexpectedly quick rate (Barker, 2014, 195). Since there are so many super weeds, some companies are petitioning the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to permit the use of highly toxic chemicals, such as propazine and 2,4-D to kill the super weeds (Barker, 2014, pg 195). To help kill weeds that are resistant to glyphosate, Dow AgroSciences is seeking USDA approval of duo-herbicide resistant crops, GE crops that are resistant to a blend of glyphosate and 2,4-D (Gary et al., 1996; Tanner et al., 2009; Schinasi and Leon, 2014). Scientists agree that the weeds will most likely build resistance to 2,4-D quickly and 2,4-D drift will damage nearby sensitive plant, but they green-lighted it anyway. Meanwhile, Monsanto is planning their next project of dicamba resistant GE crops. Dicamba has been known to increase rates of colon and lung cancer in farmers (Barker, 2014, pg 195). Based on numbers from between 1996 and 2011, “pesticide data from [USDA] shows that around 527 million pounds more herbicides were sprayed in the United States than would likely have been the case without [GE] crops” (Barker, 2014, pg 194; Benbrook, 2012).
  3. “To date, traits of drought tolerance, salt tolerance, or other climate change-ready traits in GE crops have not been demonstrated” (Barker, 2014, pg 196). According to multiple studies done in many different places, there is little to no difference in drought tolerance between GE drought resistant crops and conventional drought resistant crops. There seems to be no resistance toward severe droughts and there seems to be no trait to improve water-use efficiency. In some studies, it has been found that GE crops perform worse than conventional crops already grown in the areas.The yield of the GE crops tends to be either the same or less than the yield of the conventional crops. Meanwhile, the prices of GE seeds is quite costly and not affordable for poor farmers. The cost of the seeds and the yield they produce do not balance each other, causing many farmers in developing countries to acquire debt further hindering the alleviation of the hunger and poverty epidemics.

Barker’s article thoroughly illustrates that GE crops would be a good idea if they worked, however, it seems that GE crops are doing more harm than good. “Public breeding programs that focus on improving local and traditional seeds that do not require chemicals and synthetic fertilizers are a true twenty-first century approach to building resilient, self-reliant farming systems, especially in times of climate chaos” (Barker, 2014, pg 198).

Article Citation (APA):

Barker, D. (2014). Genetically engineered (GE) crops: A misguided strategy for the twenty-first century? Development, 57(2), 192-200. dos:http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/dev.2014.68

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2 thoughts on “The Problem With Genetically Engineered Crops

  1. Lirulin says:

    Wow! I find it shocking to learn that GMO have inadvertently been connected to cancer (but it makes a lot of sense). Were you aware of the fact that these “designer” seeds are also protected under law — sort of like a plant based copyright? I’ve heard of trucks that pass down the interstate carrying GMO seeds from Monsanto and the beds of those trucks were open. As a result the wind sort of carried away this fine layer of seeds for most of the route traveled. When those seeds were found to be growing in fields that did not belong to Monsanto supporters… those farmers were SUED! Can you believe that?

    Like

    1. radanthropology says:

      I haven’t heard that one but I have heard similar things. I think it’s crazy that some farmers have to buy these expensive seeds every year because reusing left over seeds would get them in trouble.

      Like

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