The New York Times (NYT) recently conducted an investigation into the debate whether genetically modified (GM) crops are safe for consumption or not. In their investigation, they exposed that the problems related to GM crops are more basic than what was thought earlier. Here are the five findings from the New York Times investigation on GM crops:
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No increase in yields
1. The investigation found that genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated crop yields increases as compared to that of European countries. The aim of genetic modification is to make “crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests so that they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides,” as quoted in the NYT. But their analysis using United Nations data showed that both the United States and Canada have gained “no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre”.
Increase in herbicide use
2. At the same time, the investigation showed that herbicide use has increased in the United States, despite conversion of major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton into modified varieties. NYT also said that the United States has fallen behind France, Europe’s biggest producer, in reducing the overall use of pesticides; both herbicides and insecticides. “Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent,” the NYT reported. In comparison to the use of insecticides and fungicides in France, America has fallen by 65 percentage whereas herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.
It is a win-win
3. NYT in their findings claim that “the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons.” It that “the industry is winning on both ends”. NYT reported that Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Sygenta, a Swiss pesticide company, are involved in merger agreements that would increase the value of both companies to at least $1oo billion each. Both these companies, driven by their respective sales have reportedly grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half.
4. NYT found that weeds are becoming resistant to Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller Roundup, which would create an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned, NYT reported. It will reportedly allow farmers “battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons” sold by the same companies. “Growing resistance to Roundup is also reviving old, and contentious, chemicals,” the NYT reported. One is 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War chemical weapon. Another is dicamba. It is reported that in Louisiana, Monsanto is spending nearly $1 billion to begin production of dicamba even though Monsanto’s version is not yet approved for use and is already selling seeds that are resistant to it. It is also believed that this has led to some farmers damaging their neighbors’ crops by illegally spraying older versions of the toxin.
5. A comparison between farmers in US and France show that although the GM corn seeds used by the American farmer was considerably pricier than those of the French farmer, farm yields continued to be greater for the latter. But despite the greater yields, the farmer in France wanted access to the same technologies as his American counterpart as it would help him save time and money. The focus of the French farmer was on yield capabilities and plant characteristics more than GMO traits such as bug and poison resistance; which showed that ” yield is still driven by breeding plants to bring out desirable traits”.