Since more than half a decade, genetically modified crops are a highly debated issue. In the
1980’s, when scientists first began experimenting with crops for a better yield, the idea of tinkering with the DNA in our food didn’t appeal to a lot of people. While for some it was a break-through in science, others saw it as a potential risk to health. Amidst all the confusion and speculation, we bust some of the myths surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops, which are a lot more prosaic than the hype contends.
MYTH 1: GM crops do not cause an increase in the yield
Humans have been dissecting and mix-matching the genes of crops for decades by selectively breeding plants with desirable traits. So, the invention of GM crops wasn’t radical at all. Corn is one of the most widely used GM crops in the world. Over 90% of the corn sold in the USA is genetically modified. Since the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO), the yield has increased from 115 to 152 bushels/acre of corn in the US. Evidentially, such significant increase was possible because of the genetic engineering of crops. Furthermore, the yield of soybean, canola and cotton increased two folds in the post-GM era.
MYTH 2: GM crops do not reduce the need of pesticides
This alleged claim definitely requires certain parsing. The fact that GM crops were introduced to reduce the usage of pesticides and insecticides makes this scientific discovery redundant. Analyzing the case of USA, it is noted that the use of pesticides has fallen from 620 million to 590 million pounds in 2008. The United States is undoubtedly the highest cultivator of GM crops. A study by USDA made the following conclusion: “Pesticide use peaked in 1981 then trended downwards, driven by technological innovations and other factors.” On the other hand, Japan, currently doesn’t indulge in the production of the GM crops and has a higher pesticide application rate than any GM cultivating country. India, in a lot of ways, is still catching up with the trend of GM crops. Despite certain acceptance of the GM technology, India lacks enough funding, awareness and resources to modernize its agricultural sector. However, if India complies with the technology, the production of rice, soybean and maize could be increased up to 2.2, 2.3 and 3.4 times respectively, using the same amount of agricultural land.
MYTH 3: GM food is harmful to health
Many people worry that genetic modification of crops introduces hazardous proteins and toxins into the food chain. However, a plethora of scientific research has concluded otherwise. Almost 15 years ago, Hawaii’s Papaya industry was on the brink of disappearing due to a ring spot virus. A scientist named, Denis Gonsalves, restored Hawaii’s papaya industry by carefully monitoring and introducing genetically modified properties into Papaya. Additionally, while deducing the nutritional values of GM vs Non-GM papaya, it was found that, nutritional value of GM papaya is at par with Non-GM papaya. In fact, it is marginally higher than the natural variety. Another important case is of rice, where its nutritional value was increased by introducing new genes. Golden rice which contained higher beta-carotene to boost Vitamin A was devised as a more nutritional version than organic rice. Such occurrences, repeatedly assure that GM crops are not only safe for human consumption but can also be more nutritious than the natural version of crops.
In summary, there is abundant evidence that GM crops have major benefits and that foods made from those crops are safe to eat. Drought-resistant seeds, reduced use of insecticide and pesticides, higher nutritional value are only a few examples of how GMO is the next step in agriculture. GMOs do have limitations, and some of their benefits are threatened by the rise of pesticide resistance. Even so, on balance, GMOs are safe and produce real benefits.