Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Report on Genetically Engineered Crops

By: Chase Siegel
A new report conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council has answered some questions about Genetically Engineered (GE) crops, but has mostly brought up more questions, and established the importance of long-term, extensive research into GE crops, but also the livestock and humans who eat the GE products. Also, this was the first major study to include both farmers who use GE products and conventional or organic farmers who do not use GE products, but are certainly affected by them. The study's main conclusion is that "GE technology needs proper management to remain effective."
Since introduced in 1996, GE seeds have become extremely popular in the US, now constituting more than 80% of soybeans, corn, and cotton. This is because in general, although the seeds are expensive, they produce more profit for the farmer. While the technology is still new and evolves every year, most GE seeds are manipulated to be resistant to herbicides (especially glyphosate), to produce a bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt) that kills most insects that target crops, to produce a higher yield, to withstand changes in climate (specifically low precipitation), and to make almost every piece of produce as good looking, tasting, and consistent as possible. Future manipulations discussed in the article include plants that decrease the likelihood of off-farm water pollution, and the possibilities are almost endless.
This all sounds perfect, right? Well nothing is, and GE crops are no exception. The first problem found in the study is that weeds are becoming resistant to glyphosate because farmers who plant GE crops that are resistant to specific herbicides, like glyphosate, are now overusing the chemical, which happens to be incredibly inexpensive. Now, there are at least nine weeds that have become completely resistant to the common herbicide. The report suggests that farmers be encouraged, if not forced, to use a variety of herbicides and pesticides so that plants and insects do not develop resistances to a specific one. Another observation made by the report is that farmers who do not use GE crops in areas where there are many farms that do use GE crops end up getting much worse insect and weed problems. What is even worse is that weeds and insects are not the only things migrating onto the non-GE farms, now GE plants are "polluting" non-GE farms due to cross-pollination or seed mingling. This is very alarming to me because GE foods are so new that there is no long-term research done on the effects to humans over time. While I do not believe that there will be a danger, if there turns out to be one it may be too late, with GE crops destroying conventional farms in the same way that a weed or insect would. For now, farmers who grow organic or GE-free food can sell it for higher prices, but if the farms all become contaminated, the non-GE crops will die out because of natural selection.
Worst of all, GE seeds are patented. They are manipulated so that farmers cannot collect seeds from the crops to plant for the next season, but instead must buy the "new line of seeds" every year. Also, due to the patent, any GE plants that end up on farms due to cross-pollination or seed migration technically belong to the seed company, and not the farmer who owns the land, and never wanted the plants in the first place. This leads to legal battles, and usually the farmer must end up signing a contract to buy GE seeds. To control this problem, the report suggests that the government step in and both stop the consolidation of the seed industry, which is going on now, and also make GE seeds available to everyone who wants them.
This study is a milestone in the research of GE crops because it included the conventional farmers in the study. Throughout the article, further studies are suggested, especially dealing with livestock that eat GE crops and long-term effects on human health, acquired resistance to herbicides and pesticides, and the socioeconomic effects of GE crops.



  1. It seems quite remarkable to me that the more chemicals and pesticides we pump into our food groups and bodies, the more immune to their effects the negative entities we are trying to impact become. Weeds are becoming resistant to pesticide, bacteria are constantly changing to avoid death by modern medicines, and all the while the only thing we are doing to benefit ourselves is increase productivity and lower costs for ourselves. However we are becoming chemically dependent to carcinogens and moving further away from the foods that sustained health for as far back as history goes.
    And I'm all for capitalism, but you have got to be kidding that seeds blowing from other farms and accidently grow into other farmers plots is looked at as a form of thievery. There is no way that something such as natural stratification of plant life through wind and drainage into another farmers property constitutes that a farmer need to buy those seeds. That is foolish, it is not a horse wondering off that needs to be returned to its owner, it is a seed. The other farmer should buy the modified seeds that don't run away next time.

  2. That's why people have to be careful when they shop at organic stores, you may not even be buying organic food. As it is many people confuse 100 percent organic, organic and all natural. There needs to be measures of some sort in order to prevent cross contamination. While it is only a seed that one seed could ruin a farmers crop who might depend on selling organic food.

  3. I am all about organic food, however, how does one expect to feed the world from only organic farms? The demand for food worldwide is increasing dramatically. It is a known fact that farming with genetically modified seeds can increase the growing seasons for certain plants and increase the overall production of the plant. The introduction of nitrogen to farming alone increased the production almost 50%. Organic is definitely better but do we have a choice at this on a large scale?

  4. Another major issue with the widespread usage of genetically engineered seeds is that all of these plants from these seeds are essentially genetically identical. If we have an agricultural system where all of our crops are all genetically identical, our food resources become incredibly vulnerable to disease and plague. With no biological diversity, if just one bacteria or virus comes along that is deadly to a certain plant, the entire crop could be wiped out in a catastrophic plague. Maintaining biological diversity is crucial for ensuring that we will have a healthy and abundant agricultural system in the future, and promoting the widespread usage of genetically engineered crops could potentially significantly reduce the biological diversity of the U.S. agricultural system.

  5. Seed patenting is also a major issue that goes along with GMO's. If a farmer's cropland is found to have been accidentally contaminated with patented seeds he can be sued by the seed company, most often Monsanto, for stealing seed. This is bankrupting farmers and negatively affecting the quality and cost of food.


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