One of April’s many honorifics is “Earth Month,” when we’re supposed to celebrate all things environmentally friendly (Recycling! Composting! Government intervention!) and lambast those things that hurt mother nature (SUVs! Coal! REPUBLICANS!) Partisan bickering can be such an ugly thing, can’t it?
Lost in the sound and fury of ideological warfare, however, is evidence of one thing that’s actually helped the planet in a big way: genetically modified crops.
A 2010 article in the journal Nature Biotechnology compared 49 peer-reviewed studies reporting on farmer surveys from 12 countries both in the developing and the developed world found that farmers who used genetically modified seeds achieve higher crop yields (meaning more food for consumers) using less insecticide.
From the study:
For insect-resistant crops, 45 results show decreases in the amount of insecticide or number of insecticide applications, or both, used on Bt crops compared with conventional crops in Argentina, Australia, China, India and the United States. The reductions range from 14% to 75% in terms of amount of active ingredient and from 14% to 76% for the number of insecticide applications. A small sample survey in South Africa found a reduction in the number of insecticide sprays in one of two years studied and an insignificant difference in the other year. There are no results indicating an increase in insecticide use for adopters of GM insect-resistant crops.
One characteristic – drought-resistance – empowers farmers to do more with less, allowing them to use less water to achieve better outcomes. Monsanto’s goal to “help farmers apply 1/3 less water per unit of output produced — while effectively doubling yields” will help feed countless people who might otherwise have starved because of adverse weather. And obviously, conserving resources like water by using less is a good thing too!
If we’re going to dole out blame or kudos for environmental efforts, we should look at the facts. As far as genetically modified seeds are concerned, they come out smelling like roses.