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Massive Science | Biotechnology + Agriculture = Good for the Planet

August 10, 2018
From disease-resistant crops, to agriculture microbials that allow plants to absorb more nutrients from the earth, researchers are identifying various ways biotechnology can help feed a growing and warmer world without wrecking the environment.

In a piece for Massive Science, Marco Giovannetti with the Gregor Mendel Institute explores why GM crops are better for the environment than you think. Too often, GMOs are recklessly grouped in with agriculture practices that hurt the environment, however, as Giovannetti explains:

According to the data: not really. GM crops appear to be just as sustainable and productive as non-GM crops, if not more so.

Giovannetti goes on to note that in both aspects of “sustainability” – productivity and biodiversity – GM agriculture has outperformed non-GM crops.

“… cultivating GM crops has proven better for biodiversity than the conventional alternative, because one way to maintain biodiversity in a local ecosystem is to reduce pesticide use. A GM crop can do this by carrying its own defenses, making pesticides less necessary. For instance, “Bt” corn is engineered to be toxic to predators that would otherwise prey on it. They don’t need as much outside assistance in the form of pesticides sprayed over an entire field.”

And while some claim that pesticide-resistant crops lead to increased use of pesticides, farming data dispels that myth.

“…according to a 2014 meta-analysis, GM-based farming has required 37 percent fewer pesticides than conventional agriculture.”

Additionally, GM technology is allowing scientists to engineer plants that grow more efficiently in an increasingly populated and warmer world – requiring less resources like water and land.

As climate change progresses, land becomes more arid, usable topsoil is depleted, and water becomes more scarce. Conventional crops are typically not drought tolerant, and so as human-caused climate change continues, agricultural yields could drop. One study found that each degree of warming will result in anywhere from a 3-7 percent drop in global yield in wheat, rice, corn, and soybean. Tactics to adapt to this include engineering crops to retain more water, or adding genes that essentially stabilize cells, make them hardier, and hopefully able to withstand the stresses of a drought.

Often, those who advocate for saving the planet, are the same group that label GMOs has harmful and determinantal to the environment. However, inferring from Giovannetti’s piece, to be pro-GMO is to be pro-saving the planet.