Consumer1's picture
Since all stages of GMO conventional agriculture heavily rely on petroleum, how will this affect the price of food and environmental pollution in the long term? If we were to fully embrace GMO conventional wouldn't we be depending dangerously on a raw material that is getting more rare and increasingly expensive to acquire and process?

A:Expert Answer

The facts do not support the idea that GM crops are more heavily reliant on petroleum than conventional or organic crops. One of the largest uses of petroleum in agriculture is for running machinery across fields to mechanically control weeds through tillage operations. Prior to the introduction of GM herbicide-tolerant crops, farmers were already adopting reduced tillage practices, which were made possible with the availability of selective postemergent herbicides that could be used on growing weeds without harming the crop. Since the introduction of GM crops, many studies have shown that the adoption of GM herbicide-tolerant crops has contributed to the increased adoption of reduced tillage systems.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 By contrast, organic growers are heavily reliant on tillage to control weeds, as the use of synthetic herbicides is prohibited under the USDA organic standard. As a result, organic growers not only use more fuel than growers of conventional and GM crops but cause increased erosion and decreased water retention of soils. Further, the adoption of GM insect-resistant crops has reduced the use of insecticides,8 which reduces the number of passes farmers make to apply insecticides—another major fuel savings.


1 Fernandez-Cornejo, J., C. Hallahan, R. Nehring, S. Wechsler and A. Grube, 2012, “Conservation Tillage, Herbicide Use, and Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States: The Case of Soybeans,” AgBioForum, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 231-241.


2 Towery, D., and S. Werblow, 2010,Facilitating Conservation Farming Practices and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability with Agricultural Biotechnology, Conservation Tillage Information Center, West Lafayette, IN.


3 English, B.C., Q. Chi, R.K. Roberts and J. Larson, 2005, “The Use of Bayes’ Theorem to Explore the Adoption of Herbicide-Tolerant cotton Seed and No-Tillage Production Practices,” Proceedings of the 27th Southern Conservation Tillage Systems Conference, Florence, South Carolina, 27-29 June, pp. 42-46.


4 Givens, W.A., D.R. Shaw, G.R. Kruger, W.G. Johnson, S.C. Weller, B.G. Young, et al., 2009, “Survey of tillage trends following the adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops,” Weed Technology, vol. 23, pp. 150-55.


5 Marra, M.C., N.E. Piggott and G.A. Carlson, 2004, The net benefits, including convenience, of roundup ready soybeans: results from a national survey, National Science Foundation Center for Integrated Pest Management, Raleigh, NC.


6 Roberts, R.K., B.C. English, Q. Gao and J.A. Larson, 2006, “Simultaneous adoption of herbicide-resistance and conservation-tillage cotton technologies,” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics , vol. 38, pp. 629-43.


7 Frisvold, G.B., A. Boor and J.M. Reeves, 2009, “Simultaneous diffusion of herbicide resistant cotton and conservation tillage,” AgBioForum, vol. 12, pp. 249-57.


8 Brookes, G. and P. Barfoot, 2013, “Key environmental impacts of global genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2011,” GM Crops and Food, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 109-119.


Joseph Najjar's picture

To begin with, if we were to not use GM crops, farmers would likely burn much more petroleum. GM crops tend to produce higher yields per acre, in the naturally stressed farm environments they are grown in. If we did away with those, you would be left with lower yield per acre. GM crops are aimed at streamlining the process, and make it as efficient as possible. They use less water, and fewer pesticides than their non-GM counterparts, and produce more. Organic farming is great for feeding a small demand, but I think it is outlandish to suggest that it could feed our entire population. Only the rich could afford to eat under those circumstances. Here is a comprehensive study done in Italy, that looks at many of the issues raised with GMOs, including their efficiency and sustainability. Give it a read.

Joseph Najjar's picture

"In what ways might GMOs be most beneficial to our biosphere, and why might organic farming not be as good as to get us there?

There is no doubt that transgenic plants can be designed to limit pest damage with lower pesticide applications. That is well documented by the National Academies of Science, the best unbiased brains in our nation. Most data is for cotton and maize, and show substantial reductions (like 60%). Transgenic potatoes were amazingly successful in Romania until they joined the EU and had to go back to insecticide-intensive agriculture. Even glyphosate resistance traits, for all of their drawbacks in creating new resistant weeds, replace toxic alternatives.
Conventional farming takes fuel, labor, fungicides, pesticides, nematicides and many other inputs. Water and fertilizer are in there too. There are genes out there in the literature that address most of these issues. Scientists in academic labs discover these genes and define their function in lab-based GMOs that never are used outside the lab. The regulatory hoops are too difficult and expensive. Only the big companies can play in that space. Even little companies like Okanagan Specialty Fruits have to deal with the nonsense from those that hate the technology. Opposition to the science keeps the big guys in business, because nobody else can compete.
Who loses? The farmer, the consumer, the environment, the academic scientist and most of all the people around the world that don’t get enough food and nutrition. Who gains? Big Ag."

--From question 2, on page 13