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Question

How hurt would society be if we took away GMOs?

Submitted by: Scott Kellogg


Answer

Expert response from Nathaniel Graham

Post Doctoral Associate, Biological Sciences

Friday, 23/03/2018 17:33

Genetic engineering has become an integrated component of modern agriculture, especially in the United States. Soybeans, for instance, are over 90 percent genetically engineered (GE) in U.S. fields. It’s important to acknowledge that this adoption rate is a result of farmers choosing to plant these types of crops themselves. Part of the reason that they choose to do so is because it makes their jobs easier. The most common types of GE crops make the plants resistant to insects or certain herbicides, things that farmers are constantly concerned with. By not needing to spray insecticides, or having to manage weeds with herbicides, farmers can put less effort into these aspects of growing their crops.

This is important as there are consistently fewer people who want to go into farming as a career path. The result is farms are growing in size, but shrinking in farmers managing them. With the inclusion of GE technology, farmers have been able to manage larger farms with a similar amount of effort. If GE technology was removed, society as a whole would need to quickly adapt to the increased burden put on farmers. With an increased input into food production, most likely food prices would increase. There would be a stronger demand for farmers and farm workers, which are traditionally difficult careers to recruit into. Additionally, crops would require more sprays of both insecticides and herbicides. This would result in not only increased chemical addition to the food supply, but also an increased carbon footprint as a result of the higher use of farm equipment.

It should also be mentioned that this only touches on the crop component of genetic engineering. If we also include things like cheese production, insulin production, therapeutics, etc. then the impact would be much higher. Insulin, for instance, used to be produced by forcing animals to make human insulin which was then harvested. By engineering bacteria to do the same, there is a much more humane production in place. Removing these sorts of opportunities would have a drastic effect on how society would produce needed materials.