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How Do GMOs Affect The Environment?

Environmental benefits of gmos

You might have heard people talking about the negative effects of GMOs on the environment – and claim that GMOs harm the environment – but is this true? And how do GMOs actually affect the environment?

In fact, despite negative myths, there are many reasons why GMOs are good for the environment. In this article, we’ll cover the environmental effects of GMOs and how they can have a positive environmental impact on the world we live in.

Firstly, did you know that genetically modified crops can actually reduce the environmental impact of farming? And that GMOs can have other environmental benefits as well, such as helping to reduce food waste and improve air quality?

By making targeted improvements to crops through genetic engineering, farmers can produce more food for a growing world population while reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Whether it is less time spent on a tractor tilling the soil, which helps to reduce carbon emissions, or applying fewer insecticides, the positive environmental impacts of GMOs include helping farmers to reduce their environmental footprint. Additionally, genetically modified crops enable farmers to grow more crops using less land while applying fewer chemicals and conserving water and energy allowing farmers to be more productive and efficient. Both of these examples are hugely positive environmental effects of GMOs.

Below, we cover some more reasons why GMOs are good for the environment.

GMO Environmental Impact: Reduced Inputs

Reduced inputs are one of the biggest environmental benefits of GMOs. A major advantage for over 18 million farmers globally who plant GMOs is the ability to successfully grow crops with fewer inputs, including reduced pesticide applications and the fuel needed to operate tractors to till the soil. Over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide applications 8.2% and helped increase crop yields by 22%.

GMO Environmental Impact: Increased Efficiency

Another way in which GMOs help the environment is by allowing farmers to grow more crops using less land. Genetically modified traits such as insect and disease resistance and drought tolerance help to maximize yield by minimizing crop loss to pests, diseases and adverse weather conditions. Between 1996 and 2016, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 213 million tons of soybeans, 404 million tons of corn, 27 million tons of cotton lint and 11 million tons of canola, without having to bring more land into production. To produce the same amount of crops without GM technology, farmers would have needed to cultivate 55 million additional acres of land, so in this case, the environmental impact of genetically modified crops is hugely positive.

In addition, PG Economics estimates that farmers in the U.S. who adopt no-till systems in corn and soybeans as opposed to conventional tillage, experience approximately 45% and 55% savings in fuel usage, respectively.

Are GMOs Safe for the Environment?

Crops from genetically modified seeds are studied extensively around the world to make sure the environmental impact of GMOs is safe before they reach the market. GM plants are tested, and researchers look for any differences between the GM plant and conventional plants to make sure the GM variety grows the same as the non-GM variety. They’re also tested to make sure that they demonstrate the desired characteristics, such as insect resistance.

The health and safety of GMOs have been validated by many independent scientists and organizations around the world. Groups ranging from the World Health Organization, the Royal Society of Medicine (UK), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the International Seed Federation (ISF), along with various governing bodies on every continent around the world have all affirmed the safety of GMO crops. Since 1992, more than 40 government agencies have given approvals for GMO food, feed, and cultivation. In many countries, multiple agencies are involved in the regulation of GMOs. 

For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a mandatory review of genetically modified plants that are resistant to pests and diseases to assess the environmental risks of GMOs and their impact on beneficial insects like honey bees or ladybugs. EPA also reviews and establishes tolerance levels for herbicides associated with herbicide-tolerant crops. You can learn more about GMOs and honey bees here.