GMOs & The Environment


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 raise 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 soil, which helps to reduce carbon emissions, or applying fewer insecticides, GMOs help farmers to reduce their environmental footprint in many ways.   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. 

Reduced Inputs

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 soil.  Insect resistant genetically modified crops, for instance, have led to 1.4 billion pounds less active ingredient of insecticide used in the United States between 1996 and 2015. Over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide applications 8.1% and helped increased crop yields by 22%

Increased Efficiency

GMOs help 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 2015, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 180.3 million tons of soybeans, 357.7 million tons of corn, 25.2 million tons of cotton lint and 10.6 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 48 million additional acres of land.

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.

Tested for Environmental Safety

Crops from genetically modified seeds are studied extensively around the world to make sure they are safe for the environment before they reach the market.  GM plants are tested, and researchers look for any difference 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 characteristic, such as insect resistance. 

In the U.S., up to three government agencies review genetically modified plants for food and environmental safety, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally more than 75 countries around the world also review for food, feed, and environmental safety.

In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency conducts a mandatory review of genetically modified plants that are resistant to pests and diseases to assess whether or not they will impact the environment, including impact on beneficial insects like honeybees or ladybugs.  EPA also reviews and establishes tolerance levels for herbicides associated with herbicide-tolerant crops. You can learn more about GMOs and honeybees here

Have more questions about GMOs and the environment?  Ask us! 

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