What is the value of genetically modified (GM) foods in today’s society?

Each week, we will answer a question from our readers regarding our operations and community outreach in the State of Hawaii. Submit your question by visiting the contact page. Thanks for reading. Mahalo!

From a global perspective, agriculture has an important role to play in addressing some of the greatest challenges facing our world today: improving yield, reducing our environmental footprint, enhancing nutrition, and offering healthy and safe food to communities across the planet in a way that is sustainable for Earth and viable for farmers.

Yield:GM crops are helping to keep agricultural products – food, feed, fiber and fuel – accessible and affordable by helping farmers improve their yield. GM crops have been developed to help farmers protect their yields from threats like insects, weeds, viruses and drought. Bad weather, destructive insects, weeds and plant diseases are among the largest threats to a farmer’s crop. The more a farmer can do to prevent their crops from being lost to threats like these, the more they will be able to harvest and ultimately supply to end-users.

Examples:

  • In Hawaii, papaya growers suffered tremendous losses when a papaya ring spot virus infected their orchards, nearly destroying the industry. Fortunately, plant scientists in Hawaii successfully developed a ring spot resistant biotech variety that is largely credited for saving the islands’ papaya industry and ensuring papaya continues to be available to consumers.
  • In Florida, orange growers are facing a similar threat from a devastating citrus greening disease that has forced farmers to cut down and burn their infected trees. Efforts are underway to save Florida’s oranges – and the 8,000 farmers who grow them – by developing a disease-resistant variety using biotechnology. Read more here.

Environmental Footprint:GM crops have helped soften agriculture’s environmental footprint in a big way. Below are some key highlights from PG Economics’ most recent report:

  • “Crop biotechnology has contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with GM crops. In 2012, this was equivalent to removing 27 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year.”
  • “Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2012) by 503 million kg (-8.8%). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for nearly two crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.7%.”

The full report is available here.

Better Foods: Ag biotechnology is also being used to help make foods better for consumers.

  • Several new varieties of potatoes have been genetically engineered to reduce the potential for acrylamide. Acrylamide is a chemical that’s produced when potatoes are fried, and is suspected of being a carcinogen. The new potato also resists bruising. Read more here.
  • Golden Rice is a biotech variety developed to contain more vitamin A than traditional types of rice. Vitamin A deficiency afflicts millions of children globally, causing poor eyesight, blindness, reduced immune response and other serious afflictions. According to the World Health Organization, some 250 million preschool children do not get enough vitamin A, and as a result, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 children go blind each year – half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. Providing more vitamin A can help improve the health of millions of children. Read more here and here.
  • For consumers interested in heart health, Monsanto has developed a soybean that offers a better-health combination of higher monounsaturated fats, lower saturated fats, zero trans fats and improved stability. Oil from Vistive Gold soybeans has:
    • 85 percent less saturated fat than palm oil;
    • 70 percent less saturated fat than fry shortening;
    • 60 percent less saturated fat than conventional soybean oil; and
    • 50 percent less saturated fat than a competitive high-oleic soybean.

You can read more about Vistive Gold soybeans here.