A comprehensive New York Times analysis of genetically modified crops reveals that the technology has not lived up to its promise of increased crop yields or a reduction in pesticides and herbicides—quite the opposite, reports Danny Hakim for the Times.
“The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides,” writes Hakim.
But according to United Nations data reviewed by the Times, this has not happened in the two decades since GMO crops became leaders among some of our most vital commodities, including corn, soy, canola, alfalfa, cotton, and sugar beets.
“[T]he technology has fallen short of the promise,” Hakim says, pointing toward the differences between the U.S. and Canada—two countries that have embraced GMOs—and the European Union, which has been slower to approve and accept GMOs en masse.
According to the Times, both the United States and Canada have gained “no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany.”
Further, reports Hakim, another recent report conducted by the National Academy of Sciences found “little evidence” that GMOs had led to any increase in U.S. crop yields.
What has increased, though, is the use of pesticides and herbicides, despite the promise to farmers that GMO crops would eventually require fewer chemical applications. Over the last two decades in the U.S. , herbicide use has risen by 21 percent, reports the Times.
“By contrast, in France [where GMOs aren’t grown as frequently], use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.”
While there’s still no conclusive data that prove the technology of genetic modification is harmful to human health, the excessive pesticide and herbicide use is cause for concern. Scores of lawsuits have been filed by farmers with cancer and other illnesses they attribute to direct and repeated exposure to these chemicals, and research continues to point to the dangers.
“These chemicals are largely unknown,” David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the Times. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.” Bellinger’s research has looked at the connection between decreased IQ points and exposure to a class of insecticides.
And as Hakim points out, the chemical and seed industries are more than just friendly—“because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons.”
With Bayer’s recent acquisition of Monsanto, and ChemChina’s bid for Syngenta, the chemical and seed companies will have more power than ever before, reports the Times, with combined values of more than $100 billion each.
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