People can – and do – have plenty of legitimate concerns about the monopolies that have formed around GMO crops. However, as we’ve covered here at IFLScience, the science behind the technology itself is clear: it is both safe and, increasingly, beneficial to humanity compared to regular crops.
And as a new study in the Journal of Environmental Protection has made clear, a reduction in the use of GMO crops could even make climate change worse.
Using a model to calculate both the economic and environmental value of existing GMO crops, a team of agricultural economists from Purdue University in Indiana found that replacing the most common varieties – maize, soybean, and cotton – with their conventional counterparts had a hugely negative effect. Food costs would increase by between 0.27 percent and 2.2 percent depending on the region.
Most significantly, however, the switch back to conventional crops would require huge land conversion processes. GMO crops require far less land to plant and grow than conventional crops, so if agriculture regressed in this way, it would necessitate removing plenty of forests – which are excellent carbon sinks – in order to create more cropland.
Overall, when applied globally, this change would add the equivalent of about 0.9 billion metric tonnes (nearly a billion tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is roughly the equivalent of the annual carbon dioxide output of Japan, or about twice that of Canada’s.
On the other hand, if nations that already extensively use GMO crops doubled down on their usage to match the rate currently being exhibited by the US, global carbon emissions would drop by 0.18 billion metric tonnes (0.2 billion tons), a not-insignificant amount.“Some of the same groups that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also want to ban GMOs. But you can't have it both ways,” coordinating research Wally Tyner, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, said in a statement. “Planting GMO crops is an effective way for agriculture to lower its carbon footprint.”
Tyner is referring to politically motivated data cherry-picking here, the type exhibited by groups such as Greenpeace and the US Green Party. Climate change is a critical threat to our own species, and plenty of activist organizations like this accept that. When it comes to how to deal with it though, plenty of solutions are ignored or criticized for highly questionable reasons – including GMOs.
Primarily designed to provide additional nutrition or pesticide-resistant yields to communities, there has also been talk recently of developing strains that are resistant to the heat stress brought on by man-made climate change. Climate change-resistant and mitigating crops would be a huge boon to society, and with studies like this, it becomes increasingly precarious for anti-GMO collectives to oppose them.
This is a distinctly anti-scientific viewpoint.