Genetically Engineered Crops are Here to Stay
I am from Louisburg, Kansas. Population: 4,382. We are a town of farmers. In fact, my front yard is a cornfield. I have been looking at crops every day since the day I was born. On the surface, crops today do not look any different than they did the day I was born, but the same cannot be said for their genes. The world, myself included, has watched as the “GMO” debate has played out in the media, with the public going back and forth over whether or not genetically-modified ingredients should be allowed on the shelves of their local grocery stores. Meanwhile back home, farmers simply have wanted to plant whatever will result in a high quality crop that turns a profit. A new meta-analysis published in Scientific Reports compiled 21 years of field data which summarizes and clarifies the scientific opinion on genetically engineered corn (maize). The consensus? A definitive ‘yay’ for genetically engineered corn due to higher yields and higher quality.
Before jumping into the results of the meta-analysis, here are some answers to FAQs relating to genetic modification:
What is GE? What is the difference between GE and GMO?
GE stands for genetically engineered. GE is used to refer to anything that has any sort of altered genes. GMO stands for genetically-modified organism. GE and GMO mean the same thing, but GMO is a term that was popularized by the media, not by science. In scientific publications, the term GE is more common.
What does the term “stacked” mean?
“Gene stacking” is combining different genes into a recombined single plant. The science community uses the terms “gene pyramiding” and “multigene transfer” as well when referring to gene stacking.
How much of America’s crops right now are GE?
In short, most of them:
As of 2017, 92% of America’s corn is genetically modified, up from only 4% in 1997.
The meta-analysis’s conclusions make it clear why so much of our corn is GE. Here are some of the main conclusions of the meta-analysis
- GE crops had higher yields than non-GE crops.
This means that fields of GE crops produced more ears of corn than fields of non-GE crops.
- GE corn had fewer damaged ears and less mycotoxin.
Mycotoxin is a fungus that grows on corn when the kernels are damaged. Mycotoxin is dangerous to humans and causes a plethora of ailments. Because GE corn is often “stacked” to be insect resistant and herbicide resistant, GE corn had less physical damage on the ears. Thus, less mycotoxin was able to grow.
- Corn rootworms were fewer in GE corn.
Corn rootworms are insects that damage the corn by feeding on it and reproducing in it. Less corn rootworms means less damage, which increases yield.
- Many beneficial insects were unaffected by insect-resistant GE corn.
Many bugs pass through a cornfield on any given day, like ladybugs and spiders, and it is important that these passersby are not harmed, because their absence impacts the local ecosystem with cascading consequences. Fortunately, these beneficial insects are unaffected in fields growing GE corn.
- GE corn and non-GE corn were not different in terms of quality.
This is one of the most important conclusions drawn by the meta-analysis. GE corn and non-GE corn were of the same quality: same kernel health, same ear health, etc. The debate over GMOs are often about quality. This result assures that GE corn is the same caliber as non-GE corn.
For many years, the world has been asking: Are genetically engineered crops as good as non-genetically engineered ones? Science has spoken and the answer is a resounding “yes.” The question the world should ask now is: Are genetically engineered crops contributing to sustainability?