Florida Food & Farm wants your comments about whether GMOs are good or bad. Here, FFF provides a discussion on some of the benefits of GMOs/genetically engineered crops (GE Crops). Another segment on this topic will post soon.

corn - genetically engineered crops

90% of corn grown in the United States is genetically modified.

No one needs to ask José Bové what he thinks of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or globalization. In 1988, the French sheep farmer and his “comrades” (or “accomplices,” depending on your viewpoint) destroyed genetically modified maize in a silo in Nérac, in southwestern France. He received an eight-month suspended sentence.

Eleven years later, he became a hero — to many French, and to people around the world — when he and other members of the Confédération paysanne, a large farmers union, tore down a McDonald’s fast-food outlet under construction in Millau, in southeastern France.

For that August 1999 act of (take your pick: bravery/economic terrorism), Bové spent 44 days, of a three-month sentence, in jail. But he also gained national and international (publicity/notoriety). In fact, at his trial, “an estimated 40,000 people from France and around the world showed up to support Bové and his cause,” according to the Western Society for French History.

Four months later, in Seattle, Wash., a protest against the World Trade Organization drew more than 50,000. One of the (honored/infamous) guests attending was José Bové.

Obviously, a wide variety of people — consumers, farmers, scientists, to name a few — hold widely diverse opinions on the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops. (Such crops are mostly prohibited in Europe.)

Scientists speak on Genetically Engineered Crops

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) has written Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. This 420-page book (not yet published) expands on a report NASEM released earlier this year, titled “Distinction Between Genetic Engineering and Conventional Plant Breeding Becoming Less Clear.”

This report admits that the long-term effects of genetically engineered crops remain unknown. For the most part, though, “Distinction” is fairly positive, though highly guarded, in its assessments.

Here are some of the findings of NASEM’s Research Committee, whose members wrote the report:

  • “The committee carefully searched all available research studies for persuasive evidence of adverse health effects directly attributable to consumption of foods derived from GE crops but found none.”
  • “There is some evidence that GE insect-resistant crops have had benefits to human health by reducing insecticide poisonings.”
  • “Several GE crops are in development that are designed to benefit human health, such as rice with increased beta-carotene content to help prevent blindness and death caused by vitamin A deficiencies.”
  • “GE soybean, cotton and maize have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers who have adopted these crops.”

An optimistic scientist 

Hope Jahren, a scientist named one of Time‘s “100 Most Influential People,” wrote a column for the Oct. 13 issue. The title, “Food: GMOs Are Our Destiny,” sets the tone.

In it, she notes that since 1969, when she was born, “global population has fully doubled, with 3.7 billion hungry mouths added.” But she also provides a surprising statistic: During those 47 years, the amount of agricultural land “has increased by only 5%.”

Jahren asks, then answers, “How do scientists modify a plant so that it makes more food than its parents did?” There isn’t a big difference, she argues, between the usual method and the GE methods in terms of results; the overwhelming advantage that GE has is speed.

Before genetic engineering, with each harvest, farmers could “select only plants bearing the fattest, richest seeds for the next season. This was the method our ancestors used to engineer rice, corn and wheat from the wild grasses they encountered.” Of course, this method might require many generations of a crop before a significantly improved variety appeared.

Today, however, “Plant geneticists can now directly edit out or edit in sections of DNA using molecular scissors. We can minimize a plant’s weaknesses while adding to its strengths, and we don’t have to wait for seasons to pass to test the result.”

She mentions another benefit that GE crops provide: “advances in genetic technologies allowed scientists to identify and clone the mutant genes responsible for repressing stem growth, leading to shorter, stronger stalks that could bear more seed — the high-yield cultivars that feed us today.”

Can GE crops prevent tragedy?

Almost 1 million Irish died of starvation and related diseases from 1845-1850 due to a fungus that killed their potato crops. The potatoes, the main source of food for the Irish, literally rotted in the fields.

The fungus had spread to Ireland when infected seeds from the U.S. were imported and planted.

Last month (October 2016), the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the commercial planting of two new types of potatoes: the Ranger Russet and the Atlantic. They are genetically engineered to resist the fungus that caused the famine, which also forced almost 1 million Irish to flee to England and to America.

On its website, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., which developed the two varieties, says that the new cultivars also will prevent “shrink from cold storage, late blight, sugar ends, sprouting … and black-spot bruise — providing significant benefits to the entire potato value chain.”

So, what is your opinion? Are genetically engineered crops good … bad … dangerous … beneficial? Is it too early to tell? Let us know what you think, and why. Thanks.