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Study: GMOs increase crop yields, reduce ag toxins

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“Our mission is to harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.”

Some readers might assume the epigraph above derives from some classic of moral and economic literature – perhaps, say, Adam Smith’s A Wealth of Nations or A Theory of Moral Sentiments. However, the platitude I quoted actually belongs to the staunchly anti-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) nonprofit Green America.

The words, in fact, are Green America’s Mission Statement. It’s cruelly ironic that a group claiming to support sustainability and social justice advocates against GMOs. Apparently to Green America members, increased crop yields and reduced agricultural toxins are antithetical to protecting the environment and feeding the poor.

Consider this from an essay published earlier this week at Genetic Literacy Project:

[An] analysis of over 6,000 peer-reviewed studies covering 21 years of data found that GMO corn increased yields up to 25 percent and dramatically decreased dangerous food contaminants. The study, published in Scientific Reports, analyzed field data from 1996, when the first GMO corn was planted, through 2016 in the United States, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The analysis was conducted by four Italian academic researchers: Elisa Pellegrino, Stefano Bedini, Marco Nuti and Laura Ercoli. “Impact of Genetically Engineered Maize on Agronomic, Environmental and Toxicological Traits: a Meta-Analysis of 21 Years of Field Data” was published online on Thursday, Feb. 15.

The Introduction states:

[Genetically Engineered or GE] crop cultivation has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016, representing about 12% of the global cropland, 54% of which are found in developing countries.

In 2016, the different GE traits introduced into major crops (soybean, maize, canola, and cotton) consist of herbicide tolerance (HT) which comprise 95.9 million hectares of GE crops (53% of the total GE area); insect resistance (IR) at 25.2 million hectares (14% of the total GE area) and both HT and IR stacked in one crop, at 58.5 million hectares (33% of the total GE area).

Despite the extensive cultivation of GE crops and a considerable number of scientific reports, the concerns about their safety has led 38 countries worldwide, including 19 in Europe, to officially prohibit their cultivation, though allowing the import of food and feed derived from or consisting of GE plants.

Key findings of the analysis were reported by GLP writer Paul McDivitt:

GMO corn varieties increased crop yields 5.6 to 24.5 percent relative to their non-GMO equivalents; and GMO corn crops had lower percentages of mycotoxins (-28.8 percent), fumonisins (-30.6 percent) and thricotecens (−36.5 percent), all of which can lead to economic losses and harm human and animal health.

And this:

Herbicide-tolerant corn is genetically engineered to confer resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, meaning that the crop is not affected by the herbicide but weeds are killed. This was achieved by incorporating genes from a soil bacterium into corn plants. Insect-resistant corn is genetically modified to include genes from another soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is commonly sprayed on organic farms as an approved natural pesticide. This built-in protection has been shown to reduce the need for insecticide spraying….

While yield increases were more modest in developed nations where growing conditions are poorer, South Africa, which has been growing GMO corn since 2002, recorded an average yield increase of 24.6 percent. The authors suggest that increased adoption of GMO corn by developing countries could provide farmers and consumers with substantial economic and human health benefits.

The health benefits come from a reduction in mycotoxins, which are toxic and carcinogenic for humans and animals. A substantial amount of non-GMO conventional corn and organic varieties contain small amounts of mycotoxins. According to the study, GMO corn likely had lower mycotoxin content because the genetically modified varieties decreased insect crop damage by 59.6 percent. Essentially, insects, like the “bugs” humans get, weaken the plant’s “immune system” and leave it more susceptible to fungal development.

Given the earnestness of their Mission Statement, one would think Green America would be enthusiastically high-fiving GMOs rather than working at cross-purposes to prevent their use.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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