An argument for genetically modified crops

I don't think I have come across such blatant advertising in the name of science. The article is a mass of truths based on omissions and wrong ideas. …

Edited from a 2275 word "abstract" in the journal: Nature and reduced to some 580 words in the interest of being read and maybe even responded to:

Increasing population needs increased agricultural efficiency. Science enabled threefold cereal yields since 1950. World population may reach nine billion by the 2050's, more is needed whilst preserving natural habitats and biodiversity.

Famine caused the French revolution. Harvest times controlled how much land was farmed. (A 3 to 4 week period by scythe.) With rotary harvesters farms grew, agricultural technology now feeds two people per acre.

Chemical analysis of plants led to fertilizer developments. By the middle of the nineteenth century world population doubled from 1 to 2 billion.

The Haber–Bosch process provided unlimited supplies of nitrogenous fertilizer. But overuse pollutes waterways, lakes and seas, encourages toxic algae and spoils water supplies.

By 1900 'hybrid vigour' stabilized US corn production. Seed could be found for different climates, leading to limited genetic variability and increased vulnerability to disease.

Agrichemicals pay dividends but about 800 million people are still undernourished, this may drop to about 600 million by 2025

As meat consumption increases, fodder has to double to keep pace. leading to lack of available farmland. Farmland use increased fivefold up to the middle of the twentieth century in step with population increases. The Green Revolution slowed this. The world population doubled since 1950, but farmland use has barely increased.

Unless we can increase yield, limiting it to current farmland, further deterioration of natural habitats and biodiversity could threaten our existence.

North American agriculture is machine-dependent, slash-and-burn methods prevail in parts of South America and Africa. Cereal yields and environmental costs continue to grow. Poor management is responsible for many agricultural problems. Techiques such as: 'precision agriculture', the 'no-till' strategy with rewards for better management may help.

GM crops (PDF) boost food and fibre production, raised income and reduced pesticide use. To get the most benefit, Chinese universities and institutes developed new GM crops and technology helping the poorest farmer who have the most to gain if seed is provided free or discounted, as in the Green Revolution.

A one hectare farm growing cotton containing a bacterium gene as an insecticide has raised income by a quarter, cut costs by a third, and slashed pesticide use by three quarters. Bollworm might evolve resistance but on-going development may ameliorate the problem.

Antagonism concerning the potential for uncontrolled spread of transgenics, is likely to subside once benefits emerge. The concept of designer foods in which 'problem' substances such as gluten or common allergenic proteins are eliminated and useful secondary products (neutra-ceuticals) are boosted.

Fear of change will have to be mastered, social adjustments are necessary to accommodate new or long-standing problems.

UK farmland holds Britain's limited biodiversity, its survival depends land management. Farmers have a conflict of interests.

Over-fishing will result in the extinction of fish and destruction of whole ecosystems without massive reductions of fishing fleets, environmental disasters could spread onto the land, fish farming will have to expand substantially but research resources need boosting. Fish-farming currently consumes more fish protein than it produces and leaves environmental disaster in its wake.

The environmental damage of food production is clearly evident in fisheries, less so with GM technology. Organic farming is no more sustainable than fish-farming it produces expensive products while technological change is driven by the need tfor greater yields from the same plot of land.

Knowledge and economics are the ultimate deciders. Whatever the outcome, the decisions we make now could have repercussions for millennia.

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One thought on “An argument for genetically modified crops

  1. I have just been watching a documentary on satellite developments. One customer had images of his farm analysed to see where his crops needed what.The biologists were able to tell him which parts of which fields needed what fertilisers the most. It meant he increased his crop yield by 1/2 a tonne per hectare and dropped significantly the amount of fertiliser he had to use.Whether satellites will ever repay their environmental cost we won't be able to consider -never mind say; until we know what the cost is.Meanwhile here is what satellites can do and do well:

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