GMO Debate Rages Again

Nov 4, 2016  | 2 min  | Ep4211

The mirror being held up to rural America’s economy fails to show farmers working hard to gain ground. Genetically modified seeds, and the products that help them thrive, are part of the solution. This week, the EPA returned a tool to producers by re-approving Enlist-Duo. The move came after a report stirred some controversy over how well GMO seeds have delivered on their promise.  

The debate over the value of genetically modified crops, or GMOs, flared up again this week, and both sides tossed their chosen data points at each other.

The current skirmish began with an article in the New York Times charging that GMOs have failed to deliver promised gains in crop yields and reductions in chemical use in production agriculture.

United Nations data were utilized to compare crop yields in North America to those in the European Union. The final analysis found, on a country-wide level, GMO crop yields have not seen significant yield gains over non-GMO varieties. The report also claims about ag chemical use has increased in the United States, while chemical use has declined in France.

Detractors were quick to cite their own data, believing that the topic is too nuanced to make broad, high level assumptions. They took issue with the study’s comparison of the planted acres in the U.S. to those of the E.U.. Their dataset shows the U.S. has more than twice the amount of farmland when compared to the 27 European member nations.

Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, argued there are documented studies backing the benefits of GMO crops. Over the past two decades, improvements in seed technology have reduced yield losses from drought, weed and pest pressure.

Agricultural experts also questioned the validity of comparing chemical use on a weight basis, without discussing the toxicity of different chemicals. Glyphosate, often marketed under the brand name Roundup, is the primary herbicide used on GMO crops in the U.S, and it is less toxic when compared to the majority of other agricultural chemicals. The lower toxicity and engineered traits have allowed for a greater application on U.S. farm fields.

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