Grantham Scholar Chris Dutton reflects on the issues surrounding genetically modified crops.
This week’s Journal Club discussed the controversial issues behind genetically modified (GM) crops. Our focus was a recently published paper A Meta-Analysis of The Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops.
GM refers to any organism that has DNA alterations that do not occur naturally by mating.
China were probably the first to sell GM crops during the ’80s. These were virus resistant tobacco and tomato plants.
Since then GM crops have been adopted all over the world. The majority are either herbicide or pest tolerant crops.
The paper discusses broad questions that surround the success of GM crops.
The authors analyse published data which suggests that farmer profits are, on average, 68% greater when growing GM crops than when growing conventional crops. This figure is due to a number of confounding factors such as increased yields, decreased pesticide use, cheaper herbicides and less land management practice being required to maintain a healthy crop.
Additionally, yield increases from GM crops are said to be up on average by 22%. Greatest increases in yield from GM are in the developing world. This is promising for the future, and for poorer countries and farmers who historically have lower access to, or cannot afford, fertiliser and chemicals that boost crop productivity.
GM crops could therefore go some way to compensate for below average yields in the developing world.
Importantly the authors compare industry funded research with publicly funded research, to address the concerns that industry funded research may report inflated benefits of GM crops. They conclude that the source of funding does not significantly influence the reported benefits of GM crops.
This paper does show clear economic benefits of GM crops for farmers. But more widely, there remains a debate around the acceptability of GM food.
A lot of work maybe needed in the developed world to convince the public that GM foods are a safe way of feeding a growing population.
Journal Club is meet up of Grantham Scholars to discuss publications from a multidisciplinary perspective. It is part of the Grantham Scholar training programme.
Edited by Claire Moran.