Genetically modified crops are celebrating an important milestone! It’s been 25 years since the first GMO crops were planted in the United States. A lot has changed over the last two-and-a-half decades in agriculture. And by all accounts, GMOs are a success!
How do we know? Luckily the researchers at PG Economics did a deep dive on the impacts of GMOs and published their findings in a peer-reviewed report.
Here’s the highlights.
Climate change wasn’t such an urgent issue a quarter century ago. But it’s something we talk a lot about today. And GMOs have really promoted production practices that help curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
How? GMOs give farmers more options to adopt sustainable practices. For example, farmers using herbicide-resistant traits can reduce tillage, which decreases tractor trips across the field and sequesters carbon in the soil.
And it has a huge impact. If no GMO crops were grown in 2018, an additional 23 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide would’ve made its way into the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to an additional 15.3 million cars on the road!
So we know that GMO crops actually reduce the use of pesticides. But the numbers are quite staggering. Between 1996 and 2018, farmers applied 776 million kilograms fewer crop-protection products because of GMOs. To put that number in perspective, it’s a global reduction of 8.6 percent! And it’s more than 1.6 times the amount of China’s total pesticide use annually.
This is where our farmers get really excited. GMOs mean better return on investment! For every extra dollar invested in GMO seeds, farmers in developed countries received an extra $3.24.
And it’s not just in the United States. Farmers in developing countries made an extra $4.42 as extra income for each dollar invested in GMO seeds in 2018.
Overall, since 1996, the economic benefit was $225 billion, equal to an average income increase of $96.70 per hectare (which is about 2.5 acres). In 2018 alone, the average increase was $103 per hectare.
Now you can see why farmers choose this technology.
Global Food Security
As the world’s population increases, we have to find ways to feed all those hungry mouths. GMOs makes that easier by improving yields. So we’re producing more food on less land.
Try these numbers. Over the last 23 years of widespread use, GMOs increased global production as follows: 278 million tonnes of soybeans, 498 million tonnes of corn, 32.6 million tonnes of cotton lint and 14 million tonnes of canola!
And all those extra tonnes mean we don’t have to expand farmland to grow it. So if no GMO crops were planted in 2018, we would’ve needed an additional 14 percent of arable farmland in the United States to maintain current production levels. But now that land can remain undisturbed or used for other things.
I find the numbers simply fascinating! Any serious conversation about sustainability must include genetically modified crops. This is how we maintain a healthy planet and continue to feed the world’s growing population.
Yet over the last 25 years, GMOs have been so vilified. It’s disheartening. I’m hopeful that in the next quarter century, we can finally turn a corner, especially as more consumer-friendly GMOs hit the market.