FarmPolicy

March 26, 2017

A Case for GMO Technology in Today’s Wall Street Journal

Categories: Biotech

Robert T. Fraley, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of Monsanto, penned an opinion item in today’s Wall Street Journal, where he noted that, “Genetically modified crops, which have generated both controversy and widespread adoption, are hitting 20-year milestones. Perhaps the anniversary slipped your mind, but 1997 was a dark one for the European corn worm. That was the year Bt corn, the first to bear its own protection against the larvae of the rapacious corn worm, was commercially introduced.

“The European corn worm had long ago invaded the U.S. and by the mid-1990s was causing more than $1 billion in annual damage. But now no insecticide was needed, thank you, because Bt corn had been genetically modified to pack its own. It produced a protein toxic to the corn worm and some of its fellow travelers, while benign to most other insects.”

Mr. Fraley indicated that, “What have been the effects of this technology? In May a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine completed a two-year review, ‘Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.’ The committee, which examined about 900 studies, painted a highly positive picture.

“The academies’ report found ‘no differences that would implicate a higher risk to human health from eating GE foods than from eating their non-GE counterparts.’ It also ‘found little evidence to connect GE crops and their associated technologies with adverse agronomic or environmental problems.’ In some cases, the review said, ‘planting Bt crops has tended to result in higher insect biodiversity,’ by reducing pesticide use.

“The report supported genetic modification in a fundamental way: It called for ‘strategic public investment in emerging genetic-engineering technologies and other approaches to address food security and other challenges.'”

Today’s opinion item also pointed out that, “These conclusions could not have surprised anyone who follows the issue. They’re consistent with the findings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and other highly respected groups. Thousands of independent researchers have consistently found that GMOs benefit not only farmers and the public, but also biodiversity, soil quality, water quality, carbon sequestration—in short, the environment.”

After citing studies that pointed to GMOs’ positive impact on crop yields, farmer profitability, and cost reductions, Mr. Fraley stated that, “To keep current production without the gains from GMO crops, more than 97,000 additional square miles—an area larger than Ohio and Indiana combined—would have to be cultivated globally. Instead the carbon in all that land, which would be released to the air during tilling, stayed in the dirt.”

Mr. Fraley conlcluded by noting that: “The rapidly growing global population and warming climate will make agricultural innovations a necessity, not a luxury. In my view, the next two decades will bring even more innovations than the past two.”

Meanwhile, a recent news release from Purdue University indicated that, “Purdue University professor of animal sciences William Muir recognizes the potentially immense benefits of genetic modification technology, commonly known as genetic engineering or gene editing.

“‘It could cure or prevent cancer, increase food production to feed a rapidly expanding global population, alleviate pain and suffering among livestock animals and prevent the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika or malaria,’ says Muir, a biotechnology specialist.”

The release added that, “‘While it’s important to keep in mind all of the wonderful things we can do, we need to be cognizant of what the risks are and make sure we have the appropriate safeguards in place,’ [Muir] says. ‘This is a tremendously powerful technology, and it is absolutely vital that we make sure it is used responsibly.'”

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