5 reasons why the debate on GMOs is closed

TAlthough we still hear moans and moans about GMOs – genetically modified organisms – this is mostly coming from a small, very vocal group. Most people are just not concerned about GMOs as they focus on real and pressing issues, like the climate crisis and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Even anti-GMO groups are turning their attention elsewhere as they reorient their conflict-driven business models towards more lucrative topics, such as COVID conspiracy theories and selling miracle cures. While the GMO debate has infiltrated for nearly three decades, data indicates that it is now over. Here are five facts to support this conclusion.

1. They are safe.

Almost all scientific institutions in the world recognize the safety of genetically modified crops. Some 3,000 scientific studies have assessed the safety of these crops, in terms of human and environmental health, and 284 institutions around the world recognize that GM crops are safe. These include the Royal Society of Medicine, the American Medical Association, the World Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and the American Association for the Advancement science, among others.

The most robust study was conducted by the National Academies of Science, which brought in experts from a wide range of food and agricultural disciplines to examine the data compiled over the years. They all came to the same conclusion: no substantiated evidence of a difference in human health risks between conventional and currently commercially available GM crops, and no conclusive evidence of cause and effect of environmental problems with GM crops.

2. The conversation around GMOs is both shrinking and increasingly positive.

As part of our work at the Alliance for Science, we’ve been using Cision’s media monitoring tools since 2018 to follow the global conversation around GMOs. In 2020, we found that the visibility of GMOs had decreased by 26% compared to 2019 and that the volume of social media publications on the subject had decreased by 39%. Additionally, the data shows that the average monthly favorability of the conversation about GMOs in traditional and social media increased from 68% in 2019 to 78% in 2020. The change was most pronounced in free social media, where favorability fell from just 60 percent in 2019 to 78 percent in 2020. Social media has also seen a decrease in anti-GMO conspiracy content in 2020, likely due to accounts that tend to promote such posts in increasingly focusing on various COVID conspiracies. Meanwhile, leading media outlets like Reuters, CGTV, CNN, and New Scientist have replaced anti-GMO mainstays, such as GM Watch and GMO-Free USA, as the main Twitter influencers on the topic in 2020. Journalists increasingly report on GMOs in a positive way. or a neutral tone that reflects science and the scientific consensus on safety.

3. Young people support biotechnology.

Young people generally adopt technology as a tool to feed the greatest number while saving the planet. Responsiveness among this population is also improving as awareness grows about the role of GM crops in reducing the environmental impact of agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions associated with global warming. A recent unpublished Center for Food Integrity survey found that Gen Z and Millennials tend to accept agricultural technology more than their older counterparts and view it as offering powerful solutions to humanity’s problems.

Credit: Cornell Alliance for Science

4. Farmers love GM crops.

Farmers around the world can see the value of every crop as they achieve higher yields with less investment in fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. This is true both for small farmers and for those with much larger farms. For example, smallholder farmers in Bangladesh reduced their pesticide use by 62 percent and increased their profits six-fold by growing brinjal (eggplant) that has been genetically modified to resist the fruit and shoot-destroying borer. Because of these advantages, biotechnology is the most adopted plant technology in the world, increasing 112-fold from 1996 to 2019. Some 29 countries, 56 percent of which are developing countries, cultivated 190.4 million hectares of crops. GM in 2019.

In particular, the adoption of GMO crops is accelerating in South Asia and Africa. After years of debate, the Philippines this year approved the cultivation of golden rice and Bt eggplant to move forward through the regulatory process. Nigeria, often referred to as the African giant, has already endorsed insect-resistant cowpea and GM cotton. He is now adopting drought and insect resistant maize (maize) and GM NEWEST rice which efficiently uses water and nitrogen and tolerates salty soils. Kenya, despite putting in place a moratorium on GMOs, has adopted GM cotton and is expected to approve GM maize in 2022. This trend is expected to continue as African scientists are increasingly engaged in research that applies tools from biotechnology to crops that are essential for securing the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and supporting food security.

Brazil, whose agricultural sector is dominated by small farmers, is emerging as another GM power. In addition to growing staple crops like GM corn and soybeans, Brazilian public sector researchers have developed a GM pinto bean that is resistant to a devastating plant disease. It is now sold in grocery stores nationwide. Brazil also became the first country this year to approve the import of GM wheat-based flour, giving a boost to a crop developed in neighboring Argentina, which has also adopted agricultural biotechnology. It’s exciting to see government leaders put politics aside and focus on what their nations and their farmers need.

Although consumers have benefited from GM crops without even realizing it, thanks to higher yields that control prices and reduced pesticide loads that make food healthier, almost all GM crops developed to date responded to the needs of farmers. Consumers are likely to come to love GM crops as new products come to market with characteristics that directly benefit them and / or reflect their values, such as improved nutrition, better taste, and approaches. more sustainable agriculture.

5. Opposition in Europe has subsided.

Although Europeans are widely seen as anti-GMO pillars, concerns about GMOs have dropped from 66% in 2010 to just 27% in 2019. This change in sentiment is good news for countries that are influenced by GMOs. European NGOs and policies that lie in the way for farmers to access the benefits of GM crops.

The use of biotechnology to develop effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines has had a halo effect on GMO crops, improving public awareness of the technology and its benefits in health and agricultural applications. Likewise, the advent of new tools like CRISPR and synthetic biology, which hold great promise for making agriculture more sustainable and producing food products with benefits for consumers, is likely to reinforce positive trends. Indeed, our media watch already shows that the conversation around gene editing is even more favorable than that on GMOs, both in social and traditional media.

Time and momentum wasted

While it is encouraging to see the debate on GMOs dwindle, a lot of time and momentum has been lost in addressing the opposition. Only 13 GM crops are currently on the global market, most of which are international staple crops that support industry and animal production. Only five – cowpea, papaya, brinjal, pinto beans and golden rice – are niche crops and staple foods. This travesty is mainly due to the misinformation (fear) spread by opponents of GMOs and the regulatory hurdles they defend, making it difficult and costly for public sector scientists and start-ups to develop crops that showcase the characteristics useful to members of their society. .

The GMO debate, driven largely by an ill-informed or idle opposition from the well-fed West, is over. In a world ravaged by a changing virus and rising temperatures, action and responses matter more than opinions and rhetoric. The conversation we need to have now is about expanding access to the tools of biotechnology. Simply put, farmers need better access to improved seeds and young scientists need more access to innovative tools.

It is estimated that agriculture will need to increase production by 70 percent to feed the world’s 9 billion citizens by 2050. And it must do so while dramatically reducing its current impacts. Agriculture currently accounts for 50 percent of all global topsoil losses, 33 percent of global GHG emissions, 75 percent of nitrogen emissions, and 80 percent of global deforestation. Biotechnology offers the hope of reducing the footprint of agriculture while producing more and better food. Let’s stop the gossip and use today’s tools to save the planet tomorrow.

Sarah Evanega is a Research Professor in the Department of Global Development with a joint appointment to the School of Integrative Plant Sciences, Cornell University College of Agriculture. Find Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Evanega

A version of this article originally appeared on the Cornell Alliance for Science and is republished here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly

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