As great as the benefits are for Golden Rice, with the potential to save 2 million children from dying of malnutrition, the reality is most GMO products are not focused on food nutrition but rather pesticide use. A Pesticides is a general term for a substance used to control or prevent unwanted pests, such as insects, weeds and diseases. There are numerous types of pesticides, a few common types include herbicides (controlling plants), insecticides (controlling insects) and fungicides (controlling fungi). Of these types GMO products have been created to assist in agriculture. In this post I am going to focus on herbicides, used for weed control on the farm. Thanks to GMO, Roundup or Glyphosate can arguably be considered the most most well known herbicide. It happens to be a non-selective herbicide, meaning it kills all plants as appose to a selective herbicide which only kills a specific type of plant. With the advent of GMO crops with the roundup ready gene, scientists have developed a crop plant that roundup does not kill. As good as our scientists are, nature tends to be better, and of course there are other natural plants that can survive and encounter with roundup, agriculture labels these as super weeds. The reality is that there is nothing overly super about these weeds, is just that prior to the extensive use of roundup they didn't stand out from the rest.
A great deal of anti-GMO information in the media centres around Roundup. But what isn't being communicated is that roundup was being use long before any GMO crops were available. It is a very effective herbicide and was widely used to control weed patches and weeds at the edge of fields. With the growing use of no-till farming practices, a burn down, or spray to kill all the weeds prior to planting was effectively accomplished with roundup. The GMO revolution resulted in this herbicide coming down in price, to where is offers a very low cost herbicide choice. Furthermore, as a user, this herbicide is easy to mix and relatively safe. Other herbicides, if they come in contact with your skin, will cause sever cramps and vomiting, Roundup is less harmful than table salt. And even when growing non-GMO crops, roundup will often be used on the land prior to the emergence of the crop.
Prior to GMO, a multitude of different herbicides were needed to control the weed population. Roundup being an easy to use and safe product was a no brainer, it made the life of a farmer safer and easier, that was the value of this particular GMO. WIthout weed control, we would have nothing to eat. I harvested a corn field last fall where the continuous rain early in the season prevented a farmer from applying his herbicide. The land was nothing but grass, the corn grew, but was small, and no cobs to speak of. In a year where bumper crops of 200+ bushels per acre were common in the area, I didn't get 60 bushels off a 5 acre patch of grass so thick it plugged and damaged my corn header.
In looking for a magical solution to stop weeds, and they must be dealt with to ensure a harvest, for generations herbicides came to the rescue. Today, after having benefited from a decade of simple roundup use, weeds are adapting. Nature is very capable at surviving, and overuse of a single herbicide has created resistance. The solution so far, has been to go back to back to the old playbook. Use of 2-4D, was once the primary herbicide to control broadleaf weeds in corn, is being sited as an alternative. The media would have you believe this is something new, and evidence of an issue caused by GMO, when in fact, thats how it used to be done. The problem with selective herbicides is that any one is never good enough to address all weeds, and often multiple chemicals are required. And in many cases, although the herbicide doesn't kill your crop, it hurts it and costs yield. Modern genetics try to minimize the harm and maximize the benefit.
GMO is accomplishing in a few years what nature takes decades to accomplish. Fear of roundup resistance to me appears odd, when we know nature is doing the same thing. Arguing GMO is bad because nature makes the same adaptations as humans engineered is somewhat hypocritical. If we feel safe with a natural change, and science creates a change that is proven to naturally occur, why would we question how safe it is? The reality is nature is often making changes that are not safe. Just consider the flu and the plague, that is what nature regularly creates, so why would we give nature an OK its good, where we question engineered and tested genetics. But asking the questions is important, its the only way we can attempt to avoid missing something.
Genetics is complicated, but no GMO crops exist without a real benefit. Before condemning the science, its prudent to analyze the benefit. I have yet to see how the risks outnumber the benefits, but I get to experience the benefits directly, the consumer only gets to read and hear about the protests.