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As the global population continues to grow, the demand for food production is becoming increasingly pressing. In order to meet these demands, sustainable agricultural practices must be implemented to ensure that we can produce enough food without depleting our natural resources. One aspect of this sustainable approach is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.
Genetically modified crops were always a part of conventional or traditional farming systems. While controversial, GMOs have been proven to have numerous benefits, including increased crop yields and resistance to pests and diseases. In this article, we’ll explore how GMOs are an essential aspect of a sustainable agricultural economy and why they play a crucial role in feeding our growing population while protecting our planet’s resources.
Sustainable agriculture generally does not include using GMO crops as it does not consider them organic. However, today, modern technology has paved the way for new innovations and development- including advances in GMOs. Thus, can GMOs be a part of the sustainable agricultural economy? Get ready to learn about the science behind GMOs and their potential to transform our food systems for the better!
A genetically modified organism, popularly known by its short-form GMO, is a seed, plant, animal, or microbe with modified DNA using genetic engineering methods. Humans have always tried to use various breeding techniques to alter organisms. Several organisms like cattle, corn, and even man’s best friend- the dog, have been selectively bred over generations to have specific traits humans want.
Over the last couple of decades, development and modern advances in biotechnology have enabled experts to modify the DNA of animals, crops, and microorganisms. Crossbreeding and selective breeding are conventional methods of modifying animals and microorganisms- these methods can take quite some time. Further, these methods do not always give the desired results- such as mixed results and unwanted traits appearing with the desired traits.
Advances in biotechnology have enabled scientists to avoid problems caused by conventional methods and improve the genetic makeup of a plant or animal without any undesired traits tagging along.
Genetically modified organisms are gaining popularity in the 21st century. GMO crops have begun to replace other natural crops. Today, most of the world’s food comes from genetically engineered crops. GMO soybeans make up almost 94 percent of all soybeans planted worldwide. While GMO cotton made up 94 percent of all cotton planted, and GMO corn made up 92 percent of all corn planted in 2018. Are Genetically modified organisms what agriculture needs today?
According to estimates, the world’s population is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050. However, countries are losing their arable land to provide food for their increasing populations. The situation will worsen due to climate change. China has around 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of arable land for agriculture. Therefore, future efforts to clothe, feed, and provide energy to the world could be solved through various innovative technologies in agricultural production, among others that meet sustainability criteria.
The one technology that continues to gain momentum is genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops. The question now is: Can it solve the future food supply issues sustainably?
For plants to adapt to the increasing impacts of climate change, they need to have important characteristics like drought, water-logging, salinity, and heat tolerance, disease and pest resistance, water and nitrogen-use efficiency, cold and frost tolerance, and early vigor. As mentioned before, GMO techniques enable scientists to access an increased and diverse gene pool for producing various plants with desired traits. For example, submergence-tolerant rice with SUB 1A gene– can produce good yields even after being submerged underwater. These conditions would damage other types of rice crops.
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology has the potential to develop plant varieties that can adapt efficiently to farm operations, such as reduced tillage or no-tillage practices that help plants to grow in water-limited environments. For example, GMO Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant soybean crops account for almost 95 percent of the no-tillage area in the United States and Argentina. No or reduced tillage is a part of organic or sustainable agriculture.
GMO crops designed for enhanced pest resistance, disease tolerance, and better nitrogen fixation ability could reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And thus, shifting towards a more sustainable approach. According to an analysis, GMO technology adoption has increased crop yields by 22 percent and farmers’ profits by 68 percent. It has reduced the use of artificial chemical fertilizers and pesticides by 37 percent.
Sustainable and organic agriculture associates itself with the absence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and a high nutritional value. It mainly uses agricultural methods that were used ages ago, like crop rotations, green manure crops, and composted animal manures. It focuses on the health of humans, animals, plants, the environment, water, soil, and air. Are GMO crops sustainable or organic enough?
Sustainable agriculture generally prohibits the use of any compounds that are produced by chemical synthesis. However, in some cases, few chemical compounds are allowed, like lime sulfur, boric acid, sodium percarbonate, etc. Several new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) show promising sustainable and organic farming results. NPBTs are being advocated as non-GM by some experts. If this is accepted as a sustainable farming technique, then genetic transformation techniques could also act as a potential technique for producing organic crops.
According to universal organic farmer Norman Borlaug, sustainable and organic agriculture requires more land than GM crops and will only feed 4 billion people. According to studies, few organic products generate more greenhouse gas emissions per product than non-organic equivalents. Organic and sustainable agriculture will also require more animals to meet manure demands, but an increase in animal populations will cause biodiversity loss and increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Can GMO crops help reduce the environmental footprint without affecting biodiversity? According to an analysis, the cultivation of GMO crops in sustainable systems could solve this problem as it will be in tune with its principles- increasing sustainability and reducing environmental footprint. Thus, genetically modified organisms can be an essential part of the sustainable agricultural economy.