Last week my column questioned the safety of genetically engineered foods; this week I will look at potential benefits. Promoters list increased yield, herbicide tolerance (reducing tillage), insect resistance, and drought and frost resistance (increasing range). In short, all the traits that conventional breeding has been working on for centuries, only greater and faster. Sounds wonderful, but how have these panned out so far?
Genetic engineering could potentially improve nutrient levels of foods (tomatoes with higher vitamin C for example) but for private companies to carry out the expensive research, the resulting crops have to be profitable either for the farmer or the company itself. Most of the registered GE crops to date have been engineered for herbicide resistance – particularly glyphosate (Roundup). Significant increases in the use of this herbicide is leading to proliferation of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds”, requiring even more herbicide use. A 2006 USDA report showed that with most GE crops yield and farm incomes have increased; with a few they have decreased.[http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib11/eib11.pdf] A 2009 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists “Failure to Yield” concludes “Traditional breeding [so far] outperforms genetic engineering hands down” [my insertion – Stan].
I would like to hear from some local canola producers of their experience.
To be fair, the industry is in its infancy and improved technology should eventually make the process cheaper, more accurate (safer) and more beneficial. But in the meantime adequate evaluation of the crops’ safety would increase the cost of production far beyond any added value. Thus the only way the industry can survive this period is to bypass all safety issues. At this, as discussed in last week’s column, they have been too successful. For more on this topic, see the website of The Institute for Responsible Technology [http://www.responsibletechnology.org].