Comment »Posted on Wednesday 13 August 2008 at 3:52 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Getting It Wrong

Prince Charles has once again struck out at genetically modified crops because he believes they will cause the “biggest disaster environmentally of all time.” This of course comes after his extensive testing of the effects of GM crops on the environment. Oh no wait, it doesn’t.

The Prince’s latest outburst completely ignores scientific consensus – a study lasting from 1996 to 2006 found that GM crops provided both economic and environmental benefits. A short summary:

  • GM crops have resulted in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, a major contributor to global warming, because the crops need less attention and farmers can use their tractors less. In 2006 this meant a reduction of 14.8 billion kg of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of removing over 6 million cars from the road for a year.
  • Economic benefits to farms planting GM crops totalled $33.8 billion over the study period, with an increase of $7 billion alone in 2006. Of the $33.8 billion, 43% of this was due to an increase in harvest thanks to insect resistant and herbicide tolerant engineered crops. Nearly half of this income (49%) went to farmers in developing countries.
  • Since 1996 an extra 53.3 million tonnes of soybeans and 47.1 million tonnes of corn have been produced. This extra production has meant lower prices and thus more affordable food for everybody.

What opponents of GM crops don’t seem to understand is that by turning public opinion against research is condemning millions of people to starvation and death. Crops can be engineered to grow more easily and with higher yields, as has already been demonstrated.

To those who say this will lead to “Frankenfoods”, I ask what they think of selective breeding. For millennia, farmers have selected the crops with the strongest resistance to disease, the fastest growing time, or the tastiest fruits, and breed them to encourage these characteristics. This is nothing more than brute force genetic modification, since genes are what determine a plants characteristics! Almost everything we eat has been “genetically modified” since agriculture began – and not always for a “good” reason.

Consider the humble carrot. Eaten in the millions every day, this innocent looking root vegetable hides a dark, dark past, for it was not always as it appears today. The carrot, that most orange of side dishes, used to in fact be purple – or even black, red, or yellow. It continued to be so until patriotic Dutch carrot farmers – evil genetic scientists that they are – decided to genetically modify an orange carrot by selective breeding, making it tastier in the process.

So the next time your crunch down on a carrot – beware! Its genetically modified attributes will turn your brain to mush and your liver to pudding. Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know. Ask Prince Charles, because he’s the expert.

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