Claims that GMOs Will “Feed the World” Don’t Hold Up

Washington, D.C. – A report released today by Environmental Working Group delivers a stinging rebuke to conventional agribusiness’ argument that genetically modified crops are the answer to future global food shortages. A thorough analysis of recent research conducted in the United States and around the world shows that genetically engineered crops (often called GE or GMOs) have not significantly improved the yields of crops such as corn and soy.

“Biotech companies and proponents of conventional, industrial agriculture have touted genetically engineered crops as the key to feeding a more populous, wealthier world, but recent studies show that this promise has fallen flat,” wrote Emily Cassidy, the EWG research analyst who authored the report.

She points out that while genetically engineered crops have been a mainstay in conventional agriculture in the U.S. for roughly two decades, they “have not substantially improved global food security” and have instead increased the use of toxic herbicides and led to herbicide-resistant “superweeds”. 

Over the last 20 years, yields of both GE corn and soy have been no different from traditionally bred corn and soy grown in Europe, where genetically engineered crops are banned, she found.  

Corn and soybeans account for roughly 80 percent of the global land area devoted to growing GE crops, and both are overwhelmingly used for animal feed and biofuels, not for food. This is unlikely to change in light of increased consumption of meat around the world and the U.S. biofuels policy requiring production of millions of gallons of corn ethanol to blend into gasoline.

“There is a way out of this mess that will produce enough food for the world’s burgeoning population with minimal impact on our environment,” said Cassidy. “In combination, smarter use of fertilizers, a dramatic shift in biofuels policy, a significant reduction in food waste and a better diet could largely address the need for more calories in the future.”

The Just Label It campaign, which advocates for mandatory federal labeling of GMO foods, provided funding support for this new report. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, said, “Biotech companies and their customers in chemical agriculture have been attempting to sell the benefits of GMOs for two decades. Between exaggerated claims about feeding the world and a dramatic escalation in the use of toxic pesticides, it is no wonder consumers are increasingly skeptical.”

Traditionally bred varieties have been the major source of improved crop yields in recent years, her report concludes, and this trend is likely to continue. Moreover, investment in genetic engineering is no substitute for solving the real causes of food insecurity and poverty, such as improving access to basic resources and infrastructure in developing countries.

“Seed companies’ investment in improving the yields of GMOs in already high-yielding areas does little to improve food security; it mainly helps line the pockets of seed and chemical companies and producers of corn ethanol.” Cassidy writes. “The world’s resources would be better spent focusing on strategies to actually increase food supplies and access to basic resources for the poor small farmers who need it most.”

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