There has been a lot of commotion about GMO crops in the press this summer. It amazes me that there are so many folks trying to gin up panic over GMO crops. These individuals seem to get their information mostly from the Internet and not from documented research or even the hands-on experience most of us have had with these crops for 15 years now. The real problem with GMO crops in my opinion is just plain ignorance on the basics of biology, genetics or more specifically, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
The truth is every crop grown has been genetically modified for at least the last 10,000 years. The modern corn plant looks nothing like the ancestral plants, teosinte, which corn originated from. Teosinte does not produce an ear and most folks would mistake it for johnsongrass. Soybeans look nothing like the wild relatives they were selected from thousands of years ago. Most folks looking at soybeans’ wild parents would easily mistake them for kudzu as they do not stand upright but crawl on the ground and most produce very small seed with black coats. Vegetable crops like tomatoes were first selected from plants that produce fruit closer to what horse nettle produces today. The list goes on and on for crops across the spectrum.
The point is, it took thousands of years for our ancestors to select for certain traits and develop all the crops we rely on today to live. It really is a great gift they have given us. The truth is without all the hard work from countless generations to continually select for high yielding nutritious crops, we could not support the population on the planet today.
The problem is it took thousands of years to develop these crops to adequately feed and clothe the world’s population. There will be, at a minimum, another billion mouths to feed by 2050. We do not have thousands of years to develop crops that can feed that population. We have less than 37 years and counting.
The GMO technology is a great tool to help us reach the goal of feeding the population by 2050. This process has proven to speed the development of desperately needed, pest-fighting crops. More recently, increased yield and more water-use-efficient crops have been developed from this process. There are even more exciting new technologies on the horizon. Despite what some folks have found on the Internet, all of this has occurred without any documented problems to the environment or human health.
My big concern is that 20 or 30 years from now food prices could be so high that people will become desperate to feed their families. That is not a world any of us want. To be able to support that population we will need all the tools available to develop and raise crops. These include not only cultural control methods of integrated pest management like cover crops and crop rotation, but also proven-safe technologies like GMOs.