This week, the European Food Safety Authority rejected an attempt by France to ban a strain of genetically modified corn. France believes the corn, introduced by St. Louis-based Monsanto and called YieldGuard, is harmful to the environment and poses a risk to human and animal health. The EU disagreed.
Genetically modified foods are a contentious issue. Activists have been known to sabotage fields of genetically modified crops, and thousands of protesters recently marched in DC in an effort called “Occupy Monsanto.” A lot of people believe these altered crops and foods are bad for human health, pose a risk to more “pure” strains, contribute to deforestation and global warming, and bankrupt small-time farmers. The monocultures that result from widespread use of GM crops, they add, put agriculture at risk of disastrous destruction by some future disease or pest.
Perhaps they don’t realize a few important things about genetically modified crops and foods. There is no accepted scientific evidence that GM foods are bad to eat. And despite claims to the contrary, there is ample evidence that GM-crops are better, not worse, for the environment.
70 percent of the world’s soybean crop is now genetically modified. Much of it is used for animal feed, and it is usually modified to make it resistant to herbicides and pests. Using the genetically modified version of crops, therefore, spares farmers the expense of pesticides, and brings greater profits as their crop yield increases on average. The environment benefits, too, from the crops’ pesticide-free, “no-till” farming, which releases less greenhouse gas than alternative methods and reduces soil erosion.
As Henry Miller and Graham Brookes point out in Forbes, there is a delicious irony in France’s attempt to ban genetically modified foods:
The anti-genetic engineering views of Europe, where there is a demand for the use of certified non-genetically engineered soybeans and derivatives for use in the EU livestock sectors, have actually encouraged deforestation in South America: Those market pressures have encouraged the cultivation of non-genetically engineered soybeans on newly-cleared land in the northern Brazilian region specifically because it is more remote from the mainstream soy-producing states in central and southern Brazil where genetically engineered soybean production dominates, in order to avoid “contamination” by the latter. In other words, some of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest for soy cultivation can be traced to the baseless antagonism to genetic engineering and the demand for non-genetically engineered production of soybeans in the EU.
The fears of activists that genetically modified monoculture crops will be wiped out by some mysterious disease or pest are yet to be realized. And GM-crops, it seems, have much to offer farmers and the environment. France’s attempts to ban modified crops are failing, as they should.