by Marion Nestle
Nov 1 2016

GMO crops: not fulfilling promises (as predicted, alas)

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a front-page story titled “Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops.”

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The Times illustrated the article with some interesting graphics.

This one shows European yields of non-GMO sugar beets increasing far more rapidly than those of GMO beets in the U.S.

Others compare use of chemical pesticides, first in France, where pesticide use is falling rapidly.

Then in the U.S. where insecticide and fungicide use is down a bit, but herbicide use is rising and will continue to rise as GMO crops become increasingly resistant to Roundup (glyphosate) herbicides.

The agbiotech industry has long maintained that genetic modification would increase yields and decrease pesticide use.  After 20 years, that hasn’t happened.

I wrote about all this in 2003 in my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety.  Half the book is about GMOs and its arguments hold up pretty well.

I said then and still maintain that until this industry fulfills its promises—and produces GMO crops sustainably—it will continue to have big problems with consumer acceptance.

The Times says this is the first article in an occasional series.  I look forward to seeing the next.