Feeding the world

Without GMOs

March 31, 2015

Feeding the world: Why GE crops don't contribute to food security

Much of the investment in genetic engineering has been spent on crops that do very little to expand the global food supply. Globally, corn and soybeans account for about 80 percent of the land area devoted to growing genetically engineered crops,6 and both are overwhelmingly used for animal feed and biofuels. Most of the investment in GE crops ends up feeding cows and cars, not people. Moreover, seed companies’ investment in improving yields in already high-yielding areas does little to improve food security; it mainly helps line the pockets of seed and chemical companies, large-scale growers and producers of corn ethanol.

The narrative that GE crops will help feed the world ignores the fact that hunger is mostly the result of poverty. It is true that about 70 percent of the world’s poor are farmers7 and that improving their crop yields could help raise them out of poverty, but what truly limits the productivity of small farmers are the lack of basic resources such as fertilizer, water and the infrastructure to transport crops to market.

If Big Ag companies truly want to guarantee that poor farmers can feed themselves, the cheapest way would be to ensure that they have the right mix of fertilizers and to help with infrastructure improvements such as roads to market. In regions such as Africa, farmers can only afford a tenth of the fertilizer recommended for their crops.8 Industry-supported research found that it can take more than $100 million to research and develop9 a single genetically engineered variety, money that would be better spent to address the factors that frequently limit crop yields. By comparison, it typically costs only about $1 million to develop a new variety by traditional breeding techniques.10,11 In Africa, moreover, traditional crossbreeding has so far outperformed genetic engineering in improving crops’ drought tolerance and efficiency of resource use.