Using conventional breeding methods, people have been modifying the genomes of plants and animals for a long time, but what are the effects of GMOs on the environment?
From sweet corn to hairless cats, these are just a few of the diverse species that have been produced as a result of artificial selection for certain, desired qualities.
However, this artificial selection, which selects organisms with particular qualities to produce new generations, has only been applied to naturally existing variants.
But in recent years, developments in the science of genetic engineering have made it possible to precisely control the genetic alterations made to a creature.
Through genetic engineering, we may now introduce novel genes from one species into another that is entirely unrelated to it, improving agricultural productivity or making it easier to produce valuable pharmaceuticals.
Some of the best-known examples of creatures that have been subjected to genetic engineering include crop plants, livestock, and soil microbes.
What are GMOs?
An animal, plant, or microorganism that has had its DNA transformed via genetic engineering methods is referred to as a genetically modified organism (GMO).
Breeding particular members of a species to generate offspring with desirable features has long been a common technique in conventional livestock production, crop farming, and even pet breeding.
Recombinant genetic technologies, on the other hand, are used in genetic modification to create organisms whose genomes have been precisely altered at the molecular level.
Typically, this is done by introducing genes from unrelated species of organisms that code for traits that are difficult to acquire through traditional selective breeding.
Recombinant DNA technology and reproductive cloning are two examples of the scientific techniques used to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
In reproductive cloning, a nucleus from the person being cloned’s cell is removed and placed inside the enucleated cytoplasm of a host egg (an enucleated egg is an egg cell that has had its nucleus removed).
However, even though GMOs have numerous advantages for human society, they also have certain drawbacks. For this reason, the creation of GMOs continues to be a hotly debated issue in many parts of the world.
What is the Purpose of GMOs?
Today’s GMO crops were primarily created to aid farmers in reducing crop loss. The three characteristics listed below are those that GMO crops most frequently exhibit:
- Resistance to insect damage
- Tolerance to herbicides
- Resistance to plant viruses
Farmers can use fewer spray pesticides to safeguard GMO crops that are resistant to insect harm. Herbicide-tolerant GMO crops enable farmers to control weeds without sacrificing their crops.
Farmers do not need to till the soil, as they would normally do to get rid of weeds when they employ these herbicide-tolerant crops.
This no-till planting promotes soil health while using less fuel and labor. Studies have demonstrated favorable effects on the economy and ecology when taken as a whole.
The Rainbow papaya, a GMO crop created to be virus-resistant, is an example of a GMO crop.
Plant scientists created the ringspot virus-resistant Rainbow papaya when the ringspot virus threatened the Hawaii papaya industry and the livelihoods of Hawaiian papaya farmers.
Since its commercial implantation in 1998, the rainbow papaya has spread throughout Hawaii and been exported to Japan.
The most popular GMO crops were created to meet the demands of farmers, but they can also help make food more readily available and less expensive for consumers.
Some GMO crops were created expressly for consumer advantage. For instance, a GMO soybean used to produce a healthier oil is grown and sold commercially.
There are now commercially available GMO apples that do not turn brown when chopped, which may help decrease food waste. GMO crops are still being developed by plant experts in the hopes that consumers would benefit.
Effects of GMOs on the Environment
Environmentalists’ early concerns concerning the harmful effects of genetically modified (GM) plants are now being confirmed. We are currently noticing the following critical issues:
1. Reduced Herbicide Inputs
One of the main environmental advantages of GMOs is reduced input.
The capacity to successfully grow crops with fewer inputs, such as reduced pesticide applications and the fuel required to power tractors to till the soil, is a significant benefit for the more than 18 million farmers who plant GMOs globally.
GMOs have contributed to a 22% rise in agricultural yields over the past 20 years and an 8.6% decrease in pesticide applications.
The use of GM crops has increased yields by enhancing weed and pest management.
Farmers who cultivate GM crops have thereby lowered the environmental effect of their crop protection techniques by 19 percent.
Farmers can increase crop yields while minimizing the environmental impact of agriculture by genetically engineering crops to make specific changes.
2. Increased Efficiency
GMOs also benefit the environment by enabling farmers to plant more crops on the same amount of land.
By reducing crop loss due to pests, diseases, and bad weather, genetically engineered features such as insect and disease resistance and drought tolerance help to optimize production.
Crop biotechnology produced an extra 306 million tons of soybeans, 549 million tons of maize, 36 million tones of cotton lint, and 15 million tons of canola between 1996 and 2018 without needing to use more land for farming.
In this scenario, genetically modified crops have a very favorable environmental impact because farmers would have been required to cultivate 59 million more acres of land to produce the same amount of crops without GM technology.
In comparison to conventional crops, PG Economics observes that switching to conservation tillage, reduced tillage, and no-till farming systems has resulted in fuel savings that have led to a long-term reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
3. GMOs Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Agriculture.
Graham Brookes, an agricultural economist, reports:
“GMOs have helped farmers reduce their environmental footprint by allowing them to use fewer inputs and enabling a shift to reduced tillage.
These practices have led to less time spent on a tractor, less fuel used, and fewer emissions.
As a result, GMOs have helped reduce CO2 emissions equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road for one year.
They have also led to 1.2 billion pounds fewer pesticides being used between 1996 and 2013.”
4. GMOs Stop Soil Eroding.
More farmers can use conservation tillage thanks to herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops since they make it easier to control weeds at a lower cost than with equivalent conventional cropping systems.
Without disturbing the soil, the new crop is then planted straight into the organic matter that was left over.
5. GMOs Conserve Water.
To save water, farmers use a variety of methods, such as drip irrigation systems and conservation tillage techniques.
GMOs offer a further resource that farmers might use to aid with water conservation.
GM crops that can withstand herbicides and conservation tillage help retain soil moisture, which can minimize the requirement for irrigation.
However, GMOs’ ability to withstand droughts can assist reduce water use in another way.
Without additional water from irrigation, this GM trait can help crops handle stress and yield more when periods of drought occur.
6. Many agricultural chemicals are used much less frequently because of GMOs.
Contrary to popular belief, the adoption of GM crops has decreased the use of pesticides, not increased it.
Pesticide applications have decreased by 37% as a result of GM crops, particularly those with the “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis) trait for insect resistance.
7. Biodiversity Loss
This is a negative effect. The usage of some GM crops may have detrimental effects on creatures that are not intended targets as well as on soil and water ecosystems.
For instance, a large portion of the monarch butterfly’s habitat in North America has been destroyed by the spread of GM, herbicide-tolerant corn, and soy.
Though through our article, we have seen that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) might not be that bad for our environment, more research is still being done in this area to know its effects on us humans who eat them but, it is good to know that GMOs have come to stay in making agriculture sustainable because of the damage done by fossil fuels through global warming and climate change.
Effects of GMOs on the Environment – FAQs
Is GMO harmful?
Whether these GMO plants and the foods they are present in are safe to eat is one topic that receives a lot of attention but, there is no evidence that eating GMOs is harmful to one’s health.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.