United States: anti-GMOs vs. climate-adapted seeds – Science et Avenir

With seeds genetically engineered to withstand drought, heat or floods, multinationals are presenting their innovation as a tool in the fight against climate change. Failing to convince the traditional opponents of GMOs in the US.

“I don’t see why we should change our minds when companies continue to do the same by promoting products that are harmful to the environment,” sums up Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety.

Seeds adapted to the local climate, obtained by selection or crossbreeding, have been around for a long time and have proven their effectiveness.

But Bayer (Monsanto), Corteva or Syngenta highlight the advances being made in biotechnology, allowing faster development of products with higher yields in severe drought or flood conditions.

“Drought tolerance is a complex trait involving many genes. As a result, the ability to develop (this trait) through traditional breeding methods such as crossbreeding is limited,” the doorman told AFP.

Corteva also said it wants to “accelerate the application of new breeding technologies, such as gene editing, to further explore and exploit the genetic diversity that already exists in plant DNA.”

Proponents of GMOs argue that progress is particularly beneficial as droughts intensify, hurricanes intensify, and rising temperatures bring new fungi and other pests to the fore.

In July, the World Economic Forum also highlighted on its website the possibility of genetic modifications, which this time could cause plants to emit less carbon dioxide or even capture CO2.

– Lack of systematic opposition –

However, AFP has contacted several organizations advocating a cautious approach to GMOs, defending themselves against any systematic opposition to new technologies.

But they criticize the consequences of their wide-scale introduction and highlight the remaining doubts about their safety. Instead, they promote more environmentally friendly growing methods.

“How many times have we read that in 2050 we won’t be able to feed the world without GMOs?” Bill Freeze says. According to their proponents, the only way to increase crop yields enough to feed 10 billion people is with the help of GMOs.

“This is a particularly effective smokescreen that pesticide conglomerates are blowing up to give this new technology a good face” and increase their sales, Mr. Freese said.

Nothing demonstrates the superiority of GMOs over their conventional counterparts, the reluctant assure.

Both camps are brandishing scientific research heading in their direction.

More than 90% of soybeans, cotton and corn grown in the United States are now genetically modified to resist herbicides and/or insects. This reduces the need for labor, which is why American farmers prefer them despite their higher prices.

Drought adapted corn has been sold in the US since 2011. Regardless of whether this characteristic was obtained by traditional methods or by genetic modification, in the vast majority of cases it is combined with GMOs that are resistant to herbicides or insects.

Companies “have been telling us since the 1970s that GMOs will be more nutritious, help reduce nitrogen levels, and withstand any conditions. But what did we see? Basically, GMOs allow mass use of herbicides, ”Michael Hansen of the Consumer Reports Association deplores.

But “GMOs go hand in hand with harsh chemicals that perpetuate pesticide pollution, degrade insect populations, soil health, water quality and human health,” says Friends of the Earth’s Dana Perls.

“Although we have made incredible strides in mapping and manipulating genetic material, we are still quite limited in our understanding of how all organisms work,” and it is important to adopt the precautionary principle in this regard,” she continues.

Using GMOs to make them drought tolerant without first considering soil quality also demonstrates a short-term vision, according to Andrew Smith of the Rodale Institute, which promotes organic farming.

For example, he notes that adopting so-called regenerative farming practices, such as crop rotation or reduced tillage, allows the soil to sequester more carbon and retain more water. “It’s a strategy to combat climate change.”

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