A Deep Dig On GMO And Crop Yields

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GMO crops were supposed to accelerate increases in crop yields and decrease pesticide use. A new investigation says neither is true.

 In this Oct. 5, 2012, file photo. products labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
In this Oct. 5, 2012, file photo. products labeled with Non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) are sold at the Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins store in Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The promise of GMOs – genetically modified crops – was of faster growth in harvests and less use of pesticides. We would feed the world and do it with a lighter chemical footprint. Last weekend, a big story in the New York Times asserted neither of those things is happening. North America has embraced GMO crops. Europe has banned them.  And, the report said, 20 years on, North America cannot show an overall advantage. That sparked a firestorm. This hour On Point, are GMOs delivering? — Tom Ashbrook


Danny Hakim, investigative reporter for the New York Times. (@dannyhakim)

Fred Gould, professor of agriculture at North Carolina State University.

Andrew Kniss, associate professor in the department of plant sciences at the University of Wyoming. (@WyoWeeds)

Duane Grant, potato and beet farmer in Rupert, Id and chairman of the Amalgamated Sugar Company.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: 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."

WIRED: Facing Climate Change, Tanzania Can’t Afford to Fear GM Crops — "Until last year, Tanzania was a very difficult place to even think about owning a genetically modified crop product, let alone growing one. Under a 'strict liability' law adopted in 2009, anyone involved with importing, moving, storing or using GM products could be sued if someone else claimed the product caused them harm or loss. And that broad definition went beyond personal, it included environmental damage. Effectively, it was a regulatory blockade."

Reuters: German federal government, states to decide jointly on GMO crops-draft law -- "Germany's federal and state governments will in future decide together whether to ban the cultivation of crops with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are allowed in the European Union, a draft law showed, ending a long dispute."

Farmers Call In

If there's anything we as a staff love about our live call-in broadcast, it's our callers. So often, they take us right to the heart of an issue at hand, and make us see how "regular folks" — people out in the country at large — are interpreting a story we're talking about. As the University of Wyoming's Andrew Kniss told us today, "Ask any farmer — yield is the most important thing they consider." (It's something farmer and guest Duane Grant could affirm in his appearance on our broadcast.) But we were also fortunate to receive a few calls from self-described farmers and plant scientists out in the proverbial fields, describing their use of GMO crops. Caller Elliot in Nashville, TN. for example, described his work in plant science, and caller Alan in Nashville discussed his work in crop development with small farmers across middle Tennessee. Caller John — all the way up in Kingston, ON! — let us know all about his cross-Canada tractor journey interviewing farmers about their use (or lack thereof) of GMO crops. These calls — while not planned — certainly helped us frame the conversation in a broader, more developed way. And for that, we are grateful!

This program aired on November 2, 2016.


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