NC State Extension

What Are the Benefits of GMO’s for Less Developed Countries in Critical Need of Food?

According to Janet Carpenter in Peer-reviewed surveys indicate positive impact of commercialized GM crops published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, yield increases across several genetically engineered crops and technologies were 4.8 times higher (6% versus 29%) in developing countries than developed countries. This is most likely due to less access to other technologies such as pesticides in developing countries.

Growers in developing countries do not have access to proper safety equipment for pesticide applications. Genetically engineered products that reduce pesticide applications such as Bt cotton and Bt brinjal (eggplant) could have a much larger positive impact on human health in developing countries compared to developed countries. Kouser and Qiam reported that “Bt cotton now helps to avoid several million cases of pesticide poisoning in India every year, which also entails sizable health cost 1) Do you think that GMO’s pose a health threat to the general population? No, I do not think that GMO’s pose any more of a health risk than any other means of developing new crop varieties. The European Commission report A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research came to this conclusion: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.” Links to similar conclusions on the safety of genetically engineered foods by major scientific organizations and societies can be found here.
Many people in developing countries also suffer from vitamin or micro-nutrient deficiencies. There are several projects using genetic engineering to increase needed vitamin and/or micro-nutrient levels in crops. Golden rice has been developed to have increased levels of beta-caratene, the precursor needed for humans to make vitamin A. About 500,000 people, mostly children, go blind every year in developing countries due to vitamin A deficiency. About half of those die within a year due to complications associated with vitamin A deficiency. More information about Golden Rice can be found here.

Keith Edmisten
Professor of Crop Science