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NC State Extension

Why Are All the GMO Traits Aimed at Increasing Production Rather Than Adding Value to Nutrition of Foods or Other Health Benefits.

You could certainly argue that insect resistance not only increases production, but also reduced insecticide applications. Many people would consider reduced insecticide applications a potential health benefit. You could also argue that herbicide tolerance has led to an increase in reduced tillage which reduces CO2 emissions and soil erosion. Maybe those are not direct health benefits, but you could argue that they are beneficial to society.

But your point is a good one, most of the GE crop acreage is devoted to technology that many see as more beneficial to the farmer than the consumer. Is there any other industry that receives that type of criticism? If Apple makes functional improvements to their phone production that might make the phone easier or cheaper to produce, do we protest against those improvements just because we may not see them when the final product is in our hand?

The response to “What crops have a GMO trait? What do the traits do and what is the benefit of these traits?” gives some details about who benefits from various GE crop technologies. Some of the technologies listed that have direct consumer benefits have been developed, but not commercialized. That is because it is expensive to go through the regulatory process. Products do not only have to go through the US regulatory process, they have to go through regulatory processes throughout the world. This is very expensive and is part of the reason that most of the technologies that companies have been willing to invest in are technologies that farmers are willing to pay for. Most people think only large corporations are involved in developing GE crops. About half of the activity is actually in public sector and small firms. Much of the work on improved nutrition and health benefits have been conducted in the public sector and small firms that do not have the resources to pursue the regulatory process as aggressively. The fear of lack consumer acceptance of GE crops is a another deterrent to developing GE crops that benefit the consumer. Most of the GE crops are used for purposes that do not involve direct consumption of proteins by humans.

There seems to be a current trend towards increasing research in GE crops with consumer benefit. As the science advances, consumer confidence rises and the regulatory process becomes more stable across the world, we should see more of these consumer related technologies become commercialized.

Keith Edmisten, Professor of Crop Science