The environment is becoming a big issue in the media and news worldwide. Many new tactics are being implemented to reduce human impact on planet Earth. The genetically modified organism also known as GMOs, hope to improve crop yields as well as increasing crop resistance. The most controversial aspect of GMOs is the impact they have on the environment. Such as herbicide-resistant weeds, overall herbicide and pesticide usage, and emissions.
Locally in the United States of America specifically in the southeastern seaboard. Many crops such as cotton, soybeans, corn, etc. are produced. Most of the crops grown shifted to genetically modified over the last ten years. “Nowhere has the impact of GMO crops been felt more than in the cotton fields of middle Georgia. The most common variety of cotton in Georgia is known as Roundup Ready, a product that was genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate” (‘GMOs in Georgia: 50 Shades of Gray’ n.d.) Farmers could spray an enormous amount of Roundup containing glyphosate over their crops. Effectively abolishing any weeds that threaten the life of the produce. ‘Glyphosate is an ingreidnt found in Roundup, a popular herbiced intended to kill weeds, and other plants that are harmful to the crops.’ (Krustin, 2015)
The application of Roundup and GMO genes contribute to a more successful yield. ‘Somewhere along the way though, nature got smart. A variety of pigweed developed that became resistant to the glyphosate and took its toll on Georgia cotton farmers in a big way. In 2009, nearly half a million acres of Roundup Ready cotton had to be hand-weeded when pigweed took over fields in 52 counties.” (‘GMOs in Georgia: 50 Shades of Gray’ n.d.) As more and more herbicides are sprayed killing off the weakest weeds. Through survival of the fittest, superweeds are formed. These superweeds are resistant to most chemical herbicides and can devastate crops. ‘In summary, weed problems in fields of GE glyphosate-resistant crops will become more common as weeds evolve resistance to glyphosate or weed communities less susceptible to glyphosate become established in areas treated exclusively with that herbicide.’ (Owen, 2010)
Superweeds are a major pitfall for the environment. When there is an uncontrollable breed of weeds, they can reproduce to overpopulate an area. This can allow the superweed to make its way into the forest and naturally grown fields. “Herbicide resistance in weeds comes from the regular, repeated application of the same herbicide, rather than the presence of genetically modified crops,” (Zandstra, 2018) Before there was one chemical, farmers used a mixture to treat weeds. Allowing for a more diverse arsenal. “Before glyphosate-based herbicides became available, farmers relied on a suite of chemicals for weed control.” (Hancock, Zandstra, Landis, 2018) Mankind will just find a new tactic to manage weeds until that one doesn’t work. The process will most likely repeat itself. “If a machine gun won’t work, we’ll hit them with a grenade, and then we’ll pick the next weapon of choice.” (Tolar, n.d.) GMOs have the potential to diminish herbicide use. “Critics claim that GMO crops have caused the emergence of herbicide-resistant superweeds.” (Hancock, Zandstra, Landis, 2018) An increasing number of superweeds that have now become resistant to glyphosate terrorize farmland.
Many studies have transpired assessing the impact GMOs have on the surrounding environments. ‘From 2006 to 2011, the percentage of hectares sprayed with only glyphosate shrunk from more than 70 percent to 41 percent for soybean farmers and from more than 40 percent to 19 percent for maize farmers. The decrease resulted from farmers having to resort to other chemicals as glyphosate-resistant weeds became more common.’ (Newman, 2016). The percentage of glyphosate has significantly fallen for soybean and maize farmers in the United States. ‘The reduce in glyphosate indicates less runoff and pollution into the water. The use of glyphosate on farmland has skyrocketed since the mid-1990s, when biotech companies introduced genetically engineered crop varieties (often called GMOs) that can withstand being blasted with glyphosate. Since then, agricultural use of the herbicide has increased 16-fold.” (Krustin, 2015) This counterargument claims that glyphosate usage has increased 16-fold over the last twenty years.
“American growers sprayed 280 million pounds of glyphosate on their crops in 2012, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That amounts to nearly a pound of glyphosate for every person in the country.” (Krustin, 2015) This statistic of pounds of glyphosate demonstrates the importance of herbicides to farmers and the potential additionally usage of them. ‘Data from 431 farms in 20 locations in USA to model the effect of introducing HT soyabeans on herbicide use. Their preliminary results indicate that, while the GMO crop made the use of 16 herbicides redundant, it increased glyphosate use by 5-fold. ‘ (Nelson et al. 2001) Both studies provide information to support the glyphosate and herbicide use.
When planting crops pesticides are used to eliminate harmful insects. “Unsurprisingly, maize farmers who used the insect-resistant seeds used significantly less insecticide – about 11.2 percent less – than farmers who did not use genetically modified maize. The maize farmers also used 1.3 percent less herbicide over the 13-year period.” (Newman, 2016) This figure provides evidence of a farmer using fewer pesticide on their crops. This is because there is a gene in the crop that repels insects. Another study performed on a type of corn supports the previous claim. “Timeline of the introduction of Bt corn into cornfields and the concurrent reduction of insecticide usage in these fields. The two quantities are strongly anti-correlated, suggesting that this Bt crop has made synthetic insecticides unnecessary.’ (Hsaio, 2015). These two independent studies result in similar outcomes. Pesticides have decreased as the introduction of GMO crops became prevalent. Thus resulting in fewer chemicals running off into streams and lakes.
Many groups and activist are against pesticides management. “What most people don’t know is the connection between GMOs and pesticides: the surge in genetically engineered crops in the past few decades are one the main drivers of increased pesticide use and chemicals in agriculture. As a matter of fact, genetically engineered crops directly promote an industrial and chemical-intensive model of farming harmful to people, the environment, and wildlife.” (Nichols, 2015) This statement suggests that since GMOs can withstand such chemicals companies are mass producing them. “Pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds from the time genetically engineered crops were introduced back in 1996.” (Benbrook, 2012) This statistic helps enforce the previously stated argument. How the introduction of the pesticides negatively impacted the environment by an excess amount of chemicals.
The concerns of GMOs have moved to the European Union. The European Union has banned all forms of GMOs. A decade long research costing 200 million euros was conducted. The following statements are from the research. “GMO raises various safety issues, such as dissemination of new genes in the environment.” (Geoghegan-Quinn, 2010) The concerns of the impacts plague many concerned persons. The main concern is that GMOs will cross-pollinate with natural crops, ruining the natural environment. “Commercial apple growers spray crops with pesticides and fungicides on a frequent basis – in some locations 20 to 25 times a year – in order to prevent diseases such as canker, scab and mildew. This is both costly and a potential health risk.” (Gaskell, et al, 2010) The potential security of the environment leads many people to oppose GMOs as they are not natural. GMOs overall decrease in environmental impacts.
“Simply by increasing the penetration of GMO crops in countries currently using GMO to the United States’ level of penetration, greenhouse gas emissions fall by 0.2 billion tons C02 equivalent.” (Mahaffey, Harry et al, 2016) The objective is to decrease the amount of environmental impact man has had on this Earth. Another shocking statistic provides an eye-opening reality. “Banning GMO would increase emissions due to agriculture by 13.8%.” (Mahaffey, Harry et al, 2016) If GMOs moved to Europe and was used similarly to the United States, emissions would decrease by 13.8%. A considerably large amount. This is equivalent to C02 emissions caused by vehicles. “The total amount of herbicide used was reduced by 1.5 million kg in 1997 and by 6.0 million kg of formulated product in 2000.” (Phipps and Parks, 2002) Just in three years, the herbicide depleted significantly from the result of GMOs.
The spread of less GMO crops has raised for more widespread insect devastation. The corn destroying caterpillar has ravaged Africa. The caterpillar is spreading to Europe and parts of the United States. “The problem has been mitigated in America because many genetically modified crop strains used there are impervious to Fall Army Worm. However, in Europe, where far fewer transgenic crops are planted because of widespread opposition to agronomic genetic engineering, farmers are much more vulnerable.” (Blomfield, 2018)
This isn’t a problem in the United States because GMO resistant genes can prevent the Fall Army Worm from destroying crops. ‘Despite controlled trials showing that genetically modified maize planted in Africa produce a 52 per cent higher yield than organic strains, most governments are still reluctant to lift the bans.” (Oikeh, 2018) Even with the higher yields, stability against insects. The environmental concerns and impact are more of an issue. ‘In addition, some populations of fall armyworm evolved resistance to Cry1F corn in Puerto Rico’ (Matten et al., 2008) Explaining that there is a chance for insects to develop immunities against GMOs. ‘Some populations of corn stem borer (Busseola fusca) evolved resistance to Cry1Ab corn in South Africa.’ (van Rensburg, 2007; Kruger et al., 2009). South Africa is one of the only countries in Africa to lift the GMO ban. Cry1Ab is a type of gene in the GMO crop that is supposed to kill insects.
Insects have also accommodated to resist certain toxins. “A well-known instance of this occurred in China, where widespread use of Bt cotton allowed farmers to effectively control the destructive cotton bollworm while reducing pesticide use. It dramatically improved yields and cut pest management costs. The bollworm’s decline, however, allowed the population of mirid bug, historically a minor pest of cotton plants that is not affected by Bt toxin, to increase. This again led to increased pest control costs as farmers contended with a new threat that their previous practices couldn’t contain.” (Hancock, Zandstra, Landis, 2018) They eliminated one harmful insect just for another one to take its position.
GMOs help provide better yields and are more resistant to pesticides and herbicides. Having fewer pesticides and herbicides allow for a decrease in the overall. This will eliminate runoff into lake and streams as well as into the soil. Also limiting the effect pesticide and herbicides have on animals and plants. Stopping the production of superweeds and chemical resistant insects. Emission destroys the outsides of the Earths atmosphere. Gasses such as C02 are known as greenhouse gases. Eliminating emissions in any way possible will preserve the environment as a whole.