The questions of whether to increase research on genetically modified crops or on increasing agricultural biodiversity as solutions to sustainable agriculture are currently topics of intense debate in the food industry. Jacobsen et al. (2013) collected studies from all over the world to assess the present pros and cons of continuing GM crop research and increasing agricultural biodiversity. After compiling the studies, the authors found there are two obstacles to having sustainable agriculture 1) the claim that GM crops are vital to secure food production, and 2) the shortage of research funds for agriculture biodiversity in comparison to research funds for GM crops. Evaluating these two obstacles in regard to the pros, cons, and economics of GMOs, the authors conclude that research funding currently available to GM technologies would be better spent financing more efficient breeding techniques to cultivate agriculture biodiversity.—Morgan Beltz
Jacobsen, S., Sorensen, M., Pederson, S., Weiner, J., 2013. Feeding the world: genetically modified crops versus agricultural biodiversity. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33(4), 651—662.
Jacobsen et al. claimed that there is burden on the environment from the current agriculture practices and increase in monoculture production, in particular the reduction of biodiversity through soil degradation. The authors recognize that GM crops can help solve this problem through technological advances in gene sequencing to improve adaptive capabilities in the crops. However, the authors argue that GM crops are financially impossible in many developing countries because large manufacturers have a monopoly on the industry and drive up seed cost to a point that is not affordable for small-scale farmers. For example, the authors have found a correlation between suicides of Indian farmers and the prices of Monsanto seeds which have turned out to be overly expensive and have not had the high yields expected by the farmers, leaving them in debt. The economic burden is high for developing countries because the seeds have lowered the labor needed, increased the price, but have not increased the yield.
In larger more regulated countries, such as Denmark, the authors found that GM crops can be beneficial in lowering production costs; sugar beets came out 80 Euros/hectare on top, potatoes 108, and maize was the only negative crop at -5 Euros/hectare. These results show that in a regulated established industry GM crops can save a lot of money in labor and production. However, it does not guarantee biodiversity and a sustainable way to produce food.
The authors argue that the only way to increase biodiversity is to study the factors that influence it; genotype, environment, and management. They noted that a study on Australian yields over the past 100 years shows that management was responsible for 50% of yield increases, genotype for 35%, and environment for 15%. The study also showed that farms with more agricultural diversity produced higher yields than monoculture farms thus, they argue, funding should continue to go to research these areas of crop.
The authors conclude that all the evidence shows a need for a greater emphasis on agriculture biodiversity instead of GM crops and technologies. GM crops will add to the biodiversity loss instead of helping it and will reduce the nutritional value of the soil and hinder the yield. The authors believe that GM crop research should be a basic foundation to learn from for future applications, but not in the short term to increase the world food production. Instead, research should go towards improved agricultural practices, agricultural biodiversity though breeding techniques, and sustainable production. Developing countries are the target of increased food production and practices, and if they cannot afford the GM seeds and have a profitable yield, than the focus needs to change to other sustainable methods.