Banning GMOs could increase greenhouse emissions

Tuesday, 08 March, 2016

Banning genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the United States could result in higher food prices, a boost in greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change and major loss of forest and pasture land, a study has shown.

The researchers set out to determine the significance of crop yield loss if genetically modified crops were banned from US farm fields, and also to understand how that decision would trickle down to other parts of the economy. The findings of the study, funded by the California Grain & Feed Association, will be published in the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics (AgBioForum).

The economists found that 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted about 181 million ha of GMO crops in 2014, with about 40% of that acreage in the United States. They fed their data into the GTAP­BIO model at Purdue University in Indiana, which has been used to examine economic consequences of changes to agricultural, energy, trade and environmental policies.

In the United States, GMOs make up almost all the corn (89%), soybeans (94%) and cotton (91%) planted each year. If GMOs were eliminated in the US, the model shows yield declines of 11.2% for corn, 5.2% for soybeans and 18.6% for cotton. To make up for that loss, about 102,000 ha of US forest and pasture would have to be converted to cropland and 1.1 million ha globally for the average case. Converting pasture and forest to cropland would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Lower crop yields without GMO traits may also cause commodity prices to rise: corn prices could increase by up to 28% and soybeans by 22%, according to the study. As a result, consumers could expect food prices to rise 1–2%, or US$14–24 billion per year.

“Some of the same groups that oppose GMOs want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the potential for global warming,” said Wally Tyner, James and Lois Ackerman professor of agricultural economics at Purdue. “The result we get is that you can’t have it both ways. If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, an important tool to do that is with GMO traits.”

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