Johnson in Grist: Despite drawbacks, GE key tool in strengthening global food security

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Genetic engineering is useful to farmers, but some say that the money and resources used to develop genetically engineered plants could “accomplish a greater public good, cheaper,” writes Nathanael Johnson, at Grist. Still, the usefulness of genetic engineering outweighs its potential costs.

Jonathon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, says that the way to “feed ourselves responsibly” is to eat less meat, waste less food and make irrigation and fertilization more available to farmers.

Doug Gurian-Sherman at the Union of Concerned Scientists is concerned about how much it costs to develop GE crops. While funding from biotech companies allows scientists to pursue research they might not have been able to afford otherwise, it also tends to create incentives for scientists to produce results that can be marketed. However, Johnson stresses, this is not a problem with genetic engineering itself–but with the lack of public funding for biotechnology research.

With genetic engineering, scientists can introduce traits into plants that would never evolve naturally and are beneficial to farmers, like disease or pest resistance. Traits like these and others, like drought-resistance, increase yields, lower prices and result in more food. There are also GE plants like Golden Rice, which has been bred to contain the molecular precursor to vitamin A and is advertised as a way to combat vitamin A deficiencies.

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Alexander J Stein, an agricultural economist at the International Food Policy Research Institute, agrees that in some cases, GE is not cost effective. He tells Johnson that instead of asking, “Should we use genetic engineering?” the question should be which projects are cost-effective.

Related article:  GLP interactive infographic: Which GMO experts should you trust?

It’s clear that genetic engineering can provide a huge monetary return on investment, Johnson writes, but “[t]he success of commercial biotech hints that the technology also could provide return on investment for the environment, and for humanity, if we pursued the right avenues. We don’t need GMOs to save the world. But they could probably help.”

Read the full, original story here: Is genetic engineering a doomed effort to reinvent nature’s wheel?

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