They have helped to feed people and they are safe. Here's a brief look at the evidence.
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I'd just like to note - as it's also mentioned in the video but not really emphasised - that the only GMOs (soybeans, cotton and corn) currently in mass production, and in the pipeline to appear on the market in the coming years, are not primarily food crops, but industrial raw materials, or - in the case of most of the corn - raw material for producing animal feed and basic ingredients for the food industry.
Drought-resistant, vitamin-producing and other wonder-GMOs were and are just empty promises for the last 20 years, none of these is even close to appear on the market any time soon. I think the reason for this is not simply that the biotech companies have no incentive to develop anything useful for poor Third World farmers - the Gates foundation or state-owned research institutes could finance these anyway - but that there might not be any room for improvement in the plants themselves for traits like drought resistance after millions of years of evolution, or that only some marginal improvements could be made that can easily be negated by other factors.
I'm a bit disappointed that MRU seems to be touting GMOs as an easy remedy for problems in agriculture, as these types of plants can only bring improvement - and then only cost-savings and not significant yield-increases - in places where farming is already high-tech and high-cost and where farmers and their advisors are well informed in every way and use the best practices in tilling, have access and know how to best use fertilizers etc. They can not be employed as a shortcut from low-tech farming to a highly productive agriculture.
(You also fail to mention the appearence of "superweeds" and other problems that haunt the current types of GMOs.)
GMOs first and foremost are big business - nothing wrong with that, but they are simply not THE solution for problems in farming worldwide.
This may change if more GM crops become "public domain", but I tend to think that GMOs are just something that a lot of people - MRU staff included - not really familiar with the real practices of agriculture would like to believe to be the solution for everything, and I also feel a kind of contempt when you talk about countries that are still hesitating about their introduction.
What about the cost of hybred seed relative to farmer saved seed. If there is only one source for seed, then that monopoly position puts the farmer at a disadvantage.
Hmm strangely you fail to mention the Intellectual Property issues that come along with a lot of the GMO seeds. ie Monsanto has been very vicious about protecting its IP rights in its Round Up Ready Genetically Modified Seed. Perhaps you might want to mention that next time?
Isn't diversity an important issue to raise here? Not that GMOs specifically decrease diversity, but that the success of GMOs force other farmers to adopt GMOs to successfully compete, and the overall effect is a dramatic decrease in the variety and strains of various crops. This seems to be crucial given the strength that variety gives crops to resist disease, drought, etc.
I would dispute that the correct answer for Practice Question 2 should be that GMOs have had an overall positive impact on the environment. I would argue that the jury is still out. GMOs *could* have an overall positive impact on the environment *if* they needed significantly less fertilizer or less water, but the impact there has been marginal. There has been less pesticide used, but there have also been the emergence of many strains of weeds and pests resistant to RoundUp and conventional pesticides, respectively; the transfer of GMO genes to wild and/or non-GMO plant populations via pollination; and studies are still being done on the impact of GMO-produced biotoxins on butterflies and other pollinators. (Curious that there's not a lot of money for studying the effect of GMOs on butterflies, isn't it?) It is exceptionally rosy to claim that GMOs have had an overall positive impact on the environment instead of acknowledging that in many respects it is simply too soon to tell.
Is this not something to worry about?
"French scientists said ... that rats fed on [Company X]'s genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller suffered tumors and multiple organ damage. The researchers said 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, compared with only 30 percent and 20 percent in the control group. GMOs are deeply unpopular in Europe and many other countries, but dominate key crops in the United States."
-- MSNBC/Reuters article on a two-year study of rats fed genetically modified foods, 9/19/2012
This study was widely criticized for its methods and for the lack of transparency. Even Europeans politicians didn't take it seriously: http://www.nature.com/news/hyped-gm-maize-study-faces-growing-scrutiny-1...
RE: the 1st practice question. I'm having difficulty grasping the concept that GMO crops are less expensive than non-modified crops. Are you saying the savings comes from increased yields and reduced fertilizer costs? Seed costs are mesureably higher, cap-ex costs are essentially identical, as are most planting and harvestig costs. Post harvest costs are identical to higher.
Although research is capable of answering questions concerning the safety of GMO foods, the more important issue is the patenting of genetic material. Compared to other social sciences I have studied, this economics course seems to ignore ethical considerations and simply focuses on the GDP as the only measure of 'good'.
I´m a bit disappointed about the really uncritical view on many of the topics mentioned. Especially in this topic I wonder how you can draw an absolute conclusion without mentioning Monsanto, reduction of biodiversity, higher seed prices, property rights and so on. I think its generally wrong to mix traditional plant breeding with modern biotec. This is an really important and scandalous issue, just read this section: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto#Controversies_and_legal_actions_ou...
Just as a note, Paarlberg has a really incredible book making a case for GMOs and how they could help Africa. Its calle Starved for Science.
I believe I heard that round-up ready soy has resulted in an increased use of weed-killer. Also, non-GMO seeds are becoming rarer and hard to preserve thanks to cross pollination.
I would really like to hear the autors oppinion on Monsanto and connected interlectual property right issues. These seem to be a huge problem for US farmers.
I am somewhat disappointed that it is not mentioned in the video and that there is no reply to any of the comments.