Why do we use GMOs?

Interview with Dr. Peter Goldsbrough, Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University

The Many Uses of GMOs

When farmers plant their crops they generally worry about three things that could prevent a good yield: insects, weeds and weather. Most of the GM crops grown around the world today address problems caused by insects or weeds (although some GMOs are currently being tested for enhanced nutrition). When it comes to insects, there are genetically modified plants that can repel only the very particular type of insect that feeds on it. With some crops, this has significantly lowered the need to apply pesticides. Other GM plants have been developed to be resistant to certain herbicides thus making weed control more straightforward and less expensive.

Today, those who directly see the most benefits from GMOs are farmers and agricultural companies. As consumers, we probably don’t perceive direct benefits to ourselves just by picking the product up off the shelf (this may change in the future if the nutritional properties of plants are enhanced). However, with many GM crops there are secondary benefits that shoppers are unlikely to be aware of by glancing at items in the aisle, such as: lower cost, less soil erosion (because tillage isn’t as necessary for weed control), less pesticide application and others.

However, plants aren’t the only type of GMO that we use. GMOs are also used to produce many medicines and vaccines that help treat or prevent diseases. Before GMOs, many common medicines had to be extracted from blood donors, animal parts, or even cadavers. These medicines had a number of problems including the risk of transmission of diseases, inconsistent quality and unreliable supply. GMO medicines are more consistent and don’t carry the same contamination risk.