As farmers and ranchers work to meet the daunting challenge of feeding an exploding global population, they continue to grow more with less – less water, less land, less fertilizer and pesticides, and less impact on the environment. Tools such as genetic management and selective breeding have been used for centuries to help accomplish these goals. Today, we’re just doing it better.
Genetic modification simply refers to human intervention to create a different genetic combination to create a desired outcome. Biotechnology allows researchers to create gene combinations that result in diversity and enhanced performance. The focus in agriculture is to help plants, including corn plants, overcome stresses and challenges that keep them from achieving their full genetic potential.
Currently, genetically modified (GM) crops – also referred to as “biotechnology” or “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs) – are an important part of a farmer’s portfolio. But they are not an end-all solution, just another tool in an increasingly robust toolbox.
For example, there are plants resistant to insects and others that tolerate specific kinds of herbicide. Eliminating damage from pests keeps corn plants healthier and stronger and better able to withstand stresses like dry soil because roots are healthier and can absorb more available moisture. Reducing pressure from weeds means nutrients and water are more available to the corn, and farmers have to till less (or not at all). This helps keep soil and nutrients in place, which is a plus for sustainability. Newer corn hybrids are drought tolerant, helping plants produce more corn during dry years.
Crops that are genetically modified go through significant approval processes, including reviews by the USDA, FDA and EPA – and to date there is not a single documented case of a food allergy or human health situation due to crop biotechnology. You can find more information about the safety of GMO crops through GMO Answers.