Section at a glance
- GM will not solve the problems of climate change. Tolerance to extreme weather conditions involves complex, subtly regulated traits that genetic engineering is incapable of conferring on plants.
- Most GM crops depend on large amounts of herbicides, which in turn require large amounts of fossil fuels in manufacture.
- No GM nitrogen-use-efficient crops have been successfully commercialised even though promoters of the technology have been promising them for more than a decade.
- Conventional breeding is far ahead of GM in developing climate-ready and nitrogen-use-efficient crops.
- Additional means to cope with climate change include the many locally-adapted seeds conserved by farmers across the world and agroecological soil, water, and nitrogen management systems.
Climate change is often used as a reason to claim that we need GM crops.1 But the evidence suggests that the solutions to climate change do not lie in GM. This is because tolerance to extreme weather conditions such as drought and flooding – and resistance to the pests and diseases that often accompany them – are complex traits that cannot be delivered through GM.
Where a GM crop is claimed to possess such complex traits, they have generally been achieved through conventional breeding, not GM. Simple GM traits such as pest resistance or herbicide tolerance are added to the conventionally bred crop so as to put the biotech company’s “brand” on it after the complex trait is developed through conventional breeding.
While the resulting crop is often claimed as a GM success, this is untrue. It is a success of conventional breeding, with added GM traits. The GM traits do not contribute to the agronomic performance of the crop but make the crop the property of a biotech company and (in the case of herbicide tolerance) keep farmers dependent on chemical inputs sold by the same company.