GM crops are promoted as a way of solving world hunger. But this argument does not stand up to analysis, since there are no GM crops with a higher intrinsic yield or that cope better with challenging climate conditions than non-GM varieties.
Most GM crops are engineered to tolerate herbicides or to express a pesticide. They mostly go into biofuels, animal feed, and processed food – all products for affluent countries that have nothing to do with the food needs of the poor and hungry.
Hunger is in any case not caused by a lack of food in the world. It is a problem of distribution and poverty. Poor people have no money to buy food, and increasingly, no land on which to grow it.
A few GM crops have been developed to help poor farmers in Africa. But they have had disastrous results, leaving the farmers who adopted them worse off than before. In contrast, conventional breeding programs have developed non-GM crops far more cheaply and successfully.
Breeding improved crop varieties is part of the answer to food security – the other part is how crops are grown and land is managed. The IAASTD report, commissioned by the World Bank and United Nations and authored by over 400 international experts and scientists, concluded that the key to food security lay in agroecological farming methods. The report did not endorse GM as a solution, noting that yields were “variable”.
Other studies confirm that agroecological farming has resulted in significant yield and income benefits to farmers in the Global South, while preserving soil for future generations.
The expense of GM seeds and the chemical inputs on which they often rely make them irrelevant to solving the problem of hunger. GM seeds are patented and owned by multinational corporations and farmers are forbidden from saving seed to replant, shifting control of the food supply from farmers to corporations. While non-GM seed is also increasingly patented, the GM process lends itself more easily to patenting than conventional breeding.
Finally, GM is simply not needed to feed the world. Conventional plant breeding has successfully delivered crops that are high-yielding, disease- and pest-resistant, tolerant of drought and other climatic extremes, and nutritionally enhanced – at a fraction of the cost of GM.