By Michael Stebbins
The measles resurgence has vaccines back in the headlines this Earth Day, but there’s another scientific breakthrough facing backlash that has the potential to undermine our collective well-being.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are not only a lot less scary than pop culture would lead you to believe — they are one of the most overlooked solutions to combating threats to our planet.
Forty-nine years after the modern environmental movement was born in 1970, marking the start of the annual holiday we know as Earth Day, climate change is expected to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year. Ninety percent of all global disasters are caused by weather, and 1.9 million homes in the U.S. are projected to be underwater by 2100. It’s ironic, then, that as a society we’ve come to vilify a tool at our disposal that can help us in the fight against climate change: GMOs.
GMOs are created through genetic engineering, which allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one organism to the plant they want to improve. Inherently, GMOs are made to be just as safe or safer than their conventional counterparts.
In 2016 alone, growing GMO crops helped decrease CO2 emissions equivalent to taking 16.7 million cars off the road for an entire year. GMOs also reduce the amount of pesticides that need to be sprayed, while simultaneously increasing the amount of crops available to be eaten and sold. Over the last 20 years, GMOs have reduced pesticide applications by 8.2% and helped increase crop yields by 22%.
GMOs are a wildly beneficial tool at our disposal — as confirmed by scientific experts and major scientific authorities around the world, including the World Health Organization, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and American Medical Association. GMOs only seem scary because the truth is often hidden by smear campaigns, misinformation and myths.
I grew up on a farm just outside of Buffalo and from a young age, I was taught and witnessed the benefits of agricultural innovation. But those of us not directly exposed to this transformative technology are often left to make judgments about GMOs based on what we hear from friends or see on the internet.
Distinguishing myths from facts online is more challenging than ever before, as evident when groups like Earth Day Network — which is responsible for the annual Earth Day campaign — spread misinformation about science. Despite the organization’s claim, GMOs do not harm bee populations. In fact, the best way to revive fractured ecosystems may be genetic engineering, as it can combat invasive species and increase disease resistance.
If we truly want to unite in the fight against climate change, it’s imperative we establish public acceptance of GMOs.
Michael Stebbins is director of external engagement for the Council for Biotechnology Information, a trade organization that promotes biotechnology in agriculture.