Crops that have inherit pest resistance reduce the need for the application of chemical pesticides. Chemical pesticides can often have harmful effects on the environment, killing beneficial insect species in the field and getting into other ecosystems when washed into waterways. Some pesticides are illegal in the United States for their harmful effects. By using GMOs with inherit pest resistance, the use of pesticides can be reduced or eliminated.
Herbicides can also have negative impacts on the environment. Genetic engineering allows for the production of crops that are resistant to certain herbicides. This increases the potential number of herbicides that can be effective and potentially allows for environmentally friendlier herbicides to be used.
Genetic engineering can be used in many ways to improve the productivity of crop species. Resistance to herbicide and insect pests are two ways can help to improve productivity. Traditional breeding has long been used to incorporate desirable traits to improve productivity. However, traditional breeding is slow and is limited to the available genetic diversity in the species. In addition, some commercial crops are not well suited for tradition breeding because of long generation times or complicated genetics. Genetic engineering can be used to circumvent such limitations and will accelerate the development of improved crops and increase the potential for improve plant productivity.
The use of GMOs can significantly reduce the costs of growing crops. Genetic manipulation can lead to increased productivity due to resistance to pests, herbicides, or environmental factors. Alternatively, the use of GMOs can reduce the need for the application of chemicals and in some cases may lead to traits which facilitate planting, harvesting, or processing in ways which reduce the cost of production. Improved shelf life is an example of a trait that can reduce the cost of a crop for consumers.
Nutrition and Food Safety
The nutrition of plants can be improved by the use of genetic engineering. Golden Rice is an example of a GMO that was engineered to contain more vitamin A, the deficiency of which can cause serious health problems. Crops that are inherently resistant to pests or pathogens can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticide and fungicide applications. If fewer chemicals are used there could be a reduction in the amount of residue chemicals left on produce purchased by consumers. In developed countries regulations are in place to limit chemical contamination of produce (such as limits on quantities and timing of chemical applications). However, in some developing countries these regulations are not in place or are not well enforced, leading to foods tainted by residual chemicals. GM crops could reduce this problem.
Food Security (Reduction of Monoculture)
Genetic diversity populations are typically more resistant to biotic stress such as pathogens or pests. With a monoculture population, a disease that is able to attack one member of the population is likely to be able to attack the entire population because all members are essentially identical. However, a diverse population is more likely to have a subset of individuals that are resistant to the pathogen due to their genetic makeup. This means that a food production system built upon a diverse population is more resilient to biotic stresses and hence more secure. To avoid monoculture, it is important to have multiple strains of a particular crop with the characteristics that make them suitable for commercial production. Genetic engineering can be used to take the genes responsible for these traits and move them into different varieties of a particular crop, resulting in the creation of more commercially viable strains and hence a more diverse food production system. Traditional breeding is not always a good option because of long generation times, complex genetics, and specific technical issues for some species.