Research shows how genetically modified crops may help cut down greenhouse gas emissions

In agriculture, the use of genetically modified (GM) crops is still controversial, particularly in Europe. Many individuals are concerned that this will have harmful consequences for human health and the environment, according to polls. However, a new study suggests that genetically modified crops may be beneficial to the environment, particularly for the climate.

Research shows how genetically modified crops may help cut down greenhouse gas emissions
The expansion of the land area for agricultural production contributes significantly to tropical deforestation in Brazil. Image Credit: ZEF/University of Bonn.

The results imply that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the European Union (EU) might significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions. The work was published recently in the journal “Trends in Plant Science” by scientists from the Breakthrough Institute in the United States and the University of Bonn in Germany.

Agriculture is responsible for around a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production and fertilizer usage account for a significant portion of these emissions. However, land-use change is responsible for more than a third of agriculture's emissions, particularly the conversion of forests and other such natural reserves to agricultural land to meet expanding global demand for food and feed.

Using better technologies to increase crop yields on the land already cultivated could reduce this land-use change and the associated emissions.”

Dr Matin Qaim, Study Author, Professor and Director, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn

In other regions of the globe, genetically modified crops, such as GM maize and soybean, are commonly farmed, but not much in Europe. “The main reasons are public acceptance issues and political hurdles,” states Qaim.

Qaim and his Breakthrough Institute colleagues analyzed worldwide agricultural data and estimations of GM crop yield impact to calculate how expanded technology adoption in the EU might influence productivity, land usage, and greenhouse gas emissions in this current study.

According to the projections, increased adoption of GM crops in the EU might avert the release of 33 million tons of CO2 equivalents, which make 7.5% of the EU’s total yearly greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Higher yields in the EU would have a global effect

Most of these positive climate effects are attributable to reduced land-use change. The EU imports a lot of maize and soybean from Brazil, where the expansion of agricultural land contributes to tropical deforestation. Higher yields in the EU could reduce some of these imports and thus help preserve the Amazon rainforest.”

Dr Emma Kovak, Study First Author, Breakthrough Institute

The authors emphasize that their study only looks at genetically modified crops that are already on the market.

New genomic breeding technologies are currently being used to develop a wide range of new crop applications that could lead to additional climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits in the future.”

Dr Matin Qaim, Study Author, Professor and Director, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn

Dr Matin Qaim, the agricultural economist, is part of the Transdisciplinary Research Area “Sustainable Futures” and the Cluster of Excellence “PhenoRob—Robotics and Phenotyping for Sustainable Crop Production.”

Source:
Journal reference:

Kovak, E., et al. (2022) Genetically modified crops support climate change mitigation. Trends in Plant Science. doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2022.01.004.

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