This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Are GMO Crops Good or Bad?

The National Academy of Sciences has just produced a committee report on the safety of GMO crops. You can download a PDF copy for free, if you want all the details. Or, you can find a summary in the NYTimes, which points out the good news and bad news from the report. The good news is that the committee found no evidence to suggest that eating genetically modified organism foods is bad for your health. The bad news is that there is not the strong evidence that we might have hoped for that GMO foods are increasing crop productivity. 
The committee concludes that the use of crops has generally provided economic benefits for the farmers and can increase their output in certain cases, for instance, by protecting crops from insect damage. Nonetheless, it says that nationwide, the introduction of the crops does not appear to have accelerated the rate at which corn, soybean and cotton yields were already improving.
“There’s no change in the slope, at least no significant change in the slope,’’ Dr. Gould said in presenting the results Tuesday, saying the finding was somewhat puzzling. While the influence on yields could conceivably be greater in developing countries, the report questions how essential genetic engineering will be to feeding the world as the population grows.
The crops themselves are not environmentally dangerous, but the way they are planted, maintained, harvested may still be environmentally harmful, although that was not a focus of this study. The reality is that we cannot continue to use large amounts of water and pesticide without some serious environmental issues. Overall, then, as positive as this report might seem on the surface, it points to some serious work that still needs to be done if we are to find food for a continually larger global population. 

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