Banning GMOs may harm environment, raise food prices

March 3, 2016

A study conducted by Purdue University researchers shows that if the United States bans genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it may result in higher food prices, a boost in greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change, and major loss of forest and pasture land. The researchers wanted to know the significance of crop yield loss if genetically modified crops were banned from U.S. farm fields, as well as how that decision would trickle down to other parts of the economy. The findings of the study, funded by the California Grain & Feed Association, will be published in the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics (AgBioForum) this spring.

The economists gathered data and found that 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted about 181 million hectares of GMO crops in 2014, with about 40% of that acreage in the United States. They fed that data into the Purdue­developed GTAP­BIO model, which has been used to examine economic consequences of changes to agricultural, energy, trade, and environmental policies.

By eliminating all GMOs in the United States, the model shows yield declines of 11.2% for corn, 5.2% for soybeans, and 18.6% for cotton. To make up for that loss, about 102,000 hectares of U.S. forest and pasture would have to be converted to cropland and 1.1 million hectares globally for the average case. Greenhouse gas emissions increase significantly because with lower crop yields, more land is needed for agricultural production, and it must be converted from pasture and forest.

With lower crop yields without GMO traits, commodity prices rise. Corn prices would increase as much as 28% percent and soybeans as much as 22%, according to the study. Consumers could expect food prices to rise 1–2%, or $14–$24 billion per year.

“Some of the same groups that oppose GMOs want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the potential for global warming,” said Wally Tyner, James and Lois Ackerman professor of agricultural economics at Purdue. “The result we get is that you can’t have it both ways. If you want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, an important tool to do that is with GMO traits.”

Press release