by Jesse Murray
A group of Italian researchers recently completed a meta-analysis comparing GMO corn variants to their non-GMO counterparts. GMOs are genetically modified organisms. This meta-analysis included over 6,000 peer reviewed studies from 21 years of field data on GMO corn. Its main findings were that GMO corn varieties increased yields by 5.6 to 24.5 percent compared to non-GMO corn. Furthermore, GMO corn had much lower concentrations of mycotoxins (-36.5 percent), which is a type of toxin produced by fungus commonly found in corn.
A common variant of GMO corn seed called Bt corn increases the corn’s resistance to insects. This kind of corn is genetically modified to include genes from a bacteria species called Bacillus thuringiensis Bt, which is used on ‘organic’ farms as a natural pesticide. By reducing the corn’s exposure to damage inducing insects, the Bt genes improve the immune system of corn and leave it less susceptible to fungal development.
Spraying the bacteria on corn can be expensive and ineffective as the spray only reaches parts of the corn. That’s why including the insect-resistant traits of Bt in corn is a cheaper and more effective alternative to spraying. Furthermore, the resistance to insects caused by Bt genes make many other conventional pesticides irrelevant, which may play a role in making the corn safer to eat.
Where the advantages of GMO corn are most conferred are in underdeveloped nations such as South Africa where GMO corn has increased yields by 24.6 percent. This makes corn far cheaper and more abundant to those who are living there. Furthermore, mycotoxins remain a health threat to those in the developing world, causing far higher rates of liver cancer than seen in developed nations. Therefore, a reduction of mycotoxins in corn may confer a larger health improvement to those in underdeveloped nations than to those in developed nations.
The study’s results are also good news for environmentalists as the higher insect resistance means that less pesticides need to be used to make food safe to eat. In addition, the higher corn yields mean that less farmland is needed to feed the global population. Using less land translates into less deforestation, which plays a large role in climate change and the destruction of ecosystems. Ultimately, the meta-analysis found that GMO corn makes for cheaper, more abundant and safer to eat food, with the largest gains going to those in the developing world, who benefit most from cheaper and safer food.