Genetically modified organisms (GMO) could be a key ingredient to slashing some of the world’s most potent greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new study released Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Food production is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with methane being the second most important after carbon dioxide. Rice production is the largest man-made source of methane, accounting for between 7 and 17 percent of the total put into the atmosphere.
With global demand for food, rising genetic modification could offset the potentially harmful effects of greater production. After years of trials in China, scientists have successfully transferred barley genes into rice plants. The result was a boost in crop yields and a large fall in methane emissions. Speaking to The Los Angeles Times July 22, plant biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the lead author of the study Chuanxin Sun said “we demonstrated it’s possible to get these two traits with this technology,” he said.
The new crop’s methane emissions came to just 0.3 percent compared to 10 percent for the regular Nipponbare rice. However, the authors stress that more research is needed for a definitive conclusion to be reached.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that GMOs are more environmentally friendly. Josiah Neeley, a senior fellow at R Street Institute, writes that “existing GMO crops allow for less use of fertilizers and tilling, thus potentially reducing emissions and aiding carbon sequestration.”
The findings pose something of a dilemma for liberals, with many hostile to GMOs but eager to slash greenhouse gases. Neeley warns the whole issue of GMOs could be in danger of becoming irreparably polarized between left and right.
“If GMOs can be shown to mitigate climate change, will that make liberals more open to accepting them? Maybe, but probably not. In fact, the left’s growing opposition to GMOs could have the perverse effect of making liberals more skeptical of climate change,” writes Neeley.
There is a wide gap between public and liberal opinion on GMOs and the scientific consensus. In June, an ABC poll showed 91 percent of people thought the federal government should mandate GMO labelling.
A little more than half of the public believes GMOs are unsafe compared to a poll in January showing close to 90 percent of scientists who agreed they are safe for consumption. Over the last 10 years, more than 1,700 studies have been conducted examining GMO foods — all of which found they were safe to eat.
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