NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Genetic Engineering Can Help Fight the California Drought

August 5, 2014

California continues to battle extreme drought, with water usage restrictions being levied throughout the state. According to Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution, it is agriculture that is especially affected by the problem. Of all of the water consumed in California, farming uses 80 percent of it.

There is one technology that could do much to lessen the impact of the drought on California's farmers: genetic engineering. Genetic engineering (also known as genetic modification, or GM) can tweak plant properties -- including making crops more drought-resistant by engineering them to conserve more water.

But genetic engineering has continuously faced strong opposition, despite the opportunities that it offers. Miller provides a few facts about GM:

  • Over the past 20 years, over 3.7 billion acres of GM plants have been cultivated by over 17 million farmers worldwide, without causing a single environmental or health problem.
  • Globally, the economic benefits of GM farming have amounted to $116.6 billion from 1996 to 2012.
  • Herbicide-resistant GM plants allow farmers to plant crops without plowing the soil, reducing soil erosion and chemical runoff.
  • No-till crops also reduce the use of farm equipment, thereby lowering carbon emissions. Shifting to GM crops reduced carbon emissions by 19.4 billion kilograms from 1996 to 2012, equivalent to removing 8.6 million cars from the road for one year.
  • GM crops allow for high levels of production that would otherwise require tens of millions of additional acres of land to achieve.

The ability of GM plants to become more drought-tolerant, writes Miller, could be the greatest achievement of genetic plant modification. Such GM varieties are able to grow using less, and lower quality, water.

Unfortunately, instead of receiving widespread support, these technologies have been misrepresented and discredited by the media, writes Miller.

Source: Henry I. Miller, "California's Drought," National Review, July 17, 2014


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