Sound Science: Time to Cheer for Corn

In previous posts we’ve highlighted the importance, safety and other positive attributes of genetically engineered (GE, Genetically Modified Organism or GMO) crops. Biotechnology's use in food production has the ability to safely decrease food waste, give multiple populations reliable and nutritious food options, and help farmers grow crops even more efficiently. In fact, this technology has been used for over 20 years and has been scientifically proven to be a safe and effective way to support agriculture. Also, according to PG Economics LTD, the global benefits for genetically modified crops have reached $150 billion since the crops were first planted in 1996.

Now, it just so happens that a specific GE crop, corn (maize), has some pretty noteworthy characteristics that support our food system and economy.  GE corn is made to be herbicide–resistant, insect-resistant or a combination of both. We’ve chatted you up about this before as well, but a new study has uncovered that not only does GE corn score high on the “productivity-in-farming chart,” but 21 years of peer-reviewed data also support the positive agronomic, human and environmental health traits of GE corn.

Not-So-Corny Corn Research

In “Impact of genetically engineered maize on agronomic, environmental and toxicological traits: a meta-analysis of 21 years of field data,” the Pellegrino research team performed a meta-analysis by analyzing approximately 6,000 globally published peer-reviewed literature publications (from 1996 to 2016) on yield, grain quality, impact on non-target organisms (NTOs), impact on target organisms (TOs) and soil biomass decomposition of GE corn. Ideally, farmers around the globe aim to cultivate corn that grows with high quality yields and with minimal impact on the environment. Environmental impacts can include adverse effects on the soil, “friendly organisms” (bugs and microbes that don’t harm the crops and which may be beneficial), water resources and greenhouse gas emissions.  

The results of the Pellegrino, et al, study indicated that there is strong evidence that GE corn performed better than its near-isogenic line (non-GE modified, but similar in genetic identity) in multiple ways:

  • Enhanced grain quality
  • Grain yield 5.6 to 24.5 percent higher
  • Lower concentrations of toxic chemical production (i.e. can have a negative environmental impact and on people and animal health), including mycotoxins (−28.8 percent), fumonisin (−30.6 percent) and thricotecens (−36.5 percent).
  • Increased pest resistance without impacting most non-target insects (which results in a decreased use of pesticides and translates into less pesticide production demand and also fewer energy inputs on the farmers’ end too)

You Should Be “A-maized”

Growing a widely used crop such as corn with these added benefits is significant on a global scale. With the growing population and a lack of growing land available, farmers need to be strategically efficient in growing high-demand commodity crops, such as corn, while maintaining our food supply. Such GM crops are a helpful instrument in farmers’ tool belts as they aim to maintain or improve farming productivity.

Corn is used for feeding people and animals, but it is also used to produce fuel (ethanol) and many everyday products — toothpaste, dish detergent, paper, cosmetics, clothing dyes and adhesives, to name just a few.

Final Thoughts

While scientists and farmers work together to better produce a safe and reliable food supply, it is good to see yet another thorough review of scientific literature of the safety and efficacy of GM crops, and certainly one that is as ubiquitous as corn.

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