Home » Seeds: Weighing the Cost of Cultivating Genetically Modified (GM) Crops

Seeds: Weighing the Cost of Cultivating Genetically Modified (GM) Crops

by Kehinde Giwa

Weighing the cost, cultivating GM seeds offer numerous benefits, being  more pest resistant, drought tolerant, slower spoilage and increased shelf life. Improved nutrients, flavour and taste, climate tolerant seeds and seeds that can grow in areas of low soil fertility

The debate for whether it’s safe or not to cultivate  genetically modified (GM) seeds has been on for decades. This is usually  with  respect to certain  implications of such foods when consumed by humans, and if they hold any future threats to the environment. Several studies have been carried out by scientists to ascertain the safety of  cultivating and consuming GM-produced foods and if they meet  the same safety requirements as non-GMO foods do – as shown, they have been confirmed safe. Still, scepticism exists, especially among consumers. 

What are GM Seeds?

Genetically modified seeds are a kind of genetically modified organisms (GMO) created by scientists by altering  genetic material through genetic engineering. GMOs are living beings that have had their DNAs altered either through the  addition or elimination of  a desired trait to the system. Some crops commonly produced with genetically modified seeds include maize, soybean, sugar beet, cotton, canola, papaya, apple

Contrary to popular opinion, GMO technology is not limited to crop production, but extends to animals and microorganisms, and is used in crossbreeding and production of genetically modified bacteria and hormones, one of which is insulin used for the treatment of diabetes.

Seeds are an integral part of crop production because they determine several outcomes of agricultural productivity including crop yield, the availability of more seeds for the next growing season, and use as food for man. The quality of the seeds used in cultivation matters and good seeds can save one a fortune on pesticide use. Genetically modified seeds have been altered to achieve desirable traits such as drought and pest resistance. 

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But the use of genetically modified seeds has  undergone much scrutiny and here are some pros and cons of cultivating with GM seeds.


  1. Resilient Crop Variety

As stated earlier, the quality of the seed you cultivate determines the quality of harvest, and genetically modified seeds have been found to be both drought and pest resistant. GM seeds are usually developed to help farmers combat pest infestation by introducing certain genes into the seeds that protect them against pests attack. A good example is the armyworm which attacks maize. GM maize seeds have been developed to withstand armyworm attacks, which in turn leads to reduced pesticide use and assures a bumper harvest for farmers.

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  1. Nutrient improvement

Different solutions have been adopted to combat food insecurity. This includes, introducing  hybrid seeds to increase crop yield and provision of better storage facilities for harvested crops. These solutions are not enough to deal with the main challenge of providing nutrient-rich food. Genetically modified seeds offer  higher levels of vitamins and minerals to young children in developing countries. A good example is Golden rice developed by scientists (Professor Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal institute of Technology and Professor Peter Beyer of  University of Freiburg Germany) in 1982 as a Rockefeller Foundation Initiative to combat vitamin A deficiencies in young children and pregnant women. Golden rice was further improved in 1992 by New York scientists who used genetic engineering to add beta carotene from daffodils and soil bacterium to rice. Most recently, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) an improved version of Golden  rice has been produced by a partnership with Syngenta Institute with beta carotene twenty times higher than the first version obtained from maize and the same soil microorganism. This new version was  donated to farmers in the Philippines and Bangladesh during the first quarter of 2023.

  1. Faster growth and increased shelf life of crops

Gnetically modified apples

Image source: freepik.com

Since optimal use of input to achieve maximum output is the goal,  every farmer strives to obtain an improved variety of seeds to enhance production. Genetically modified seeds have been shown  to have increased shelf life post-harvest. GM seeds grow and mature faster and may have enhanced taste, flavour and appearance. A good example is  the non-browning apple or Arctic Apples developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruit. It was developed through a process of gene silencing to reduce the expression of polyphenol oxidase (PPO), thus delaying the onset of browning in apples.


  1. Cancer and Allergic Reactions

One of the biggest concerns of  consuming food cultivated using genetically modified seeds is that it may lead to the development of carcinogenic substances in the body. GM seeds are usually developed by gene transfer and cancer is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function. How they grow and divide and consumption of GM seeds have been speculated to affect genes, although no solid evidence has been found to prove this fact. According to the website of the American Society of Cancer, it is stated that “there is no evidence that foods on the market that contain genetically modified/engineered substances are harmful to human health, or that they would either increase or decrease cancer risk” .

There are other theories that suggest GM seeds may contain foreign genes from certain foods whose consumption may induce allergic reactions in people. But research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the agency in charge of testing GM foods before they are released to the market – has found no tangible evidence to prove this.

  1. Risk of Outcrossing

Outcrossing occurs when genes from GM plants are transferred to conventional plants (or vice versa) through the process of pollination, either by wind, insect or human action which may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. Scientists are still in the dark about the impact of crossing GM foods with organic foods. Although numerous research by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), have found no side effect of cultivating with or consuming GM seeds. Notwithstanding, many countries are putting modalities in place to prevent this gene transfer by cultivating GM fields far from organic fields

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  1. Threat to Biodiversity

As most GM seeds are developed to be pest resilient for certain pests that attack crops. Scientists fear this may either cause the extinction of certain pests and microorganisms or the build-up of tolerance and lead to an imbalance in nature. Also, GM seeds are developed to be herbicide resistant. And because the herbicide doesn’t affect the plant directly, it encourages high herbicide usage. This can lead to a build-up of weed resistance. It  will in turn affect  the environment, impacting soil fertility and reducing soil microorganisms population and loss of marine life due to the leaching of the soil to water bodies.

It is very likely that you have consumed one or more GM crops either in raw or processed form such as corn starch, corn syrup and fruit juices. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 90% of maize, cotton and soy produced in 2020 were grown with GM seeds.

Weighing the cost, cultivating GM seeds offer numerous benefits, being  more pest resistant, drought tolerant, slower spoilage and increased shelf life. Improved nutrients, flavour and taste, climate tolerant seeds and seeds that can grow in areas of low soil fertility. But along with these benefits are trails of numerous theories about GM seeds being a threat to human life and the environment.

However, it should be noted that GM seeds and crops undergo more scrutiny and testing than any other crop and have over time passed testing by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), FDA and USDA as safe and healthy for cultivation and consumption. So in conclusion GM seeds can be regarded as safe both for cultivation and consumption and farmers should embrace it to increase yield and productivity but ensure they purchase only approved GM seeds.

Featured image: www.dreamstime.com

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