Simply put, if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were banned in the United States, there would be a significant increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to major land changes (including loss of forest and pasture land) and food prices would skyrocket.
This is all documented in a Purdue University study, published in the journal AgEcon, that aimed to identify the “significance of crop yield loss if genetically modified crops were banned from U.S. farm fields, as well as how that decision would trickle down to other parts of the economy”, notes the press release on the Purdue’s website. The study’s authors do not intend to argue to keep or rid of GMOs, but rather, they wanted to simply answer the question: “What happens if GMOs are eliminated in the US?”.
Let’s put the scope of GMOs into perspective for those who don’t know. Corn, soybeans, and cotton are three of the major crops in the US. In the US, GMOs make up 89% of corn, 94% of soybeans, and 91% of cotton.
Data gathered by the researchers indicated that in 2014, 18 million farmers in the 28 countries they studied planted about 181 million hectares of GMO crops. An astonishing 40% of that land was located in the United States.
This data was entered into the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP)-BIO model, a computable general equilibrium (CGE) economic model that was developed at Purdue University. This model examines the economic consequences of changes to GHG emissions, land use, and biofuels.
The model shows that if all GMOs in the US were eliminated, corn yield would decline by 11.2% on average, soybean yield would decline by 5.25%, and cotton yield by 18.6%. This huge decrease in yield of the US’s major crops would require additional land to be converted to cropland in order to make up for the loss. According to their study, approximately 102,000 hectares of forest and pasture would need to be converted (1.1 million hectares globally), thereby significantly increasing GHG emissions due to land use change.
In addition, lower corp yields will increase commodity prices. The study indicates an increase in corn prices by as much as 28% and soybeans by as much as 22%. In a world already ridden with food insecurity and hunger, can we expect consumers to pay 1-2% ($14-24 billion total in the US) more for food?
There are some countries that have already banned GMOs and some that are considering bans. There are also some countries that haven’t given GMOs much thought. From this study, we can surmise that if we ban GMOs at the global scale in the future, an incredible amount of potential yield will be lost. If GMOs are adopted in more countries, potential yield will rise.
Want to read more about GMOs? The title question was also posed as a thought experiment in International Business Times in March 2014. Unhealthy Fixation, an article published by Slate in July 2015, is also a pretty good read.