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I was told that some Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) provide bigger crop yields and a more efficient use of land compared to unmodified crops.

Monsanto claim:

These [GMO] seeds grow into plants that might use water more efficiently, require less farmland or better withstand pests like bugs or weeds.

Is that true?

  • 1
    Welcome to SE.Skeptics! This site's all about checking out claims that you read or hear, so questions should generally contain a link to a particular source. In this case, there's little doubt that the claim that you're asking about exists; it'd be good if you could select a reputable source and edit the corresponding link into the question. – Nat Jun 5 '17 at 3:46
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    @BobTheAverage Could you elaborate? To me, this question's something like, "Do GMO's use land more efficiently?" while the other's "Do non-GMO's use land less efficiently?" – Nat Jun 5 '17 at 4:17
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    @Nat If I take non-GMO tomatoes, and add artificial fertilizer they are neither GMO nor organic. Food does not have to be one or the other. – BobTheAverage Jun 5 '17 at 4:21
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    Clarified that the claim is about some GMO, and not a general claim about all GMO. – Sklivvz Jun 5 '17 at 12:32
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Yes.

This meta-analysis read 147 original scientific papers about GMO crops. On average those papers found a 22% increase in crop yields and a 37% decrease in pesticide use for GMO vs non-GMO crops.

The meta analysis has been quite highly cited and the citing papers I looked at, (1 2), repeat the conclusions of the meta-analysis uncritically. The meta-analysis appears to represent some scientific consensus.

  • Surely it depends on the timescale. If I were to take all the fertilizer in the world and apply it to one field, that would increase my yields dramatically, but not next year when there was no fertilizer left. The opponents of GMO crops, to my knowledge, are not claiming they don't work, that would be ludicrous, but that the long term effects such as those on the wider environment will reduce yields in the long run. It's like asking, do sleeping pills help you sleep and citing a load of papers saying they do without any regard for the fact that they gradually stop working in the long run. – Isaacson Jun 12 '17 at 9:33
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    @Isaacson: What difference does GMO and non-GMO make on time scale? GMO is just a technique for producing new breeds, not any physically identifiable trait of an organism. We've been producing new breeds of organisms for the past 10000 years. The timescale effect has to do with intensive farming which would be the same regardless of weather or not a crop is GMO (indeed, non-GMO would be worse because they demand more resources to get the same yield) – slebetman Jun 12 '17 at 15:22
  • Some GMO crops are bred to produce pesticide like toxins which could theoretically be damaging to other forms of insect, which could have a long term negative impact on the ecology of the crop growing area and so reduce yield, but that's just an example. The point is genetics is a pretty complex thing and simply having a look at yields over a few years and declaring the whole thing a more efficient use of land is irresponsibly simplistic. – Isaacson Jun 12 '17 at 17:19
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    @Isaacson The claim in the question did not ask about long term effects. If it did, your comments would be relevant. – BobTheAverage Jun 12 '17 at 17:22
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    @Isaacson taking that sort of open ended approach nothing can ever be accepted. example: "Do vaccines cause autism?" "Sure all these studies show no but what if they're secretly causing a buildup of chemical X which will cause a billion cases of autism 10 generations from now?" merely pointing to remote possibilities that have not yet been falsified and combining it with appeals to ignorance doesn't provide much useful info. – Murphy Jun 13 '17 at 16:09

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