While Europe has long resisted genetically modified (GM) crops, a new study suggests their adoption could significantly boost yields and slash climate-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Wider adoption of the already existing GM crops in the European Union could result in a reduction equivalent to 7.5% of the total agricultural GHG emissions of Europe, researchers observe in a new paper published in Trends in Plant Science.

The research, conducted by the University of Bonn in Germany and the Breakthrough Institute in the United States, highlights the enormous potential of genetic engineering for the climate.

“We find that growing GM crops in the EU could reduce GHG emissions by 33 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year,” states the study.

The researchers used global agricultural data and estimates of the yield effects of GM crops to model how increased technology adoption in the EU would affect production, land use and greenhouse gas emissions. 

“As global demand for food production continues to grow, crop yield increases can reduce the need to add new land into production, thus preventing ad­ditional CO2 emissions from land-use change. Currently, land-use change accounts for over 30% of agricultural GHG emissions,” the study’s authors assert.

Citing past studies, the authors note that certain GM crops help reduce GHG emissions and support carbon sequestration in the soil by facilitating reduced tillage farming.

The authors also point out that the study only looks at already existing GM crops, noting that new genomic breeding technologies are being used to develop a wide range of crop applications that could lead to additional climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits in the future.