Actually, I’d say, “Fungi, while occasionally but rarely dangerous to your crops, are also critical components of soil systems without which nearly everything would die.”
This is not really true. It’s true that herbicide tolerance is a common reason - also, that was one of the easier modifications to make. But plants are not modified for pesticide or fungicide tolerance - rather, pesticide and fungicides are chosen because they affect pests and fungus without affecting plants. Herbicides are the sticking point; they kill some plants and not others. The genetic modifications turn the plants we like into “others.” It doesn’t make them unlike everything in nature… it makes them like the other plants in nature which aren’t affected by the herbicide in question. Weeds are naturally evolving to become more tolerant of the herbicides, too.
It’s true for soybeans that the majority of soybeans planted today are herbicide tolerant… but for most other crops, there are a variety of different kinds of modification - and most often, “stacked” modifications of multiple types. The benefits are actually coming more from other aspects than the herbicide tolerance!
Yields come up from disease resistance, drought tolernace… and yields also come up from plain-old higher-yielding varieties (whether produced from intentional genetic modification or the old-style accidental modification.) but there are benefits beyond yields, too.
For example… pest-resistant varieties don’t need to be sprayed with pesticides as much. In the late 90’s, corn was typically being sprayed with over 2 pounds per acre of pesticides. Now they’re being sprayed with an average of 1/4 pound… that’s 1/8th the level of pesticides. That means less pesticide residue in the food we eat, and that’s a very good thing.
And it doesn’t stop there. You talked about soil health, and I agree. And we’ve learned that no-till is better for the soil, and conservation tillage is second-best (think, heavy mulching.) When the soil is healthier, the plants are hardier (resistant to pests and disease) and require less artificial application of fertilizers (less wasted money and energy, less fertilizer runoff pollution.) So what improves tillage practices? Answer: herbicide-resistant crop plants.
Weed control is a large part of conventional tillage! Hoeing the weeds is as old as farming. If you can use a small amount of herbicide without killing your crop, you can get away from conventional tillage and go with conservation tillage or even no-till. To wit:
Runoff of fertilizers and topsoil from conservation tillage and no-till is much lower… and that’s better for our lakes, streams, even the oceans near where rivers dump silt.
Lastly, like I said, herbicide tolerance (HT) isn’t the only group of modifications under consideration… nor is insect resistance. They are the two largest, but more than half of the modification now being tested are for other things - things like tolerance of more/less water, resistance to viruses and fungus and bacteria, improvements in plant characteristics, and improvements in the quality of the product (our canola oil takes longer to go rancid, the new FalvrSavr tomato will last longer on the shelf even when allowed to actually ripen before picking. etc.)
If you know a bit about genetic engineering techniques and the limits of what’s possible (note: frankenfoods are just not possible, and frankly, are more likely to come from the random mutations natures plays with than the intentional ones scientists make), you get over the fear of genetic engineering as a practice. If you know a bit about DNA and proteins, you realize that DNA is just protein which we break down and absorb when we eat - and it doesn’t matter what was encoded in the DNA before we ate it; we break it down to absorb it, so you get over the fear of eating something with “modified” DNA.
But there are still lots of areas that are serious concerns. If GMO use can improve soil conservation, improve water conservation, reduce pesticide use, reduce fertilizer inputs, improve product quality, and reduce energy waste (by reducing fertilizer, reducing spoilage, reducing unnecessary tillage)… well, those are all very, very good things.
My reference for the charts above is the USDA report, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years.