2-Plants: Agronomic problems with transgenic crops: a summary
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TITLE: Agronomic problems with transgenic crops: a summary
SOURCE: NORFOLK GENETIC INFORMATION NETWORK (NGIN)
DATE: May 25, 1999
----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------
The 'fact' that GM crops are good news in terms of food
production (in quantative terms at least) is constantly repeated
in the media and elsewhere. It appears an entirely sensible
assumption given the apparent enthusiasm of so many farmers for
growing them. The reality, as independent research increasingly
demonstrates, is very different (eg see http://www.btinternet.com
Recently we posted an important article ( "The EmperorŒs
Transgenic New Clothes") by UK land agent Mark Grifiths
email@example.com> which detailed the agronomic problems,
particularly as regards yield, with transgenic crops and
explained how these problems are being successfully hidden in the
US. As the article was quite long, we thought we would provide a
simple summary which also draws on additional evidence (available
on the Farming News page of the ngin website). Any inaccuracies
are, of course, entirely are own (see Mark's original article on
the ngin website: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/) .
Agronomic problems with transgenic crops: a summary
* Millions of acres of transgenic crops are already being
planted, with US farmers in the vanguard. The independent
evidence currently available, however, does not seem to support
the much advertised claim that transgenic varieties are
improving crop performance or boosting farmers' incomes.
* Some notable agronomic failures have occurred, perhaps most
spectacularly the crop failure of thousands of acres of
genetically modified (GM) cotton in Mississippi in 1997.
* Management problems have included the US Environmental
Protection Agency's insistence that crops modified with the
insect-resistant Bt toxin be planted only on part of a farmer’s
corn or cotton acreage because of concern about a build up of
* Other agronomic failures have been more subtle and US famers
appear largely unaware of their prevalence.
* This is probably because transgenic varieties are bypassing
traditional independent testing procedures, making it difficult
for farmers to obtain unbiased advice and information on their
performance relative to unmodified varieties, leaving the
biotechnology companies free to proclaim thieir virtues.
* Traditionally when companies in the US introduce a new variety,
Extension crop specialists (university scientists who advise
farmers) field test the new variety for at least 3 to 5 years.
* With GM crops, the companies are going directly to the farmers
with contracts, and the Extension crop specialist is being
* This means the vast majority of GM performance data is held by
the biotechnology companies. When data is released it is
usually in the form of summaries where unreleased raw data has
been analysed and interpreted by the companies themselves and
not by independent agronomists.
* Where independent scientists undertake such work and the
results are published, it is not always made clear whether
particular crops are transgenic or otherwise, as the
agronomists are not always provided with this information by
* However, research publicised in 1998 by the University of
Arkansas and Cyanamid appeared to show reduced profit levels
and lower yields for GM soya and cotton compared with
unmodified varieties. According to Cyanamid, trials on nearly
300 test sites across the US showed that high performing non
modified varieties produced yields up to 20% more than
transgenic soya in 1997.
* Cyanamid is a commercially interested party, but it is
possible to track down some independent data on comparative
yields and this appears broadly supportive of the Cyanamid
* The University of Purdue (1997) found trangenic soya varieties
yielded on average between 12% and 20% less than
unmodified varieties grown at the same locations.
* In listings published by the University of Arkansas (based on
the 1998 harvest), the top performing Soya varieties in terms
of yield were almost invariably non-modified varieties.
* A University of Wisconsin study (1999) of soya yields at 21
trial locations across 9 Northern US states, found lower yields
from GM soya compared with non-GM varieties in the 1998 harvest
at all but 4 of the trial locations (see attached chart).
Details of this research can be viewed via
* Independent trials with GM crops in the UK show the same
pattern. Trials run by UK's National Institute of Agricultural
Botany (NIAB) in 1997 and 1998 showed yields from GM winter
oilseed rape and sugar beet were between 5-8% less than high
yielding conventional varieties.
reported Farmers Weekly (UK), 4th December 1998
* Not surprisingly a number of US agronomists are quietly
advising farmers that if they are considering changing from
traditional varieties for economic reasons they need to
approach the question of the performance of transgenic
varieties with great care.
* This loss of yield with GM crops needs to be seen in the
context of the increased costs that the technology imposes. For
example, with Roundup Ready soya farmers have to pay the extra
"technology charge" to use the GM crop in the first place and
on top of this, as Charles Benbrook has pointed out, farmers
are finding they need to apply 2-3 applications (not just one
as Monsanto advertises) of Roundup - expensive! Benbrook says 2
or 3 other herbicides may also need to be applied. All of
whichmakes "for the most expensive soybean seed-plus-weed
management system in modern history"
Synthesis/Regeneration 19, Spring 1999 p. 15
* However, biotechnology companies are in a position to obscure
the agronomic realities. As they continue to puchase
traditional seed houses, they are increasingly in a position to
phase out existing non-modified varieties, irrespective of
their merits, or slow their development.
* Biotechnology giant Novartis has already threatened to withdraw
the supply of non-GM sugar beet seed to the Republic of Ireland
in the face of resistance to the development of GM varieties,
warning that: "Given the importance of Novartis on the Irish
market, this would have serious implications for the Irish
sugar beet industry." For more on this see
* The fundamental question is: given the extent of uncertainties
about the marketability, environmental safety and human health
risks of GM crops, are the risks involved worth taking for what
appear to be marginal or non-existent benefits?
* Additionally, in the light of the actual evidence, what are we
to make of the biotech industry's claims that the rapid
introduction of this technology is a necessity in order to
'feed the world'?
For more information see the Farming News page on the ngin
For detailed information and great links on the poor agronomic
performance of GM crops visit:
-| Hartmut Meyer
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax : #49-551-7701672
-| email: firstname.lastname@example.org