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RESPONSE TO THE U.K. SOIL ASSOCIATION'S, "SEEDS OF DOUBT:NORTH AMERICAN FARMERS' EXPERIENCES OF GM CROPS"



It will be interesting to see the U.K. Soil Association's reply to Mr. Smyth's dissection of their poorly executed document.  

RESPONSE TO THE U.K. SOIL ASSOCIATION'S, "SEEDS OF DOUBT: 
NORTH AMERICAN FARMERS' EXPERIENCES OF GM CROPS" 

Oct. 2/02 
By: Stuart Smyth Ph.D. Candidate in Biotechnology 
University of Saskatchewan Canada 
(Via Agnet)

The report released by the U.K. Soil Association contains numerous
inaccuracies and leaves the reader with an impression that does not
reflect documented benefits from biotechnology and GM crops. This response
is intended to correct several of the most blatant errors or oversights
that relate to Canada*s use of GM crops.

Yield 

The study uses a 1999 study for GM canola (rapeseed) that was compiled
using the canola varieties that were initially approved. These varieties
were submitted for regulatory approval with an identified yield drag, this
was well known in the Canadian canola industry. New canola varieties have
a very short market dominance, about three years is the average life
expectancy for new varieties. The new GM canola varieties that account for
65% of the canola grown in Western Canada now outperform conventional
non-GM canola varieties by three bushels per acre, not the lag of 2.7
bushels reported. The following statement is found in the conclusions of
an assessment of transgenic canola (Canola Council of Canada, 2001) in
Western Canada: Generally, the perception among case study and survey
participants was that transgenic canola yields higher than conventional
varieties. Survey results showed that transgenic canola yielded
approximately three bushels per acre (>10%) more than conventional canola
in 2000. Case study participants reported a very similar yield advantage
for transgenic canola.

This yield increase is also acknowledged in a public report by the
Canadian Wheat Board (2002). This report attributes the higher yield to a
combination of factors: higher yielding varieties, improved weed control
and earlier seeding.

Agrochemical Use 

The study of crop management practices of canola growers in Western Canada
did find that chemical application on GM crops was 0.3 applications higher
than conventional canola. However, the data does not support the statement
that chemical application for subsequent years would rise. If chemical use
is higher following a crop of GM canola, it would be due to inefficient
crop management practices. Volunteer GM canola is easily controlled with
2,4-D at a cost of C$1.50-2.00 per acre. The real benefit from GM canola
is that it allows producers to use cheaper, less environment harming
chemicals. The Canola Council of Canada study found that the chemical cost
per acre for producers using GM canola was C$13.68 per acre compared to
the cost of C$22.53 per acre for producers using non-GM canola. This makes
the cost of herbicide 61% cheaper per acre for producers using GM canola.
Gianessi, et al., (2002) recently concluded that in the US, canola
producers using GM canola reduced herbicide use by 0.7 pounds per acre,
which translates into a savings of US$15 per acre.

Farmer Income 

The Canola Council of Canada study found a substantial increase in
producer revenue by using GM canola. By summing the increase in yield per
acre, less dockage and higher seed grade, the study found that GM canola
provided a revenue advantage of C$15.40 per acre above conventional
canola. In addition, the study estimates that the level of direct economic
impact for Canadian canola farmers between 1997-2000 ranges from C$144
million to C$249 million. Gianessi, et al., (2002) found after an
assessment of the eight presently adopted transgenic crops in the US, that
there are substantial benefits. The reduction in pesticide use was 46
million pounds per year and yield increases of 4 billion pounds per year
meant that there is an economic benefit of US$1.5 billion per year. When
the benefit of 32 other transgenic cultivars that have not been fully
adopted or fully developed, the economic benefit increase to US$2.5
billion per year. A recent study of herbicide tolerant soybeans in
Ontario, Canada, found a higher revenue for the herbicide tolerant
soybeans in 2001 despite a lower price for these soybeans.

Herbicide resistant volunteers 

The report states that rapeseed can pollinate with wild mustard,
statistically this is true, but in reality cross-pollination is not
occurring. A recent issue of Nature Biotechnology examined the liabilities
of GM crops, and Smyth, et al. (2002) found there to be no concern about
cross-pollination between GM canola and weedy relatives. Recent research
from France has examined the potential for genes from rapeseed to flow
into wild mustard, hoary mustard and wild radish (27). This study found
that, on average, the rate of out-crossing was 0.18% for wild mustard,
1.9% for hoary mustard and 23.8% for wild radish. Collaborative research
between Canada and France (28) has shown that cross-pollination between
canola and wild mustard is virtually non-existent. This study examined 2.9
million wild mustard seeds and concluded that łno hybrid was found
[A]ctual cross-fertilization appeared very low, below one per million˛
(28). A study on the possible hybridization between canola and hoary
mustard (29) found that while it was technically possible, the hoary
mustard seed had to be imported from France to enable the study to take
place in Canada, as hoary mustard is unable to survive the winter season
on the Canadian prairies. While wild radish is a weed in the Maritimes of
Canada (with only one sighting in Alberta), given limited canola
production there, the potential for gene escape into wild radish was
judged to be remote at best.

The interesting thing about the UK Soil Association*s report is that it
attempts to leave the impression that controlling volunteer canola is a
new problem for Western Canadian producers. A report released by
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (1996) found that prior to the
commercialization of GM canola, volunteer conventional canola was listed
as the 12th worst weed for producers.

Contamination 

The report tries to leave the reader with the impression that there is
something physically harmful from allowing non-GM crops to co-mingle with
GM crops. The regulatory agencies in Canada and the United States have
found all GM crop varieties to be substantially equivalent to conventional
crop varieties. GM crops can and have been identity preserved (Smyth and
Phillips, 2002) in North American agriculture, the problem is that foreign
export markets are frequently unwilling to pay premiums to ensure the
quality they are demanding is being met.

National Farm Economy 

The report claims that Canada has lost $300-400 million due to lost canola
sales in Europe. In reality, in the five years prior to the introduction
of GM canola, Canadian canola exports to Europe ranged from a low of 1% of
total production in 1990-91 to a high of 17% in 1994-95 (Canola Council of
Canada, 2001a). In the early 1990s, Canada domestically consumed 22% of
the total canola production. Due to the present day situation of a
increased canola crushing capability, Canada consumed 35% of total
production in 2000-01. In addition, Canada has increased canola exports
into the US market from 15% in 1990-91 to 26% in 2000-01. This shows that
Canada has shifted the lost export opportunity from Europe by increasing
domestic crushing and exports to the US. It is correct that Canada can no
longer serve the European canola market and we are losing market sales,
however to suggest that we are losing $300-400 million per year is grossly
inaccurate.

References 

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 1996. Saskatchewan Weed Survey.
Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Research Center.

Canadian Wheat Board. 2002. A Discussion Paper on: Agronomic Assessment of
Roundup Ready® Wheat. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at:
www.cwb.ca/publicat/roundup_ready/rrw.pdf.

Canola Council of Canada. 2001. An Agronomic and Economic Assessment of
Transgenic Canola. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at:
http://www.canola-council.org/production/gmo5.html.

Canola Council of Canada. 2001a. Provincial acreage and yields. Retrieved
July 12th, 2001 from the World Wide Web at: www.canola-cpouncil.org.

Gianessi, L., Cressida, S., Sujatha, S. and Carpenter, J. 2002. Plant
Biotechnology: Current and Potential Impact for Improving Pest Management
in U.S. Agriculture. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at:
www.ncfap.org/40CasesStudies/MainReport.pdf.

Smyth, S., Khachatourians, G. G. and Phillips, P. W. B. 2002. Liabilities
and economics of transgenic crops. Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 20, June,
pp. 537-541.

Smyth, S. and Phillips, P. W. B. 2002. Competitors co-operating:
Establishing a supply chain to manage genetically modified canola.
International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1,
pp. 51-66.