GM Crop Yields not Higher, Analysis Claims

01.11.2016 -

Genetic modification of crops in North America has not increased crop yields or led to a reduction in the use of chemical crop protectants – in particular compared with Europe, where genetically modified (GM) crops are banned, restricted or generally not grown – the US newspaper New York Times asserts in an examination of the respective markets.

In its analysis – which did not address the question of whether GM crops are safe to eat or destroy the environment – the newspaper used data from the United Nations and the US National Academy of Sciences to draw its conclusion that “the technology has fallen short of its promise,” or at least the claims of the companies that embrace it. 

Assertions by the agrochemical industry that making crops immune to insecticides and herbicides would at the same time make them grow robustly and require less spraying do not hold water, the Times said. By contrast, it said herbicide use in the US – in contrast to modern agricultural economies such as France and Germany – has actually increased, even as corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to GM varieties.

While in the US, consumption of insecticides and fungicides has receded by a third, the spraying of herbicides – which are applied in much higher volumes – has increased by 21%, the analysis found.  At the same time, it said France’s use of both insecticides and fungicides has fallen by 65% and herbicide use by 36%.

Figures from the US Department of Agriculture quoted by the newspaper point to a “skyrocketing” use of herbicides especially in one of the leading GM crops, soybeans.  Here, application was found to have increased two and a half times over the past two decades, while planted acreage grew by less than a third. The use of herbicides in corn, which the figures show trending downward before the introduction of GM crops, doubled from 2002 to 2010 before leveling off, the analysis showed.

Ironically, the Times’ researchers noted, the weed resistance problems of such recombinant products as Monsanto’s non-selective Roundup Ready have led in major part to increased spraying and increased the company’s sales of seeds engineered for herbicide resistance.

In a comparison of genetically modified crops such as rapeseed in the US and Canada with varieties grown in western Europe, the newspaper said the European farmers,  despite a lack of access to GM crops, had higher yields than their counterparts in Canada, a leading global producer.  While the researchers acknowledged that different varieties are sold in the two regions, they said the trend lines in the relative yields have not shifted in Canada’s favor since the introduction of genetic modification technologies more than two decades ago. For corn, the trend lines barely diverge, the Times said, while adding that sugar beets planted in western Europe have shown stronger yield growth compared with the US, without genetic modification.

EP Opposes Commission

The European Parliament meanwhile has indicated its opposition to plans by the European Commission plans to authorize five GMO products made by Monsanto, including maize Bt11, 1507 and MON810 (seeds and products) and a glyphosate-resistant cotton. The Parliament repeated its calls for a reform of the EU’s GMO authorization procedure.   

MEPs have expressed concern that maize Bt11 and maize 1507 could harm “non-target” species of butterflies and moths. They claim that some GMO crops are now being authorized by the Commission for use in the EU without the support of opinions of member state committees, adding that this was supposed to be an exception to the usual decision-taking procedure, but in fact has become the norm.