Since the mid-1990’s the biotech industry, led by Monsanto, has been proclaiming that their genetically-modified varieties would increase crop yields and help solve the rising worldwide demand for food. A noble goal, although these PR sound bites have been overshadowed by aggressive patent policing, millions in Congressional lobbying to keep those patent laws in place, requirements to buy new seed every year, shutting down small farmers and seed savers, and striking the fear of lawsuits into non-GMO farmers.
The first report to evaluate the effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies found that GM crops are not, in fact, producing significantly higher yields. “Failure to Yield,” published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), evaluated 20 years of GM research and 13 years of commercialization.
“It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concludes that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally.”
Perhaps even more astonishing, the report found that non-GM plant breeding and farming methods have increased yields of major grain crops by values ranging from 13–25 percent. Also, traditional and non-GM methods have been mostly responsible for the increase in per-acre corn production since the mid-1990’s (only 14% due to GM methods).
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These data alone suggest that the extraordinary effort and public money currently going into GM crops is not justified. When we factor in the negative realities of GM crops—the emergence of “superweeds” from the overuse of herbicide on RoundUp Ready crops, the production of new allergens and toxins, the genetic pollution into non-GM crops, the potential health effects on humans and animals—the case seems closed.
UCS concludes: “…it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”