1. ngin on Chuck Benbrook
2. Chuck Benbrook on latest speech and slides
3. nlpwessex on Chuck Benbrook's speech and slides
1. Chuck Benbrook: questioning the hype
Dr Charles Benbrook, the author of "Pest Management at the Crossroads" and a former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences, is a highly respected US agronomist and influential commentator on biotechnology.
It is probably not too much of an exaggeration to say he is probably one of the people the biotech industry, and their often less then deeply-thinking supporters, fear the most. Certainly his research and commentaries have been pivotal in questioning many of the claims and promises made by the promoters of this technology. Indeed he has probably done more than anyone else to undermine some of the most successful pieces of hype, namely that GM crops:
* are producing "bumper crops"
* are helping farmers compete economically
* are greatly reducing use of agrochemicals -- and hence are having a positive environmental impact
In a 28-page report, released in July 1999 -- Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998 -- Benbrook produced powerful evidence of the full extent to which none of this was true of Monsanto's flagship GE crop Roundup Ready soya. Unlike the USDA report published shortly before which failed to directly compare yields and chemical use in comparable circumstances, thus leaving many important variables uncontrolled, Benbrook's report reviewed the results of thousands of carefully controlled university-based soybean varietal trials, together with other data.
In his report Benbrook clearly showed that the problems with this technology were far greater than previously understood, as regards
* the extent of the yield drag averaging nearly 7%
* the increase in chemical use: far from RR soybeans reducing chemical use, according to Benbrook farmers have been using 2 to 5 times more herbicide, + a degree of tolerance to Roundup is emerging in several key weed species, contributing to higher chemical usage.
* the cost to the famer: the yield drag plus technology fee are bad news for profitability imposing "a sizable indirect tax" (can be over 12 percent of gross income per acre)
Elsewhere Dr Benbrook has written that GE soybeans are proving “the most expensive soybean seed+weed management system in modern history"
For a short summary of the findings in the report see:
The full report is downloadable as a pdf file from Chuck Benbrook's remarkable AgBioTech InfoNet website at: <http://www.biotech-info.net/RR_yield_drag_98.pdf>
Chuck Benbrook doesn't reject biotechnology but questions the hype and lack of thought that has gone into its development and introduction. Below are details of a recent speech by Benbrook and a power point slide show he is making freely available.
Here's a quote from the speech:
"Assurances of safety based on an absence of documented human health problems are not going to convince that many people. The general public understands how hard it is for medical epidemiologists to trace the causes of ill health. They know the causes of some of our major diseases are still not known with any certainty and most are convinced that diet affects health in extraordinarily complex ways."
I was invited to give a talk on biotech to the annual meeting of the Association of Formulation Chemists in Orlando, Florida earlier this week. It was surprisingly well received and seems to be getting around. In response to requests, have posted the written paper, with many recent references, on Ag BioTech InfoNet at -- http://biotech-info.net/lukewarm.pdf
3. nlpwessex on the Benbrook paper
We recently reported on an important paper presented to a Meeting of the Association of Formulation Chemists, Orlando, 6 September 2000 by Dr Charles Benbrook, former Director of the Agriculture Department of the US Academy of Sciences - "WHY MANY FARMERS AND CONSUMERS ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT GMOs AND WHAT MIGHT CHANGE THEIR MINDS" (more details available at www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/do-we-need-gmos.htm ).
Dr Benbrook has since kindly provided us with a "Powerpoint" slide copy of his presentation, with permission to distribute it to any interested party. If you would like a copy of this presentation please email us with "Powerpoint" in the subject line.
Dr Benbrook has indicated that people are welcome to use the file as a template to develop their own slide shows, with no attribution necessary. In addition to providing interesting perspectives on integrated pest management the show includes the following poignant reflection on the current state of modern agriculture from a US farmer:
"When I started farming 23 years ago, we didn't use the most powerful chemicals on the market, we didn't flood the land with fertilizer, and we still made a good living. I felt I was in control of my operation. Our gross revenue to expense ration was 3 to 1. Today, we are on the cutting edge, using GMOs, changing crop varieties almost yearly, using chemicals as if we farmed in Europe, and our revenue to expense ration has dropped to 1.25 to 1, on a good year, just enough to pay the grocery bill." Lloyd Fear, Red River Valley, Manitoba.
One thing is for sure. GMOs are not going to help farmers financially:
"Farmers will be given just enough to keep them interested in growing the crops, but no more. And GM companies and food processors, will say very clearly how they want the growers to grow the crops." Friedrich Vogel, head of BASF's crop protection business (Farmers Weekly 6 November 1998).
Despite addressing an audience of chemical engineers we understand that Dr Benbrook's presentation was very well recieved with the gathering proving more 'open-minded' than might have been expected. Are we reaching a more constructive turning point in the ongoing debate about the future direction of world agriculture?