A new study funded by Monsanto, Syngenta and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) claims GM crops could boost European farmers' net incomes by $1 billion a year. According to the study's author, who has produced other reports claiming huge benefits from GMOs, "there will be general agreement that we got it right."

But Leonard Gianessi's figures have been challenged before - see the New Scientist article (second item below) on a previous Gianessi study, also financed by Monsanto and BIO, claiming similar massive benfits for the US but which "critics say... represents only a tiny saving to US agriculture as a whole, and that the study ignores some cheap alternative ways to combat pests. Even if the savings are real, they say, raising yields and cutting costs in the US will do nothing to solve the problem of food shortages elsewhere in the world."

Gianessi's figures in that case claimed US spent $1 billion less by using glyphosate-resistant soybeans but other analyses suggested such farmers were at best breaking even. Even the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) has reported, "the soybean results appear to be inconsistent with the rapid adoption of this technology" and that "An analysis using broader financial performance measures... did not show GE crops to have a significant impact."

For more on how USDA's findings have totally undermined Gianessi's claims, see:

1.New study spells out benefits of genetically modified crops
2.Fields of gold? - Biotech's cash benefits may not be what they seem
New study spells out benefits of genetically modified crops
St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 24 2003
WASHINGTON - Farmers in a dozen European countries could boost their net income by $1 billion a year if their governments would allow planting of genetically modified corn, sugar beets and potatoes, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report - prepared by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy - puts dollars and cents to the political and cultural debate raging over the use of genetically modified, or GM, crops. It was made public during the Biotechnology Industry Organization's 10th annual meeting.

"This is the first study that explains how biotechnology could impact Europe," said Leonard Gianessi, program director for the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington.

While the organization does not advocate a particular position or course of action, Gianessi said, "This technology might give the Europeans some options they'll want to explore."

The United States has accepted corn, soybean, canola and cotton crops that are engineered to resist certain pests, diseases and applications of glyphosate herbicide. Farmers have planted them on millions of acres - and report that they reduce the need to apply insect- and weed-killers, as well as boost yield.

Yet, the European Union has balked. Last month, the United States filed a dispute with the World Trade Organization, claiming the EU's five-year moratorium on accepting GM crops unfairly blocks exports from American farmers.

Monsanto Co., based in Creve Coeur, Mo., is the world's leading provider of genetic traits and GM seeds. It provided funding for the study, along with competitor Syngenta AG and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

The study took an initial look at corn, sugar-beet and potato crops, because GM varieties are already developed and have been tested or used in European fields. It used data culled from universities and researchers based on the continent, Gianessi said.

"Our data is their data, so there will be general agreement that we got it right," he explained.

A final report, due next year, will estimate the economic impact on European farmers of planting 15 different GM crops that are still under development, including tomatoes, wheat and rice. And Gianessi estimates that the economic benefit will double.

The financial gain stems from applying lower amounts of insect- and weed-killers to crops, as well as from improved yield. Among the results:
If farmers in the top corn-producing countries - France, Italy, Spain and Germany - would use seed engineered to resist the European corn borer pest, they could boost yield by 4.2 billion pounds and apply 117,000 pounds less pesticide. As a result, their annual net income would grow by $249 million.

Sugar beets are plagued by weeds, forcing farmers to spray a variety of herbicides four to five times a year. But if they planted sugar beets that can stand up to broad-acting glyphosate - which Monsanto sells as Roundup - they could use 4.9 million pounds less herbicide overall, boost yield by 11.1 billion pounds and raise net income by $390 million.

"Sugar-beet farmers are chomping at the bit for this," said Gianessi, who has shared the results with some growers' groups.

Perhaps the most compelling case is for GM potatoes that can ward off a fungus, late blight, which caused the 1845 Irish potato famine. Scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands are close to commercializing the technology that solves a 158-year-old problem, Gianessi said.

European potato growers now spray chemical fungicides eight to 14 times a year to ward off the disease - and still lose about 2 percent of the crop.

Using the GM potato each year could decrease chemical use by 16.5 million pounds, increase yield by 1.9 billion pounds and raise farmers' net income by $417 million.

The data are compelling, but many question whether European consumers would accept biotech potatoes that even Americans have turned down.

A few years ago, Monsanto commercialized potatoes engineered to resist the Colorado potato beetle and the leaf-roll virus. But processors and fast-food chains refused them, worried that consumers wouldn't buy in. So Monsanto shelved the product.

Harvey Glick, director of scientific affairs, said GM potatoes "were looking very promising." But Monsanto had several other crops under development at the same time, and instead chose to pursue sales of the big cash crops - corn, cotton, soybeans and canola.

The result, Gianessi said, is that the United States and European Union "share the same problems. Our growers are as frustrated as their growers."

Experts say Americans probably will accept GM table foods once they are engineered with benefits for consumers, rather than growers. And Monsanto is developing products with taste, quality or nutritional benefits, such as grain fortified with beneficial Omega-3 fatty acid.

In Europe, GM crop acceptance is still very much up in the air, Gianessi said. "The European Union is really considering which way they're going to go."

Reporter Rachel Melcer:
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Fields of gold? - Biotech's cash benefits may not be what they seem
By Kurt Kleiner
New Scientist, June 22, 2002

BIOTECHNOLOGY has been a huge economic success for American farmers. At least, that's what an industry-sponsored study released last week found. It says GM technology helped farmers save over 1 billion in production costs, grow almost 2 million tonnes of extra crops, and avoid spraying thousands of tonnes of pesticides last year. But critics say this represents only a tiny saving to US agriculture as a whole, and that the study ignores some cheap alternative ways to combat pests. Even if the savings are real, they say, raising yields and cutting costs in the US will do nothing to solve the problem of food shortages elsewhere in the world.

The report was prepared by Leonard Gianessi and a team at the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy in Washington DC, and partly funded by Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Gianessi's study looked at the costs and benefits of eight GM crops planted in 2001: herbicide-tolerant soybeans, canola, corn and cotton; insect-resistant corn and cotton; and virus-resistant papaya and squash.

The bulk of the improvements came from just two crops. Soybeans engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate saved farmers $1 billion. And a GM variety of corn, designed to control the European corn borer by expressing the Bt toxin, raised yields by 1.58 million tonnes.

Critics, though, are suspicious of those numbers. Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist often cited by GM sceptics, points out that soybean farmers didn't actually spend $1 billion less by using glyphosate-resistant soybeans. The $1 billion represents the estimated extra cost to GM farmers of using alternative weedkillers to glyphosate. But farmers who don't use GM soybeans find other, often cheaper, ways of controlling weeds, including tilling their fields.

Benbrook's own calculations show that farmers who use glyphosate-resistant soybeans may find weed control easier, but they pay a premium for the technology and probably only break even financially.

Benbrook says the gains in corn yields make sense, because Bt corn is one of the few effective ways to fight the corn borer pest. But while it sounds impressive, it only represents around 0.6 per cent of the 250 million tonnes of corn grown in the US every year. And the $1.2 billion supposedly saved on production costs on all crops is just 1 per cent of the $125 billion income from crop sales in the US.

Gianessi insists the improvements from biotech are significant, especially if you add potential gains from 32 other biotech crops that could eventually come on the market. But critics say that's not a huge improvement for a country that already has food surpluses, and where the government just decided to spend $180 billion on farm subsidies.

The savings probably make even less difference to world hunger, says Brian Halweil of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC. The World Food Summit in Rome last week concluded that local food production is more important than producing more food globally, Halweil says. And the majority of corn and soybeans grown in the US will be fed to livestock, he adds.