Monsanto has commissioned a report from PG Economics Ltd. The report was written by the company’s directors: Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot. Barfoot also heads an organisation called Bioportfolio which has the motto: 'Serving the biotechnology industry' and both Brookes and Barfoot have a long and controversial history of producing reports that do exactly that.
A paper summarising the new report has also been published by the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics (aka AgBioForum). Although this is being presented to journalists as a peer reviewed journal, it has CS Prakash on its board and it is funded by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance whose purpose is "to fund biotechnology research... directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the US food and agricultural sector".
The science in the new report is somewhat less than impressive. It's not even clear where half of their figures come from. Most of the references are presentations at biotech conferences and unpublished articles and very few appear to have been peer reviewed. Some of the cited papers are from PG Economics Ltd itself (whose biotech reports are mostly funded by the biotech industry), the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy (described by an article in Science as 'a pro-GM industry group'), ISAAA (industry funded), etc.
The most outlandish claim in the report is that biotech crops are helping to counter global warming. As the article below notes, the report claims:
"biotech crops contributed to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This reduction results from decreased fuel use, about 475 million gallons in the past nine years, and additional soil carbon sequestration because of reduced plowing or improved conservation tillage associated with biotech crops. In 2004, this reduction was equivalent to eliminating more than 22 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 5 million cars - one-fifth of cars registered in the United Kingdom - from the road for one year."
But reduced plowing or improved conservation tillage - low or no till agriculture - does not require GM crops. The land agent Mark Griffiths quotes the US Dept of Agriculture's own analysis on this:
"Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption."
"This finding sits in stark contrast to the claims of those who have attempted to promote GM crops on the back of rising economic and environmental interest in no-till crop husbandry.
As the USDA report points out, the no-till acreage in America had already been steadily rising before the introduction of GM crops. That prior trend has since simply continued. In fact to some degree it has subsequently stagnated according to the USDA analysis.
It has never been necessary to grow GM crops in order to carry out no-till agriculture. In fact the countries that have been expanding no-till agriculture at the fastest rate in proportion to their total arable area are in Latin America, where only Argentina grows GM crops on a substantial commercial scale (no-till was introduced on tractor-mechanised and large farms in Paraguay in 1990 and by 1997 51% of its total cultivated area was 'no-tilled'. The relative figures in 2000/1 are for Paraquay 52%, Argentina 32%, Brazil 21%, and the United States 16%.)."
Ironically, where no-till is associated with GM herbicide-resistant crops, it is being undermined by the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds, as a U.S. weed extension specialist noted recently, "With glyphosate-resistant horseweed we've already seen a reduction in no-till acres."
Growing weed resistance also means increased use of chemicals and more tractor movements to deliver them. Another problem generating more chemicals and more tractor movements is that of volunteers. Just published research shows that this can be a significant problem with GM canola (rape) for as long as 15 years after the crop is grown. The study, published by the Royal Society, concluded there was "a potentially serious problem associated with the temporal persistence of rape seeds in soil."
In any case, the claim made by the report for decreased chemical use on GM crops is seriously open to challenge. A 2003 technical paper by Dr Charles Benbrook analysed all the publicly available US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data on pesticide use in the US since 1996 when GM crops were first introduced. It looked at pounds of pesticides applied and found that, while they initially led to a reduction in pesticide use, in the period 2001-2003 GM crops actually *increased* use of over all pesticides by over 73 million pounds.
There is also pretty good evidence that the increased corporatising of farms that GM-agriculture encourages globally, not least in developing countries, will result in more machines, larger farms with fewer workers and the growing of export not subsistence crops - all likely to result in an increase in greenhouse gases.
Also, if we really wanted to tackle the climate change impacts of farming, the main area to look at would be nitrogen fertilizers - where most CO2 emissions related to farming are found.
Graham Brookes was also punting the new report at a biotech industry conference going on in London.
Here's today’s conference session:
Here's the full programme:
PRESS RELEASE: Biotech Crops Reduce Pesticide Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Planting of these crops generates additional US$27.5 billion in global farm income
GM crops: the global socio-economic and environmental impact - the first nine years 1996-2004 (Full Report pdf 762 kb)http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/globalimpactstudyfinal.pdf
GM Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact - The First Nine Years 1996 - 2004. AgBioForum 8 (2&3): 187-196 (2005) (PDF 242 kb) http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/v8n23a15-brookes.pdf
Study Outlines Biotech's Environmental Advantages
PROGRESSIVE Farmer, 10/11/2005
According to a study released today by the London, England, firm, PG Economics Ltd, biotech crops have made a significant, positive impact on the global economy and environment, decreasing pesticide spraying and reducing the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 14 percent.
"Since 1996, adoption of biotech crops has contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and decreased pesticide spraying," said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, and one of the authors who conducted the study. "While greatly enhancing the way farmers in 18 countries produce food, feed and fiber, biotech crops have reduced the environmental footprint associated with agricultural practices. This study offers the first quantifiable global look at the impact of biotech crop production."
The study, "GM crops: the global socio-economic and environmental impact - the first nine years 1996-2004," reported that biotech crops contributed to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This reduction results from decreased fuel use, about 475 million gallons in the past nine years, and additional soil carbon sequestration because of reduced plowing or improved conservation tillage associated with biotech crops. In 2004, this reduction was equivalent to eliminating more than 22 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 5 million cars - one-fifth of cars registered in the United Kingdom - from the road for one year.
Biotech crops have reduced the volume of pesticide spraying globally by 6 percent since 1996, equivalent to a decrease of 380 million pounds according to the study. That's equivalent to eliminating 1,514 rail cars of pesticide's active ingredient. The largest environmental gains from changes in pesticide spraying have been from biotech soybeans and cotton, which have reduced the associated environmental footprint by 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively.
According to the study, the industrialized nations of the United States and Canada, as well as the developing nations of China, South Africa and Argentina, experienced the greatest reductions in the environmental impact of crop production.
"As the world is increasingly focused on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is clear biotech crops are already making an important positive contribution to achieving this goal," Brookes said.
In addition to environmental gains from biotech crops, substantial net economic benefits at the farm level have been realized. Since 1996, global farm income has increased by a cumulative total of $27 billion, derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains. This increase in farm income is equivalent to adding 3 percent to 4 percent to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans have generated the greatest gains at more than $17 billion in increased income, while biotech cotton farmers improved their income by $6.5 billion in the past nine years.
Growers in the United States and Argentina have reaped the greatest rewards, each gaining approximately $10 billion in the past nine years, while farmers in China have experienced a $4 billion income increase from planting biotech cotton, says the study.
In addition to the significant measurable benefits, valuable indirect benefits that are more difficult to quantify can be credited to biotech crop adoption. These include increased management flexibility, facilitating reduced tillage practices, reduced production risk and improved crop quality.
More than 8.25 million farmers in 18 countries around the world have adopted biotech crops, and 90 percent of those are resource-poor producers located in developing countries.