Farming in India
No greater yields with genetically engineered crops
The (Seattle) Times, June 27 2008

Editor, The Times:

The New York Times article on the problems facing Indian farming contained information that was somewhat misleading ["Hopes of farm bounty wither on vine in India," Times, News, June 22]. It is true that the overall situation described has increased multinational agricultural companies' pressures on India to introduce genetically engineered crops. But these are not "crops with greater yields" as described in the text, since no crops have been engineered for increased productivity.

True, some crops engineered for other purposes have occasionally resulted in larger yields in some planting circumstances, but most have, in fact, produced lower yields.

A recent report from the U.N. and the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development found no conclusive evidence that genetically modified crops can increase productivity.

Instead, several studies had reportedly found genetically modified soybeans and corn suffer 5 to 10 percent reductions in yield. There were no other genetically modified crops close to commercial use that might increase yields. Genetically modified crops could not play a substantial role in solving key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger or poverty. Agriculture companies practicing genetic engineering were full participants in setting up the study, but when genetically modified crops were criticized, they stormed out.

In addition, the story failed to mention the role U.S. farm subsidies play in making life more difficult for Indian farmers. Due to these payments to U.S. farms, U.S. wheat is often cheaper to buy in India than wheat grown in India. Such subsidies have been ruled unfair trade measures by the World Trade Organization, but the new farm bill continues them anyway. So much for "free trade."

(The author participated in the negotiation of the U.N.'s protocol regulating transboundary movements of genetically engineered organisms and was a registered participant at four WTO Ministerial meetings.)

- Philip L. Bereano, Seattle