Do GM crops increase yield? The answer is no
2.PG Economics - profile
NOTE: Item 1 taken from Devinder Sharma's new blog, Ground Reality: Understanding the politics of food, agriculture and hunger. Devinder refers to the studies of PG Economics' - profiled in item 2.
1.Do GM Crops Increase Yield? The answer is No
Ground Reality, March 10 2009
Lies, damn lies and the Monsanto site.
Tell a lie a hundred times, and the chances are that it would appear to be a truth. Monsanto makes that effort, probably for the umpteenth number of time. And the chances are that you too could be duped to accept these distortions as truth.
My attention has been drawn to an article "Do GM crops increase yield?" on Monsanto's web page. I must confess this is first time I am visiting Monsanto's site. This is what it says: Recently, there have been a number of claims from anti-biotechnology activists that genetically-modified (GM) crops don’t increase yields. Some have claimed that GM crops actually have lower yields than non-GM crops.
Both claims are simply false.
And then, it goes on to explain what germplasm is, what is breeding, biotechnology, and finally comes to yield. This is what it says:
The introduction of GM traits through biotechnology has led to increased yields independent of breeding. Take for example statistics cited by PG Economics, which annually tallies the benefits of GM crops, taking data from numerous studies around the world:
Mexico - yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybean of 9 percent.
Romania yield increases with herbicide tolerant soybeans have averaged 31 percent.
Philippines average yield increase of 15 percent with herbicide tolerant corn.
Philippines average yield increase of 24 percent with insect resistant corn.
Hawaii virus resistant papaya has increased yields by an average of 40 percent.
India insect resistant cotton has led to yield increases on average more than 50 percent.
This is not amusing. It can't be taken lightly anymore. I am not only shocked but also disgusted at the way corporations try to fabricate and swing the facts, dress them up in a manner that the so-called 'educated' of today will accept them without asking any question.
At the outset, Monsanto's claims are simply flawed. I have seen similar conclusions, at least about Bt cotton yields in India, in an IFPRI study. But then, I have always been saying that IFPRI is one organisation that needs to be shut down. It has done more damage to developing country agriculture and food security than any other academic institution.
Nevertheless, let us first look at Monsanto's claims.
The increases in crop yields that it has shown in Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Hawaii and India are actually not yield increases. In scientific terms, these are called crop losses, which have been very cleverly repacked as yield increases. What Monsanto has done is to indulge in a jugglery of scientific terminologies, and taking advantage of your ignorance, to build up on claims that actually do not exist.
As per Monsanto's article: The most common traits in GM crops are herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (IR). HT plants contain genetic material from common soil bacteria. IR crops contain genetic material from a bacterium that attacks certain insects.
This is true. And still more, herbicide tolerant plants and insect resistant plants in a way perform the same function that chemical pesticides do. Both the GM plants and the chemical pesticides reduce crop losses. Come to think of it. Doesn't the GM plants work more or less like a bio-pesticide? The insect feeds on the plant carrying the toxin, and dies. Spraying the chemical pesticide also does the same.
In the case of herbicide tolerant plants, it is much worse. Biotech companies have successfully dove-tailed the trait for herbicide tolerance in the plant to ensure that those who buy the GM seeds have no other option but to also buy the companies own brand of herbicide. Killing two birds with one stone, you would say. Exactly.
GM companies have only used the transgenic technology to remove competition from the herbicide market. Instead of allowing the farmer to choose from different brands of herbicides available in the market, they have now ensured that you are left with only Hobson's choice. The use of herbicide therefore does not come down. Several studies have shown conclusively that the use of herbicide in the US for instance actually has gone up.
Now, the question that needs to be asked is that if the chemical herbicide -- Roundup Ready --that Monsanto's herbicide tolerant soybeans use, increases yield than how come the other herbicides available in the market do not increase yield? Since all herbicides do the same job -- killing herbs, all herbicides should be therefore increasing crop yields. Am I not correct? Why do then we only think that Rounup Ready soyabean (which is a GM crops) increases yields, whereas other herbicides do not?
When was the last time you were told that herbicides increase crop yields? Chemical herbicides are known to be reducing crop losses. This is what I was taught when I was studying plant breeding. And this is what is still being taught to agricultural science students everywhere in the world.
Similarly for cotton. We all know that cotton consumes about 50 per cent of total pesticides sprayed. These chemical pesticides are known to be reducing crop losses. For the kind information of Monsanto (and I am sure they will agree to it without any question) pesticides do not increase crop yields, and I repeat DO NOT increase cotton yields.
Monsanto's Bt cotton, which has a gene from a soil bacteria to produce a toxin within the plant that kills certain pests, also does the same. It only kills the insect, which means it does the same job that a chemical pesticide is supposed to perform. The crop losses that a farmer minimises after applying chemical pesticide is never (and has never) been measured in terms of yield increases. It has always been computed as savings from crop losses.
If GM crops increase yields, shouldn't we therefore say that chemical pesticides (including herbicides) also increase yields? Will the agricultural scientific community accept that pesticides increases crop yields?
That brings me to another relevant question: Why don't agricultural scientists say that chemical pesticides increase crop yields?
While you ponder over this question (and there are no prizes for getting it right), let me tell you that the last time the world witnessed increases in crop yields was when the high-yielding crop varieties were evolved. That was the time when scientists were able to break through the genetic yield barrier. The double-gene and triple-gene dwarf wheat (and subsequently the same trait was inducted in rice) brought in quantum jumps in the yield potential. That was way back in the late 1960s. Since then, there has been no further genetic break through in crop yields. Let there be no mistake about it.
Monsanto is therefore making faulty claims. None of its GM crop varieties increases yields. They only reduce crop losses. And if Monsanto does not know the difference between crop losses and crop yields, it needs to take lessons again in plant breeding.
But please don't fool the world. Don't distort scientific facts.
For the record, let me also state that when Bt cotton was being introduced in India in 2001 (its entry was delayed by another year when I challenged the scientific claims made by Mahyco-Monsanto), the Indian Council for Agriculural Research had also objected to the company's claim of increasing yield. It is however another matter that ICAR's objections were simply brushed aside by the Department of Biotechnology, and we all know why.
Interestingly, ISAAA and several consultancy firms (how can you believe them after their role in the economic collapse the world is faced with) have been claiming that cotton yields in India have gone up after Bt cotton was introduced. Not only for Bt cotton, such claims are made about other crops too. I have seen this happening for the past two decades, whenever the crop yields are higher the scientists and the companies take credit. But when the crop yields are lower the blame invariably shifts to weather. And it makes me wonder why don't the scientists pat the weather at times of bumper harvest? You guessed it right.
At least I have never seen scientists and companies thanking the weather for record harvests. A former Indian Agriculture Minister Mr Chaturanand Mishra always used to say that he is not the Agriculture Minister, the real Agriculture Minister is Mr Monsoon.
This year, cotton production estimates in India have been scaled down by 14 per cent. Using the same yardstick, does it not mean that productivity of Bt cotton is falling? No, how dare you say that. The fault is not of Bt cotton, but you guessed it right -- inclement weather.
Peter Barfoot and Graham Brookes are co-directors of the UK-based company PG Economics Ltd - 'Independent and objective consultants servicing the agricultural, agricultural supply trade, rural and food industries'.
PG Economics has produced a number of reassuring 'reports dealing with the economic and strategic issues of GMO crops through the food chain'. In publishing the reports, PG Economics has issued press releases such as:
*GM and non GM arable crops can co-exist in the EU without problems: says new research paper
*Co-existence of GM and non GM crops in the UK can occur without problems
*GM opponents' theory on co-existence 'exaggerated' according to new report
*New research proves that co-existence is NOT a problem
The headlines generated include:
*New study supports GM crop co-existence
*Co-existence Thought Possible for Maize in Spain
*Consultants Say Biotech Crops Easily Coexist with Conventional and Organic
*GM contamination claims 'exaggerated', claims study
*Successful co-existence for GM food crops in 5 steps, new research
*Study backs GM co-existence
For the biotechnology industry, such headlines are literally 'good news', particularly when generated by an 'independent and objective' source. BioScience UK, the website of GM company Bayer CropScience, made plain its excitement in May 2004, 'Can GM and non-GM crops really co-exist in the European Union? According to the respected economic consultants group PG Economics, yes they can!!'
BioScience UK did not mention that the report was commissioned by Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE), an industry lobby group whose members include Bayer CropScience, as well as BASF, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. Nor was this fact mentioned by PG Economics in its press release of the report's findings. ABE was mentioned in the report itself but without clarification of ABE's membership or of the fact that it is an industry body.
PG Economics says of its customers, 'Our clients come from both public and private sectors. These include the leading biotechnology companies, agro-chemical manufacturers, seed companies & plant breeders, animal feed ingredient manufacturers, breakfast cereal manufacturers, oilseed crushers, food processors, starch/sweetener manufacturers, farmers organisations, UK government (eg, DEFRA) and the European Commission.'
According to PG Economics, the company's Philosophy and Attributes include, 'Active customer involvement in the development of consultancy project targets and implementation'. PG Economics also assures potential customers that from the initial point of contact it will 'endeavour to put forward a proposal to define our methodology and expected outcomes'. (What PG Economics can do to assist you)
As well as Agricultural Biotechnology in Europe (ABE), the company's customers are known to have included ABE's UK equivalent, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), Du Pont, American Cyanamid, the American Soybean Association, Novartis, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Monsanto Europe, the European Commission, Cebecco, Weetabix and the UK Government's Cabinet Office Strategy Unit.
There is a striking congruence between the known goals of some of these organisations and the findings of the research they have commissioned. For instance, the report GM Rice: Will This Lead the Way for Global Acceptance of GM Crop Technology? was commissioned by the biotech-industry backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), which works to achieve the rapid transfer of GM crops into the developing world.
PG Economics' ISAAA report concludes that the adoption of GM rice by developing countries would mean:
*for consumers - lower real prices, greater security of supply, and the availability of nutritionally enhanced rice;
*for farmers - reductions in costs of production, higher yields, greater flexibility/convenience in production, and additionalrevenues;
*for developing countries - improved food security, improved health and welfare for their people, and environmental benefits.
The only losers from the adoption of GM rice in developing countries, according to the projections in the report, would be (a) those farmers who failed to adopt GM rice and (b) the biotech industry itself which would make little money out of its adoption while losing sales of pesticides. On the other hand, GM rice would be so successful that it would lead to 'spin off' gains 'for adoption of GM technology in other crops' as well as encouraging the global acceptance of GM.
In terms of biotech industry PR, the findings of the PG Economics' report read like a dream come true. Its carefully argued conclusions are, in fact, indistinguishable from the industry's own promotional claims.
The key findings of the report press released as 'Co-existence of GM and non GM crops in the UK can occur without problems, says new research paper', were also music to the ears of the customer that commissioned it - the Agricultural Biotechnology Council. The ABC is made up of biotech companies anxious to see the early introduction of GM crops into the UK. The ABC's member companies are BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta.
Once again PG Economics' press release failed to mention who had commissioned the report. The report itself did mention the sponsor but again failed to make clear that the ABC, whose initials are remarkably similar to those of the AEBC - the UK Government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, is a biotech industry body.
Another PG Economics report, which argued that GM crops coexisted successfully with conventional and organic crops in the United States, led to accusations that the company had misrepresented the findings of a survey of organic farmers in order to support its premise. The paper stated that claims by 'anti-GM groups' that GM and non-GM crops cannot coexist in North America were 'greatly exaggerated' and that coexistence measures had 'been delivering effective coexistence for nearly nine years'.
The conclusions of the PG Economics paper were heavily based on a 2002 survey by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). According to Ken Roseboro, the OFRF survey actually showed 'the exact opposite: that GM crops are starting to cause economic and operational hardships to organic farmers'.
Roseboro writes, 'The main problem with PG Economics' findings is that they ignored the fact that the OFRF survey included organic farmers in areas where GM corn and soybeans are not grown . In fact, the survey had 1,034 respondents, but only 100 to 150 (ie a maximum of about 15%) produced corn or soybeans and were at-risk from GM crops.
'Farmers who live in Midwestern states, where the majority of GM corn and soybeans are grown, reported significant impacts. In these states, 70 to 80% of respondents reported negative impacts from GMOs. In addition, up to 88% of organic farmers in Midwestern states said they had to take some measures to protect their farms from GMO contamination. By quoting only the nationwide statistics the PG Economics authors, Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, are able to minimise the problems caused to non-GM and organic growers.' (Biotech, organic coexistence research paper skews facts to support dubious conclusion - emphasis added)
That Brookes and Barfoot might feel more sympathetic to the biotechnology industry rather than its critics or organic farmers would not be surprising. Not only is their company heavily dependent on both GM crops as a research issue and GM industry clients, Barfoot has spent the vast majority of his career either working in the biotech industry or in businesses wholly dependent on it.
Two years before he co-founded PG Economics, he launched the website of BioPortfolio Limited, of which he is still the MD. The site claims to offer 'a global directory on biotechnology businesses and acts as a “jump site” to corporate web sites, news and stock prices.'
During the mid-1990s Barfoot was also involved with Meredith Lloyd-Evans of BioBridge Associates - a biotechnology business development consultancy. Barfoot and Lloyd-Evans also jointly authored, EU Boasts Good Science Base and Economic Prospects for Crop Biotechnology.
Lloyd-Evans is a fervent supporter of 'crop biotechnology'. He has described Greenpeace's opposition to GM crops as having 'no science behind it'. Lloyd Evans says it has 'much more of the flavour of a sustained witch-hunt, based on the same kind of doctrinaire and destructive propaganda that underpinned Lysenko's diatribes against rational plant and animal genetics in the US (mainly aimed at his scientific and political rivals and doubly devastating because of the support he obtained from Stalin), Goebbels's and Goering's campaigns against non-Aryan activities, including science and other pursuits that might lead to national progress, and Pol Pot's dehumanisation of his invented ideological opponents'. (AgBioView)
Barfoot's co-author and business associate has also attacked the 'organic movements' as being 'more like extremist religious cults than logical realists'. On the role of GM critics in relation to the refusal by some African countries to accept GM-grain as food aid, he goes so far as to say, 'their eco-imperialism is the closest that we in the Western world are now getting to supporting genocide in the third world'.
Prior to working with Lloyd-Evans, Barfoot had a 12 year stint (1985-1995) with the Agricultural Genetics Company, which eventually led onto Axis Genetics. Axis' aim was to produce pharmaceuticals from GM plants, as well as insect resistant GM plants, but both projects floundered as a result of the anti-GM backlash of the late 1990s. Axis Genetics was at the very centre of that storm as its products included the GM potatoes researched by Dr Arpad Pusztai and colleagues. Pusztai's research suggested that the Axis GM potatoes had damaging effects on rats.
Axis was founded by Paul Rodgers. As well as working for Rodgers' company, Barfoot produced a report on GM for another company co-founded by Rodgers - Pestax Ltd. Pestax, like Axis, failed amidst the public backlash against GM.
Rodgers' partner, Dr Geraldine Rodgers, has made public statements every bit as extreme as those of Lloyd-Evans. Rodgers warns, 'Eating organically grown food puts consumers at risk of the following diseases: Food poisoning from: Salmonella, E.coli 0157 and Cryptosporidiosis, mycotoxin poisoning, liver cancer and other cancers (e.g oesophageal) and probably new variant CJD... While everyone's peering at GM foods down an electron microscope we could be in for the much heralded epidemics of cancer courtesy of the organic farming lobby'. (Eating Organically Grown Food Puts Consumers at Risk of Diseases)
It must raise questions about the extent to which PG Economics can be styled 'independent and objective consultants' when it comes to issues like the co-existence of GM crops with organic agriculture given that:
*the clients for its co-existence reports are almost invariably the biotechnology industry or its close associates
*much of Peter Barfoot's career has been spent in businesses dependent on the succes of the biotechnology industry, as well as in an entrepreneurial culture marked by extreme antipathy towards both organic farming and those who raise concerns about GM crops.