The yield of crops in the US is no better than in Europe and the drop in grain prices makes expensive GM seeds less attractive

Below is an analysis of US farmers’ disillusionment with GM crops, from the French daily business paper, Les Echos.

US farmers in retreat from “all-GMO”

Lucie Robequain
Les Echos (France), 22 November 2016
English translation from the French by Claire Robinson of GMWatch

* The yield of crops in the US is no better than in Europe
* The drop in grain prices makes these [GM] seeds less attractive

There is a wave of revolt in the kingdom of GMOs. Driven by lower cereal prices, some US farmers are wondering if they still have an interest in growing genetically modified crops, which cost them up to twice as much to plant than conventional seeds. The debate on GMOs that is emerging in the United States is far removed from European concerns about public health and biodiversity. It’s about a completely different aspect: the return on investment.

The time is not conducive to unnecessary spending: in recent years, the world has consumed less corn, soy and wheat than it produces. As a result, the price of corn has halved since its peak in 2012, dropping sharply from $8 to $4 a bushel. This is also the case for soybeans, the price of which has fallen by 46% over three years. There is little reason to think that prices will soar over the next five years, warns the Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers' incomes have been negatively affected: they have fallen by 42% in three years (2013-2016), according to the ministry.

The cost of GMO seeds has gone in the opposite direction. It continues to rise every year. For example, farmers spend four times as much on their corn seed than they did twenty years ago when Monsanto marketed its first GMOs. Yet the price that farmers receive for their corn has not increased. "The return on investment just isn’t there,” said Joe Logan, an Ohio farmer recently quoted by the Wall Street Journal. He plans to abandon GMOs next year to go back to planting conventional seeds.

GMOs are all the more hotly debated because they do not necessarily fulfil their promises, at least in developed countries. The two largest producers, Monsanto and DuPont, had dangled the prospect of higher yields and substantial savings through less use of pesticides [in front of farmers]. But global data published by the United Nations and various research centres show that America has barely gained any advantages over Europe - where the cultivation of GMOs remains largely prohibited.

The New York Times therefore took the trouble to compare the yields of American and European crops. It found that the United States does not have better agricultural yields than Europe. "We have no evidence that the GMOs introduced into the United States increased agricultural yields, beyond what has been observed for conventional crops," stated the National Academy of Sciences in a recent report. The yield of corn crops, for example, has increased by only 20% over 20 years, according to the Ministry of Agriculture - even though the price of GMO corn seeds jumped 400% in the same period.

Increased use of herbicides

The [claims of] reduced use of pesticides [with GMOs] is equally questionable. And for good reason: weeds have evolved to resist Roundup - Monsanto's famous herbicide - and farmers are forced to resort to older and more powerful weedkillers, such as Dicamba. Data published by a recent US Geological Survey show that American farmers have increased their herbicide consumption by 21% over 20 years, while the French have reduced their consumption by 35% over the same period.

Americans have been successful in reducing the use of insecticides over two decades (-33%), but only half as much as French farmers (-65%). The gap is significant. If there is no proof of the harmfulness of GMOs to public health, the fact that some pesticides are carcinogenic is no longer debated.