Mar 10, 2009

Do GM Crops Increase Yield? The answer is No

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 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.

8 comments:

Byron said...

I found this site.

http://www.landec.com/business/monsanto.html

Here's a company that is partnering with Monsanto called Landec. They coat seeds with some stuff (has anyone checked to see if it's healthy for the environment or us?) that protects it from weather and so helps to reduce seed losses. Then they claim increased yields as if they have somehow managed to genetically increase yields per plant. As if GM technology is somehow the key. But as you say, they have simply reduced losses. Big Difference.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, thank you for writing and posting for the world to see, please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

As an organic farmer, I would love to be able to read this article and take it seriously, but it is so badly writen that it has just the opposite effect. The author talks about Monsanto indulging "in a jugglery of scientific terminologies" but I fear the author has done exactly the same. The primary problem is his distinction between "yield increase" and "crop loss". Contrary to his thesis, there is no difference. Yield is a measure of what comes out of the field, if less comes out because of "crop loss" as opposed to some other reason, that doesn't matter. "Crop loss" is a significant reason for a decrease in yield, not a different animal. As for agricultural scientists, the answer to the author's question is that agricultural scientist have been saying that pesticides increase crop yields for years. That is the standard mantra. And for farmers who do not follow good organic practices, pesticides do increase yields. And given the paucity of research on organic farming (something the land-grant universities are starting to correct), I can say from experience that following good organic practices is a major challenge. For the majority of organic farmers, yields are lower than for conventional farmers and part of the reason is the use of pesticides. This is only part of the problem with this article. I makes me both sad and angry. There is so much that should be written about the serious problems with GM crops that to have an article such as this appear just makes it more difficult to convince skeptics of the seriousness of the problem

Anonymous said...

Right Anonymous. And you're not a Monsanto plant either right?

You must not have gotten the memo. Here's Monsanto's latest spin.

"The main uses of GM crops are to make them insect tolerant and herbicide tolerant. THEY DON'T INHERENTLY INCREASE THE YEILD. They protect the yield." (Emphasis mine). This is exactly what Mr Sharma stated.

Further you really need to get with the facts. Yous state, "For the majority of organic farmers, yields are lower than for conventional farmers". Wrong! You can start here.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html?startindex=10

alotstuff said...

nice blog and have lots of stuff here....

http://biotechnolo.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Article lacks logical arguments & all arguments are superficial. No feasible alternative suggested. Author seems to have a personal problem with GM crops & Monsanto.

Devinder Sharma said...

Of course, any argument that exposes the lies of GM industry is superficial and unconvincing.

Najma Sadeque said...

The whiner is obviously a GM stooge or plant. That's why he stay anonymous. They don't have the logic or the knowledge or the guts to come up-front. - Najma Sadeque