Double-whammy hits GM crops - multiple items
2.Corn, soy crops gain little from genetics
3.Good old fashioned farming beats biotech, group says
4.Gene-Altered Crops Do Little for Yields, Group Says
5.Engineered Crops Won't Feed World, New Report Says
6.Biotech corn, soy does little to boost yield-study
1.Double-whammy hits genetically modified crops
By Emma Ritch
Cleantech Group (Canada), April 14 2009
Germany becomes the latest country to defy an EU ruling and outlaw GM crops, while the Union of Concerned Scientists say GM crops offer little added benefit.
Two declarations released today about genetically modified crops took the industry to task on two fronts: its environmental impact and its lack of significant yield increases to-date.
Germany's Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner today announced a nationwide ban on the only genetically modified crop that was permitted in the country because of concerns of the environmental impact.
The ruling outlaws the MON 810 strain of corn that St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto (NYSE: MON) engineered with a gene to protect against the European corn borer butterfly. The move makes Germany the latest in a string of European countries to outlaw Monsanto's GM corn, despite a ruling from an EU regulatory body in favor of the science.
Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report today that says 13 years of commercialization of GM crops have failed to deliver on industry promises to significantly increase U.S. crop yields, calling for public dollars to be spent on more results-oriented science.
GM crops have been hailed as a way to protect against pests, drought and disease to increase yields for food or biofuel feedstocks (see Monsanto pumps corn for ethanol and Monsanto, Perten team up for ethanol process tools). Advocates say that fewer crop losses also lead to less carbon emissions from decomposing crops (see Biotech crops lower world's carbon emissions, says researcher).
Those benefits have led to significant growth in demand, and dozens of GM crops are still in the pipeline of development (see Global biotech crops up 13% in 2006, driven partly by biofuel).
But the Union of Concerned Scientists disputed the claims of increased production in the "Failure to Yield" report.
"Clearly the industry has been trying as long as it has existed to improve yields, but the record is extremely meager," Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at UCS and author of the report, told the Cleantech Group."Going forward, we need to be careful about putting too many eggs in the basket of genetic engineering."
The report looks at the two most popular GM uses: herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans, and pest-resistant corn. The report showed that the use of herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans have had no effect on actual per-acre yields.
Insect resistant-corn has increased net production levels by 3 percent to 4 percent since 1996, but that averages out to a 0.3 percent increase each year, while traditional agriculture increases production at a rate of about 1 percent each year, the UCS said. The conclusions were based on two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans.
The report doesn't examine the environmental impact, nutritional value, or quality of GM crops. But leaders of several political parties in Germany said they were concerned that pollen from the GM corn could spread to other fields, compounding any environmental problems that might arise by contaminating traditional corn crops.
The European Food Safety Authority has ruled that the Monsanta MON 810 strain is safe for commercial use in the European Union. The EFSA was tapped as the sole organization in the EU to make rulings on the safety of GM crops, but not all member countries are heeding its advice.
Germany was set to have 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) of the MON 810 crop planted this year, but German officials who announced the ban today cited several studies that questioned the environmental impact of the seed.
Shares of Monsanta were down 1.83 percent to $81.55 at the close of trading today. A phone message left with company officials was not immediately returned.
Germany isn't the only EU country rejecting the EFSA's ruling. Vienna, Budapest and Greece have banned MON 810 from being grown in their countries, while Austria and Hungary have bans on GM maize.
France has also banned MON 810””despite a report from its public health agency, Agence FranÃ§aise de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments, assuring the safety of GM crops.
The UCS said GM shouldn't be ruled out as a long term solution to the growing demand for food. However, the group said immediate efforts should be placed on other methods of increasing yields, such as organic farming or modern plant-breeding.
"We're not discounting the fact that some new genetic modifications may work in the future, but ”¦ we need to redouble our efforts in promising technologies that have been shown to work," Gurian-Sherman said. "The private sector is going to continue their investment in GM because they can make money there."
2.Corn, soy crops gain little from genetics
AFP, 14 April 2009
WASHINGTON ”” The use of genetically engineered corn and soybeans in the United States for more than a decade has had little impact on crop yields despite claims that they could ease looming food shortages, a study has concluded.
"A hard-nosed assessment of this expensive technology's achievements to date gives little confidence that it will play a major role in helping the world feed itself in the forseeable future," said the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The study evaluated the effect on corn and soybean crop yields of genetically engineered varieties commercialized in the United States over the past 13 years, examining peer-reviewed academic studies that date back to the early 1990s.
"Based on that record, we conclude that GE (genetic engineering) has done little to increase overall crop yields," it said.
The report said genetically engineered soybeans account for 90 percent of soybeans grown in the United States, while genetically engineered corn accounts for 63 percent of the US corn crop.
"Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as a result of the GE traits," the report said. "Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices."
It found that corn and soybeans that were genetically modified to increase their tolerance to herbicides "have not increased operational yields, whether on a per acre or national basis, compared to conventional methods that rely on other available herbicides."
Corn modified with genes from Bt, or Bacillus thuringienisis, bacteria for resistance to several kinds of insects did provide higher yields, but the study estimated the increase at between 0.2 and 0.3 percent a year on average over the past 13 years.
Overall corn yields in the United States have increased an average of about one percent a year, it said.
"More specifically, US Department of Agriculture data indicate that the average corn production per acre nationwide over the past five years (2004-2008) was about 28 percent higher than for the five-year period 1991-1995," it said.
"But our analysis of specific yield studies concludes that only 4-5 percent of that increase is attributable to Bt, meaning an increase of about 24-25 percent must be due to other factors such as conventional breeding," it said.
The report contrasted the record of genetic engineering with that of more environmentally friendly organic or so-called "low external input" farming methods, which it said produce corn and soybean yields comparable to those of conventional methods.
Recent experiments in "low external input" have produced yields 13 percent higher than for genetically engineered soybeans, it said.
"It is also important to keep in mind where increased food production is most needed -- in developing countries, especially in Africa, rather than in the developed world."
"Several recent studies have shown that low external input methods such as organic can improve yield by other 100 percent in these countries, along with other benefits," it said.
"To summarize, the only transgenic food/feed crops that have been showing signficantly improved yield are varieties of Bt corn, and they have contributed gains in operational yield that were considerably less over their 13 years than other means of increasing yield," it said.
"In other words, of several thousand field trials, many of which have been intended to raise operational and intrinsic yield, only Bt has succeeded," it said.
"This modest record of success should suggest caution concerning the prospects of future yield increases from GE," it said.
3.Good old fashioned farming beats biotech, group says
By Kim McGuire
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 April 2009
Genetic engineering is failing to substantially increase crop yields, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report “Failure to Yield” purports to be the first to evaluate the overall effect of genetic engineering in relation to another technologies. To do so, more than two dozen academic studies were reviewed.
Among the findings outlined in the report: Genetic engineering has not increased intrinsic yield; Genetic engineering has delivered minimal gains in operational yield, and most yield gains can be attributed to non genetic engineering approaches.
Meanwhile the report found that Bt insect resistant corn provides a yield advantage of three to four percent over conventional practices.
The group also calls out Monsanto for its current advertising campaign that speaks of an escalating world population and how genetically engineered seeds can help feed it.
The Union of Concerned Scientists reccomends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture continue to support research into proven approaches to boost crop yield. Those approaches include conventional plant breeding methods, and sustainable and organic farming.
4.Gene-Altered Crops Do Little for Yields, Group Says (Update2)
By Tony C. Dreibus
Bloomberg, April 14 2009
Genetically engineered crops do little to improve yields and instead promote the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds that actually curb production, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Corn and soybeans modified to resist insects and the herbicide glyphosate haven’t been proven to boost yields, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based group said today in a 44-page report sent via e-mail. The modified plants have increased the number of glyphosate-resistant weeds that compete for soil nutrients and moisture, reducing production, the group said.
“The two major types of traits now present in transgenic crops -- insect resistance and herbicide tolerance -- are often classic contributors to operational yield,” said Doug Gurian- Sherman, a senior scientist in the group and the author of the report. “Neither trait would be expected to enhance potential or intrinsic yield, and indeed, there is virtually no evidence that they have done so.”
Operational yield is obtained under normal field conditions and includes factors such as pests and other stressors, the report said. Intrinsic yield is the highest that can be achieved with crops grown under ideal conditions.
Monsanto Co., the world’s biggest seed producer, didn’t return calls seeking comment. Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, an executive vice president of food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, said the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is “absurd.”
“Biotech crops help to provide for more sustainable agricultural production,” Bomer Lauritsen said. “The benefits include a reduction in the environmental impacts of agriculture, increased production on the same amount of acreage, improved food quality and increased farmer incomes. It’s absurd to deny biotechnology’s contribution.”
Shares of Monsanto, based in St. Louis, fell $1.31, or 1.6 percent, to $81.76 at 3:56 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Before today, they dropped 31 percent in the past 12 months.
Improvements in traditional breeding and other agricultural practices will be more effective in boosting production, Gurian- Sherman said in the report.
Genetically engineered “soybeans have not increased yields, and GE corn has increased yield only marginally on a crop-wide basis,” the union said. “Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as a result of the GE traits. Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices.”
The union is a “science-based non-profit” group started in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group’s Web site says it has more than 250,000 members using scientific research to promote changes in government policy, corporate practices and consumer choices.
The group looked at “the best peer-reviewed literature” to collect the information, Gurian-Sherman said on a conference call. The union evaluated 20 years of research and details from 13 years of seed sales in the U.S.
Corn yields have increased to 9.7 tons per hectare this year from 7.5 tons per hectare (120 bushels an acre) in 1987, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Soybean yields were 40 bushels per acre, up from 32 in 1989, the USDA said.
Today, Germany banned planting of a strain of genetically modified corn made by Monsanto, citing “a danger to the environment.” Austria and Hungary made similar moves last month.
The European Commission, the European Union’s regulatory arm, has argued the bans were unjustified because scientists have determined the products are safe for consumption and the environment.
5.Engineered Crops Won't Feed World, New Report Says
Science Insider, April 14 2009
Proponents and critics of genetic engineering in agriculture usually agree on one thing: The technology is powerful, whether for good or ill. Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists broke ranks and asserted that genetic engineering is simply ineffective, at least in increasing crop yields.
UCS's Doug Gurian-Sherman searched the scientific literature for side-by-side comparisons of conventional and genetically engineered lines of corn and soybeans. He found that in almost all cases, genetically engineered crops did not produce larger harvests. The one exception was insect-resistant Bt corn, which produced higher yields only when neighboring plots of conventional corn suffered infestations of a worm called the European corn borer. Crop yields have increased significantly over the past decade, he says, but almost all of that increase was due to traditional plant breeding or other agricultural practices.
These results won't surprise most farmers. They plant crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate (widely known as Roundup) mainly because that trait makes it easier and sometimes cheaper to control weeds, not because it increases yields. The UCS study is instead aimed at the general public, in an effort to counter claims by the biotechnology industry that genetic engineering offers the best solution to global food shortages.
6.UPDATE 1 - Biotech corn, soy does little to boost yield-study
By Christopher Doering
Reuters, April 14 2009
(Adds quotes from industry in paragraphs 6-8)
WASHINGTON, - Despite industry claims of higher yields from biotech corn and soybeans, much of the increase can be tied to other improvements in agriculture, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said its review found genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn did not increase yields compared with conventional methods. Still, farmers embraced the technology partly because of lower energy costs and convenience associated with applying pesticides.
It also found another variety, BT corn, contributed to about 3.3 percent of the estimated 28 percent increase in corn yields since it was made available commercially in 1996. BT crops are resistant to certain insects.
"Genetic engineering, while it's been good for some individual farmers, and great for the companies, really has not been very productive in terms of improving yields," said Doug Gurian-Sherman of UCS who authored the report.
Instead, the study found much of the jump in yields can be attributed to successes in traditional breeding -- mixing genes to enhance one or a few genetic traits -- or conventional agriculture improvements such as more crop rotations and more efficient irrigation and fertilizer use.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents major firms involved in producing genetically engineered crops, noted that overall corn yields have increased 36 percent and soybeans 12 percent since the biotech crops were introduced.
"It's absurd to deny biotechnology's contribution, among other factors, to increased crop production," said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, an executive vice president at BIO.