Anti-GMO group says yield gains non-existent

Monsanto and Canola Council of Canada dispute study, saying acres prove GM crops benefit farmers

Canadian crop yields and farm incomes have not increased significantly in the 20 years since the commercialization of the first genetically modified crop, according to a new report.


Biotechnology supporters counter that GM crops must be delivering tangible benefits because growers have embraced them in a big way.


In its fourth of six reports investigating the 20th year of GM crops in Canada, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) explores what has happened to yields and profits.


CBAN reports that canola yields have increased at the rate of 2.4 percent per year in the 20 years since the first GM canola crop was introduced in 1995. That compares to 0.7 percent per year in the 20 years preceding introduction.


That is an impressive improvement. However, the statistics are not much different for wheat, which is non-GM crop. The annual rate of increase was 2.1 percent after 1995 and .6 percent prior to that.


“We don’t have any evidence that GM varieties are yielding any better,” CBAN researcher Taarini Chopra said.


“Yields of crops that have GM and non-GM varieties have all increased at a similar rate.”


There is also not much difference between corn and canola yields in North America, where GM crops have been widely adopted and Europe where they have not.


“In fact, in the case of canola yields in Western Europe, they remain higher than in Canada and are increasing at a faster rate,” said Chopra.


Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada, said people need to consider the source of this study.


“Let’s face it, CBAN is an anti-technology activist group and they have a long history of using fear mongering about plant biotechnology to raise funds,” she said.


Jordan said there are all sorts of studies that reach the opposite conclusion, such as a 2012 meta-analysis published in the science journal Nature.


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That analysis determined that out of 168 peer reviewed studies comparing yields in 12 countries, GM crops had higher yields than conventional crops 124 times, no difference 32 times and poorer yields 13 times.


However, she believes farmer experience is the best indicator of whether the technology is delivering on the yield front.


“Growers will tell you that they have seen benefits on the farm. You only need to look at the adoption rates for biotechnology,” she said.


For instance, 95 percent of the canola grown in Canada is GM canola.


“Most of the farmers I know will make the decision that results in a net benefit for them,” said Jordan.


She said GM traits are just one of the factors behind improved yield performance in modern varieties. Others factors include advanced breeding techniques, hybrid vigour, agronomic recommendations and precision agriculture.


Chopra countered that farmers are choosing GM crops because there is not a whole lot of other options in today’s marketplace and there is a glaring lack of government research on the benefits and risks of GM crops to help inform their decisions.


CBAN believes it is becoming clear that GM crops have not lived up to their promise.


Inflation adjusted realized net farm income in Canada since 1990 has been lower than it was in the late-1970s and 1980s.


“GM crops are not putting more money into the pockets of Canadian farmers,” said Chopra.


Increases in gross farm income have been offset by rising input costs resulting in stagnant farm income.


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One of the expenses on the rise is seed cost, which accounted for 4.6 percent of total expenses in 2014, up from 2.5 percent in 1981. The cost of patented GM seed has climbed faster than non-GM seed.


“These costs are chipping away at farmers’ incomes,” she said.


Brian Innes, vice-president of government relations with the Canola Council of Canada, said several published peer-reviewed studies have come to the conclusion that GM canola has greatly improved farm profitability.


A recent study by researchers at the University of Manitoba and the University of Lethbridge determined that GM canola varieties generated an extra $726 million in net benefits to farmers over conventional varieties in 2012.


“Since the introduction of these technologies in 1996, the total benefit to growers has been about $30 billion,” said Innes.


A 2015 study by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot found an average farm benefit of $21 per acre from 1996 to 2013 for herbicide tolerant canola in Canada.


“It is a very successful innovation that has allowed us to be more profitable and more sustainable,” said Innes.


Jordan acknowledged that seed costs have risen because of advances in technology.


“It is often offset by other factors, such as reduction in chemistry, less use of fuel, less use of machinery and the time that the farmer puts into it,” she said.


Jordan said it is unfair to assume GM crops are to blame for stagnant farm income numbers because there is a multitude of factors on both the revenue and expense side of the equation.


Chopra agreed many variables are at work, but the GM trait variable doesn’t appear to have transformed agriculture.


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“Some of those big promises that came with GM crops are clearly not playing out in the way that we had been told,” she said.


  • Goody FANFan

    “Anti-GMO group says yield gains non-existent.” Well they would, wouldn’t they?

    • Harold

      So did Europe. Monsanto was forced to fold up their tent and go home. Guess there only exists the high seat of intelligent life forms, in Canada [ US/Dow incident] Isn’t that sad. Maybe the USA and Canada can go over there and give them some Democracy. I wonder how those country’s could last without our education for those thousands of years? And Anti GMO people, How could they possibly claim that Mother Nature has it right. Haven’t they heard that Christ Monsanto was born to save us from condemnation? One such person had the nerve to say to me that if Monsanto has it wrong, then he will become a importer rather than a producer. That if the product causes wide spread sickness that he would be not a party to it, He also believed in the abilities of God over the ability of Monsanto. He also believed that a GMO plant does not reproduce and the natural one does. He also believed that a “GMO ready” plant doesn’t mean that his body became GMO ready. He didn’t want the pesticide producing corn in his stomach. Yes, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Above all, you’d think that in this day and age that these anti-GMO people should know that there is a Pharmacy full of help to keep the food down. The Trillion dollar Industry is even located at the end of the food isle. A couple rows down from the healthy food Isle. You’ll likely pass by a few number one known causes of Diabetes, but they have something for that too. Buy the safe food: get a pill.

      • RobertWager

        Please explain why 90% + of commodity farmers now grow GE varieties then.

        • richard

          Please explain why 53% of consumers want nothing to do with transgenics and agritoxins in their foodstream? Your commodity bias to industrial ingredients is not cutting it with enlightened consumers who have learned to shop the perimeter of the supermarket……. Your beloved commodities are buried in the antinutrition at the centre of the store…..and livestock feed…….with the livestock ironically, receiving the nutritious fractions

          • ed

            Yes indeed, and 47% will tell you that they know little about the subject. Education and labeling would kill GMO.

          • Ag-West Bio

            Because of fear mongering.

          • richard

            …..versus the myth mongering of a deeply flawed ideological application of corporate jingoism…..

        • Harold

          Please explain why 90% + of commodity farmers now grow GE varieties?

  • richard

    The agribiz myths actually makes sense when you realize “reduction in chemistry” is code for increase in chemistry (fifteen passes on a typical canola, lentil, wheat rotation, (Alberta Agriculture)…..”less fuel, less machinery” is code for more fuel, more machinery (heavy harrows, heavy crop rollers, hi speed discs, hi clearance sprayers, applicators, aerial applicators…..”less time the farmer puts into it” is code for “in the saddle three hundred sixty five days a year”……and “stagnant farm income a result of a multitude of factors” is code for, 1970 prices and 2015 costs…… Like Goebbels said, “If you repeat the same lies enough times, they become the truth”…..

  • April Reeves

    I know the farmers in my area grow GE canola because of fear of lawsuits against them for potential contamination. Most use them in rotation or to capture the best market for the coming year, and if we did not have GE seed, crop yields may or may not be less (since there is far more to yields than just seed) but less product means scarcity and the pricing would adjust anyway. But GE or not, you have to realize one thing: farmers slow or stop when pricing of seed and chemicals gets out of control. They also grow what consumers want, not what a chemical company wants. Organic is growing at a rate higher than conventional right now. When that number means higher profit, farmers will switch. And GE organic seeds will not gain any momentum if their price is higher: if chemicals are not involved its fair market. CBAN is not fear mongering. It is the balance to corporatocracy. Monsanto has swung the pendulum too far one way. You always need the opposite swing to find the truth in the middle.

    • RobertWager

      … still pushing that long discredited myth/

      }http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/cases/show.php?db=special&id=156

    • Keith Duhaime

      “….farmers in my area grow GE canola because of fear of lawsuits ….”

      That is total nonsense. My family still directly involved uses GE corn seed. And they pay a premium for it over other seed too. Why? Because of the value it brings in 1. reducing overall production costs (think diesel savings from zero-till). 2. the agronomic benefits (think reduced plow pan, improved soil OM retention, improved soil structure, etc.), and 3. environmental benefits (again think less diesel, think less OM oxidation and hence reduced GHGs, think reduced soil erosion, and a number of other benefits). The only farmer that ever got sued to my knowledge by companies like Monsanto in Canada is Percy Schmeiser, a thief with no regard or respect for the creativity, hard work, and intellectual property that comes from it. As for CBAN, it’s just another part of an incestuous family of parasites too lazy to get a real life that have chosen instead to fleece gullible members of the public into donating to them via the creation and perpetual recirculation of FUD. IOW, FUD is central to CBAN’s business model. Go check out there board of directors. They used to have one into ‘ayurved engineering’. Fits right in with yogic flyer Jeffrey Smith and similar ilk.

  • Dayton

    I have to thank GMO’s without them our farm wouldn’t have been so successful. Trish, I for one have benefited from your technology in a big way. Never sprayed 1 acre of Roundup been farming organicly for over 25 years.

  • Ag-West Bio

    GM technology has been a huge benefit to our country and holds great potential for helping developing countries to improve yields and feed hungry people. In North America, the technology has been used for herbicide tolerance, because that’s what was needed here. But it can also be used to add micro nutrients to crops, for safe pest control, increased plant hardiness, and more. Many exciting new technologies are coming that could help with crop development. If it wasn’t for science we wouldn’t have the high yielding crops we have today.

    • Garrett Osborn

      While the various breeding technologies offer numerous possibilities, their yield & quality potential is still limited by the soils these crops are rooted in. The focus should shift from genetic to soil engineering to provide a sustainable foundation for food production.
      Correcting soil conditions may make many plant breeding programs irrelevant.

      • Ag-West Bio

        Soil health is a very important area of research. Scientists are working from many different angles to make agriculture more sustainable, improve efficiency, higher productivity so less land is required. There’s no ‘magic bullet’ but approaching the problems from many angles will make a difference.

  • ed

    Acres sowed to GMO’s is no proof of anything. These companies have eliminated options for farmers, stolen 99.9% of the genetics by adding 1 of their own to the million that were already there. Then they craftily had the laws changed so it all became their own at great expense to producers and consumers. The smoke and mirrors show of high tech agronomy that followed created the “Ben Johnson Effect” of making farmers believe in the magic of these seeds in a bag that is worth more than the seeds in it. The reality is that milk and sugar Intravenous into any old pumpkin is pretty impressive but not in any way, other than for the bragging rights, economically viable. The whole thing is an elaborate scam somewhat like….Cold FX….expensive cold preventatives that don’t work.

  • Guest

    Fertilizer can be the number one contributing factor to poor grain prices.

  • Harold

    Your answer is a description of what is already understood by most.(with the exception of #5) I was expecting an answer from Mr. Wagner relative to the comments which I have already made.