GM crops provide billions in benefits

Were it not for the snow on the ground, I would have thought it was April Fool’s Day instead of Christmas when I read The Western Producer’s Dec. 3 story, Anti-GMO group says yield gains non-existent.

Lucy Sharratt, Taarini Chopra and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network are once again misleading Canadians about genetically modified crops, something they have been doing for nearly 20 years.

Environmental groups such as CBAN have been unable or unwilling to accept that GM crops provide economic and environmental benefits for farmers.

CBAN continues to spread myths and inaccuracies about GM crops.

For example, a fact sheet on CBAN’s website still perpetuates the myth that GM cotton adoption by small landholder farmers in India increased the rate of suicide among these farmers, when this was scientifically refuted in 2011.

Four years later, CBAN is still misleading the Canadian public. Factual accuracy means nothing to CBAN and the environmental movement.

CBAN’s most recent foray into fictional publishing, Are GM Crops Better for Farmers?, dismissed the yield increases from GM canola and advocated that farmers have not financially benefited from GM canola.

Let’s examine this a bit closer.

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CBAN reports that canola yields have increased by 2.4 percent over the past 20 years, yet regards this as insignificant when compared to the .7 percent increase in the previous 20 year period.

The organization’s basic lack of agricultural knowledge is glaring.

For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization published a report in 2010 called How to Feed the World in 2050, which concluded that crop yields for the three staples crops of corn, rice and wheat were averaging less than two percent growth per year.

Crop yield increases of at least two percent a year are required just to feed the planet’s current population.

Additional research from the University of California, Davis, shows that commodity yields in North America are continually declining.

The researchers examined the rates of growth of global average yields for selected crops and found that wheat yields in the developed world actually decreased between 1990 and 2006.

Had CBAN gathered some basic knowledge, it would have found that an annual canola yield in-crease of 2.4 percent is significant, especially when compared to a non-GM crops such as wheat with .19 percent annual yield increases.

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Reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss stories I was read as a child, CBAN suggests that GM crops don’t put more money into farmers’ pockets.

I led a group of researchers that surveyed farmers in Western Canada in 2007 about their experiences after growing GM canola for 10 years. We found that the economic benefits of GM canola were $350 to $400 million per year, cumulatively creating benefits worth $3.5 billion over the past nine years.

The biggest surprise from our survey was the identification and quantification of second year spill-over benefits. Farmers found that in some years, weed control in a field following GM canola was so superior that they didn’t need to spray it for weeds in the following crop year.

Farmers said the value of this spill-over benefit was worth an average $15 per acre, and nearly 20 percent of them felt the benefit was greater than $25 per acre. Additional benefits included reduced dockage, earlier seeding dates and reduced fuel use.

The depth of evidence and knowledge that is available about the economic and environmental benefits of GM crops means that any organization that says GM crops don’t provide economic benefits to farmers are intentionally trying to mislead the Canadian public.

The Canadian agriculture industry should be immensely proud of the economic and environmental benefits that have been generated from GM crops over their 20 year history.

I know it is winter outside, but please don’t let CBAN pull the wool over your eyes about the economic benefits of GM crops.

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Stuart Smyth is an assistant professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s bioresource policy, business and economics department. He holds the position of research chair in agri-food innovation.

  • Terry

    ….And?
    The true question here is Are annual yield increases good for farmers long term bottom line given the tendency to oversupply every market they all jump into.

    What about economic externalities? Economic Costs to producers and consumers alike that are not only measured in the almighty corporate dollar such as mental well being, confidence in what we eat and the health of our planet and the drying up of small communities.

    The neoconservative attitude that all things are measured in dollars is what got us all into this mess. Once again the source of funding shines through in politics journalism and producer attitude. A dead end in my opinion….corporate funding that is!

  • Denise

    It’s hard to find markets outside North America for GM canola, coated with excessive amounts of pesticides.

    • Terry

      Any reference (with data) for your claim of biotech canola being coated with excessive amounts of pesticides, or did you just made it up?

      • ed

        The products have skull and crossbones on them. When it comes to those types of products, the designation pretty much specks for itself under the laws of common sense now deemed as super powers.

        • David Kucher

          So does cyanide, which is found in many nuts and seeds of commonly consumed fruit. Dose makes the poison.

          • ed

            Are we going to develop low dose cyanide health products and pills for those who do not consume enough of these said nuts or fruit pitts. They probably would if they thought they could get away with it is the simple answer.

          • ed

            You are not denying they would?

    • Trish Jordan

      What? Among Canada’s biggest markets for canola are Japan and China. Check your facts.

      • Denise

        The USA is our biggest customer for Canadian canola oil and meal, followed by China and Japan.

        • Trish Jordan

          Yes Denise..you are correct and I am aware of that. The U.S. is our biggest customer for most agricultural commodities. You said markets outside North America for GM canola were hard to find. That is not even remotely true. The world loves Canadian canola and imports it regularly, including the EU when their own agr system cannot meet its demand. Maybe visit the Canola Council of Canada website for more information.

          • ed

            If you tape a plastic bag over someone’s head, the demand to find an air leak in it are quite high, even though they would have quite preferred that you had not put them in that compromising situation.

          • ed

            Rationalizing the irrational can be a time consuming activity for the industries brightest talking heads so they don’t get both feet in their mouth at the same time, so we will patiently await a response. Often when completely stymied corporate head office will instruct the representative to stand down, as they are caught in a no win situation. I suspect that is the check mate that we are seeing here. It is usually their best case scenario for conceding with out actually saying it on record. We will give it a bit more time. They may be off putting out more important fires in priority sequence.

    • David Kucher

      Would Denise care to explain how seeds can be “coated” when the respective herbicides are applied months before the seeds are formed?

      • Denise

        Sorry. Poor choice of words. “containing residues of glyphosate” would be more accurate. Too bad Monsanto got its stcky fingers on it and made it another GM seed crop they could manipulate and own..

        • richard

          Yeah, and furthermore the insidious and unregulated use of glyphosate as a pre harvest treatment (dessicant), results in unwitting consumers getting it directly in their oat, barley, lentil, pea and pasta food products. And we wonder why modern medicine is rife with human digestive disorders???

          • David Kucher

            Unregulated? Are you kidding. The consequences of misuse of these products are palpable. What farmer would be willing to risk an entire years production by misuse of these products. Traceability, and the court system are powerful persuaders.

          • richard

            In fact it was the maltsters, the oat millers and the enlightened foreign importers that called a halt to glyphosate residues in grain….so much for farmers self regulation?….. The disruptive innovation of producers and consumers seeking residue free food is clearly a threat to reactionaries…. but seriously, did you really think that increasingly loading the foodstream with higher levels of agritoxins while lobbying government for increased acceptable levels of residues (such as has been accomplished with glyphosate), is somehow going to be viewed by enlightened consumers as progress? Its not….sorry….its the exact opposite…..And multi million dollar Madison Avenue agribiz promotions cannot disguise the cold hard facts.

          • David Kucher

            And the cold hard facts are GMO breeding has reduced pesticide usage by allowing Cotton, Corn, Potatoes and Brinjal plants to protect themselves from beetles rather than have farmers spray them with insecticides. GMO Papaya no longer need to be sprayed for aphid vectors which spread ringspot virus. GMO potatoes need fewer fungicide applications because of protection by a new GMO trait. This technology has so many obvious benifits for the environment, the people growing them, and the people and animals consuming them, that the knee jerk opposition to it is frankly perplexing.

          • richard

            The cold hard facts are that in 2013 the EPA was lobbied yet again by the usual suspects, to raise acceptable glyphosate residual limits in animal feed to 100ppm and oilseeds to 40ppm. This was accomplished to preserve the ongoing proliferation of glyphosate into the biosphere and the foodstream….so much for industry and producer self control…..It would appear that educated consumers perceive that having glyphosate injected directly into food products at harvest is a likely cause of increased residues and industry’s need to disguise its duplicity…..

          • Harold

            Speaking of lobbying, Between 2012 – 2014, Monsanto 22.7 million, Dupont 16.7 million, PepsiCo 8.8 million, Coca-Cola 5.7 million, 5.7 million, Dow 4 million, Kraft Food 3.9 million, General Mills 3.8 million, Nestle 2.9 million, ConAgra 2.6 million, and Bayer 2.5 million, were the top 10 donors to kill GMO labeling. These corporations are built with our money and can be dismantled from the lack of it.
            Moreover, GMO genes are not just taken from plants, they are also taken from bacteria, viruses, insects, humans and animals. Further, the use of these sources are not disclosed and are kept private. In regards to labeling, 64 countries have strict labeling laws and these same producers abide by them. The anti-GMO stance has never been about the money benefits nor the health of a plant or weed, but rather the environment and consumer health. Would David Kucher please point out just the OBVIOUS benefits to the people and animals consuming GMO products. The last I’ve seen is that animals are now getting the same diseases that Humans are. Just the detailed facts please. David, please start at the point where GMO technology enters the mouth and wrap it up with your expertise on where all of our technology ground pollutants are pooling. If a beetle or a pest or a fungus wont eat a plant, please tell me why I should. In short, heal me of my knee-jerk reaction.

          • ed

            With serious health concerns as well!

          • lazylarry

            really then why has the use of roundup and other chemicals skyrocketed
            GMO Crops Mean More Herbicide, Not Less
            At the center of debate is the pesticide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto MON -0.17%‘s Round Up. Food & Water Watch found that the “total volume of glyphosate applied to the three biggest GE crops — corn, cotton and soybeans — increased 10-fold from 15 million pounds in 1996 to 159 million pounds in 2012.” Overall pesticide use decreased only in the first few years GE crops were used (42 percent between 1998 and 2001) and has since then risen by 26 percent from 2001 to 2010.
            http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/07/02/gmo-crops-mean-more-herbicide-not-less/#74004f91a371

          • David Kucher

            As your figures have shown, overall pesticide use is down. And if Glyphosate is the one chemistry bucking the trend, that is good news. It is one of the lowest toxicity pesticides available, with a LD50 lower(higher number) than table salt, if there is one pesticide a person would choose to displace the others, Glyphosate would be the wise choice.

            I do not long for the bad-old-days before GMO crops when the only choices farmers had to protect their corn crops from weeds were older chemistries like Atrazine and/or soil destroying tillage.

          • lazylarry

            the mere use of glyphosate is palpable, do farmers even care anymore if their product is safe to eat or is all about the dollar

          • David Kucher

            I eat what I grow, I am proud of what I grow, and I am also proud of how I grow it. I, along with most other farmers around me use an integrated approach to control pests. Pesticides are not the only tool used. Crop rotation, planting and harvest timing, crop density, row spacing, seed cleaning, reduced tillage, genetic selection are a few of many strategies employed by growers to protect crops.

            My job is to grow safe affordable food, while placing an ever smaller footprint on the environment, and leaving a farm for my children. I am doing that. Genetically manipulated crops help me do that. It is too bad some people choose to mislead about the improvements that have taken place, and are taking place in our food system.

          • Harold

            Is pocket money the only proof you need to determine that you yourself have not been misled? Are the hospitals spilling over with patients and the lack of doctors for the multitudes an indication that our food system is safe? Take 30 prescription drugs and list all of the side effects, and compare it to the list of intended purposes, and you see improvements? Our pharmacy is safe? Genetically manipulated people. Some farmers have a pride in the “creator” and others have a pride in the “manipulator”. One charges a fee and the other does not.

      • Denise

        Here is a study to answer your question from the Canadian Journal of Plant Life: Residues of glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA in canola seed following preharvest application. http://www.pus.aic.ca

        • David Kucher

          In aggregate NON-Roundup Ready Canola should have higher levels of glyphosate and AMPA since preharvest applications of Roundup do nothing to change the mauturity of Roundup tolerant Canola. Such application would only be effective on non-Roundup Canola.
          Therefore logic would dictate, to lower ones intake of glyphosate and AMPA from preharvest applications, one should choose Canola derived from a variety WITH Monsanto’s genes in it.

          It’s kind of neat how a technology based around the use of a herbicide actually lowers consumers exposure to said herbicide.

          • ed

            I find it neat as well.

  • ed

    That is only because of a total lack of education.

  • ed

    That labeling would be a game changer. They should also institute fines for company’s who’s wares show up in organic foods as well. The testing is quite good now and like with BSE the culprit product could be traced back to the factory source and fine issued and collected on the spot. The factory source producer of the offending product could then sue it’s costomer for the misuse of it’s flagship GMO or chemical product to preserve that companies. This moves us away from the blame the victum environment that we have now and moves the onus onto the offenders. Change can be slow, but we will get there.

  • J. Neufeld

    What most are missing, is the fact that if I do not want to ingest GM tainted (glysophate) foods, then I should have that right. As I understand it apples contain trace amounts of arsenic – so if the powers that be had their way a little more should be fine. There is a big difference between cross breeding and genetic manipulation. Ever try to breed a dog with a cat.

  • lazylarry

    ah yes written by someone from monsanto no doubt

  • lazylarry

    cban is right Stuart and you are wrong

  • lazylarry

    monsanto should not be taking over the education of students from elementary to university, once corporations dictate how to teach education becomes biased toward the chemical company and their lies
    http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/university-of-saskatchewan-program-gets-usd150000-boost-from-monsanto-fund-625289.htm