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.

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.

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.

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.

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