Monday, April 21, 2008

GM crops yield less, not more, food

For the last three years the University of Kansas has been studying genetically modified soybean crops. Professor Barney Gorden in the agronomy department started the study because some farmers in the region who were using genetically modified soybeans said their crop yields were down. So Gorden grew a Monsanto GM version in one field and regular soybeans in another. The GM modified field produced 70 bushels to the 77 bushels produced by the non-modified field-- a 10% difference!

It turned out that the GM crops needed more manganese, and something about the GM Monsanto seeds-- modified to resist Monsanto's own Roundup weedkiller-- prevented the mineral's uptake. The crops recovered when extra manganese was added, but still, the yield only equaled, not exceeded, the yield of the non-modified. Farmers, of course, would have to pay the extra cost of the manganese.

Meanwhile, some countries that have resisted buying GM because of public mistrust are changing their policies. Japan and North Korea have already started importing GM crops, justifying their actions because of rising prices and the global food crisis. Today's New York Times reports that even Europe may be pushed closer to acceptance of GM foods based on their pocketbooks.

The Times article also makes the first reference I've seen to the study I wrote about last week by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (although the article didn't refer to the group by name). This five year examination and re-envisioning of agricultural production to meet the world's needs had nothing positive to say about the role of genetically modified crops, questioning both their safety and their efficacy.

75% of all the corn grown in the U.S. last year was genetically modified.

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