Home » (Un)Sustainable Farming »Biotechnology »News » Currently Reading:

US Crop Yield Increases Owe Little to Biotechnology

April 16, 2009 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Biotechnology, News No Comments

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

The latest advertising campaign from Monsanto claims that already its “advanced seeds… significantly increase crop yields…”, while since the mid-1990s the biotechnology industry has consistently proposed that higher yielding genetically engineered crops will be necessary to feed the world.

According to Failure to Yield, a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, that promise has proven to be a mirage. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed so far to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

“Failure to Yield” reviews two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, UCS concludes that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn have not increased yields, while insect-resistant corn has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

The UCS report therefore debunks the current yield claim, but it also concludes that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.

In addition to evaluating genetic engineering’s record, “Failure to Yield” considers the technology’s potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades. The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have already proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agricultural agencies, and universities increase research and development for proven approaches to boost crop yields. Those approaches should include modern conventional plant breeding methods, sustainable and organic farming, and other sophisticated farming practices that do not require farmers to pay significant upfront costs. The report also recommends that U.S. food aid organizations make these more promising and affordable alternatives available to farmers in developing countries.

Charles Benbrook of the The Organic Center says that a low contribution of GMOs to yield is perhaps anyway to be expected. Firstly, yield is a complex trait which probably will prove difficult to manipulate directly, but also that “although increases in yield are usually credited to plant breeders, actually many factors contribute to yield, such as soil quality and water management improvements and it is to these we should be looking for future agricultural improvements”.

Comment on this Article:

Science News on the Web

Why Independent Science News?

Scientific inventions and ideas shape the future. As science becomes ever more beset by commercial and ideological pressures, there is urgent need for scientific reporting and analysis from an independent, expert, public interest perspective. With this standard, Independent Science News works to shape a future that is biodiverse, just, and healthy for everyone.
More about us...

Sign up to our mailing list

E-mail address:
Name (optional):

Translations

EnglishFrenchGermanItalianPortugueseRussianSpanish

Related News Articles

107 Nobel Laureate Attack on Greenpeace Traced Back to Biotech PR Operators

Financial Conflicts at National Academy Advisory Panel on the Future of GMO Regulation

Many European Pesticide Approvals Are “unlawful” Says EU Ombudsman

GE Soybeans Give Altered Milk and Stunted Offspring, Researchers Find

What Happened to Obama’s Promise to Restore Scientific Integrity?

New Research Links Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Monarch Butterfly Declines

EU Safety Institutions Caught Plotting an Industry “escape route” Around Looming Pesticide Ban

How “Extreme Levels” of Roundup in Food Became the Industry Norm

Commentaries

Why the Food Movement is Unstoppable

jose bove, farmer and activist

by Jonathan Latham, PhD In 1381, for the first and only time, the dreaded Tower of London was captured from the King of England. The forces that seized it did not belong to a foreign power; nor were they rebellious workers – they were peasants who went on to behead …

How the GE Food Venture Has Been Chronically Dependent on Deception

Food and Drug Administration, Maryland

by Steven M. Druker, J.D. Although it purports to be based on solid science and the open flow of information on which science depends, the massive venture to reconfigure the genetic core of the world’s food supply has substantially relied on the propagation of falsehoods. Its advancement and very survival …

Millions Spent, No One Served: Who Is to Blame for the Failure of GMO Golden Rice?

Rice Farming

by Angelika Hilbeck and Hans Herren The recent Nobel laureates’ letter accusing Greenpeace of a “crime against humanity” for opposing genetically modified (GMO) golden rice reveals a deep division not only between civil societies and some science circles but also within the science community – a division in the visions …

Cashing in on Cellulosic Ethanol: Subsidy Loophole Set to Rescue Corn Biofuel Profits

Ohio corn field

by Almuth Ernsting Subsidies intended for next-generation cellulosic ethanol production are to be applied to a trivial improvement to corn ethanol refining technologies. Since cellulosic ethanol qualifies for much higher subsidies, this will significantly increase corn refinery profits and boost the demand for corn but will do nothing to combat …

More Commentaries...

Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

More Reviews...

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons