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):

Related News Articles

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

Can the Scientific Reputation of Pamela Ronald, Public Face of GMOs, Be Salvaged?

No Scientific Consensus on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms

The Experiment Is on Us: Science of Animal Testing Thrown into Doubt

New Report Links Food, Climate and Agricultural Policies

Commentaries

Peasant Sovereignty?

China village

By Evaggelos Vallianatos In May 2014, the Spain-based international agrarian organization, Grain, reported that small farmers not only “feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” but they are also the most productive farmers on Earth. For example, small farmers and peasants in nine European countries outproduce …

Will Food Sovereignty Starve the Poor and Punish the Planet?

Weeding maize in Burkina Faso

by Gilles Billen, Luis Lassaletta and Josette Garnier Globalisation is not only a matter of clothing and mobile phones. Long-distance worldwide shipping of food commodities has also increased tremendously over the last few decades. Lassaletta et al. (2014) estimate that one-third of all proteins (a proxy for the nutritive potential …

How the Great Food War Will Be Won

Dustbowl and soil erosion USA, 1935's

By Jonathan Latham, PhD By conventional wisdom it is excellent news. Researchers from Iowa have shown that organic farming methods can yield almost as highly as pesticide-intensive methods. Other researchers, from Berkeley, California, have reached a similar conclusion. Indeed, both findings met with a very enthusiastic reception. The enthusiasm is appropriate, but …

Seeds of Truth: Vandana Shiva and the New Yorker

Dr. Vandana Shiva

by Dr Vandana Shiva (A response to the article ‘Seeds of Doubt’ by Michael Specter in The New Yorker) I am glad that the future of food is being discussed, and thought about, on farms, in homes, on TV, online and in magazines, especially of The New Yorker’s caliber. The …

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...