ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

6 January 2002


Below is a summary of a survey of the economics of growing GE herbicide-resistant soya and Bt corn, and a url for a presentation with full details of the study. As the summary notes, the Iowa State University agricultural economist, Michael Duffy, concludes from his study that the primary beneficiaries of these products are not farmers, although their widescale adoption of the products clearly shows they perceive themselves as beneficiaries, but the biotech companies that supply the seed and, in the case of herbicide-resistant crops, the chemicals. Duffy's findings are consistent both with a previous study he carried out in Iowa and the findings of other agronomists.

In his speech to the American Seed Trade Association, Duffy also notes:

"Before considering who benefits from biotechnology, it is necessary to discuss one idea that I feel is erroneous. Many proponents of biotechnology say that this technology is necessary to feed the world. They argue that if we do not use biotechnology, many of the world's people will face starvation and other ills associated with malnutrition. This is certainly a concern; however, the evidence shows that it is not the hungry who are being fed but rather the affluent, i.e., those who can afford to buy the food. The earlier Green Revolution also was promoted as a means of eliminating world hunger. Food production has increased but we still have hungry people. The problem is not one of production but rather a problem of distribution and politics. Ho Zhiqian, a Chinese nutrition expert, was quoted as saying, "Can the Earth feed all its people? That, I'm afraid, is strictly a political question." (Reid, 1998) As we think about biotechnology, we must not confuse wanting the world to be fed with wanting to feed the world."

And, of course, even if feeding the world were simply a production issue, this technology would fail, as Duffy's findings show. GE crops are not increasing yields and nor are they benefiting farmers financially by reducing their costs. Those who support GE crops are, therefore, revealed as principally supporting the profits of the biotechnology industry.

Contrast the failure of GE crops with the viability of non-GE alternatives, as has been demonstrated for example in a review of 208 projects from 52 countries, adopted by 8.98 million farmers on 29 million hectares of land in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. [Pretty, J. and R. Hine (2001) Reducing food poverty with sustainable agriculture: a summary of new evidence, Occasional Paper 2001-2, Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex,].

Using a range of sustainable agriculture technologies - none of which involved GE - farmers have achieved yield increases of 50-100% for rainfed agriculture, and 5-10% for irrigated crops.

While sustainable agriculture and organic farming are not a panacea, they do offer alternative approaches to GE that have been demonstrated to provide increased yields and more income, while remaining environmentally friendly.

By marked contrast, despite what must surely be the greatest campaign of corporate hype and misinformation the world has ever known, GE crops have failed to unequivocally deliver even one of these benefits.

As an editorial in the New Scientist concluded:

"For some, talk of "sustainable agriculture" sounds like a luxury the poor can ill afford. But in truth it is good science, addressing real needs and delivering real results. For too long it has been the preserve of environmentalists and a few aid charities. It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution." []

This, not genetic engineering, is the real science-based revolution.
On 22 Dec 2001, at 22:07, Francis Thicke wrote:

Mike Duffy, Iowa State University economist, has again done a survey of the economics of GMO crops in Iowa.  His results, using crop data from 2000, were very similar to what he found in 1998. Basically, he found that there is no economic advantage for Iowa farmers to plant Roundup Ready soybeans or Bt corn.  The text of his recent presentation of the results at an American Seed Trade Association meeting is available at

Briefly, RR soybeans averaged 43.4 bushels per acre vs. 45.0 bushels for non RR.  The seed cost for RR soybeans was $5.69 per acre more than non RR.  The herbicide costs for RR soybeans was $6.17 less than for non RR.

The average yield for Bt corn was 152 bushels per acre vs. 149 bushels for non Bt.  The seed costs for Bt corn averaged $4.31 per acre more than non Bt.  The fertilizer costs for the Bt corn averaged $4.63 per acre more than non Bt (attributed to being "managed more intensively").

Francis Thicke

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