ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
Date:  28 November 2000


Thanks to Luke Anderson for the following article.

Amazing the power of fashion!  This report on Monsanto saying it’ll mend its ways says amongst much else, “Bio-tech crops are popular with profit-conscious U.S. farmers, because they offer higher yields”.  Compare and contrast with the following expert comment from Vernon W.Ruttan,
University of Minnesota economist:  “Thus far, biotechnology has not raised the yield potential of crops”.  Indeed, “seed companies are putting little emphasis on raising yield ceilings.”

He also says, “It could be well into the 21st century before biotechnology has much of an impact on... agricultural production...  With new technologies, it tends to take at least a decade before measurable results show up.”

Biotech Has Not Made Impact Yet -  [shortened] -  Economist: Edited by Laura Engelson, Regional E-Content Editor, Farm Progress, 21 November 2000]

Yet year after year the ISAAA has issued its annual reports showing multiple benefits, including yield benefits. Of course, in reality these are based on producer estimates and controlled varietal trials show something very different - decreased yeilds in comparison with high-yielding conventional varieties with the main GM crop!

So when Monsanto tellls us ‘The farmers want this technology.  If they had a free choice, they would use it on the great majority of acres”. We have to really wonder what the basis of that decision making is?

For much more on the evidence of reduced yields with GM crops see

Bio-Crop Giant Says to Heed Critics
By Charles Abbott ,   REUTERS. U.S. Monday 27 November

WASHINGTON - Agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto Co., accused of being tone deaf about the marketing of its seeds, said Monday it supported more regulation of bio-crops and would never put human genes into plants used as food.

The “New Monsanto Pledge” was unveiled by Hendrik Verfaillie, chief executive of Monsanto, an 85 percent owned subsidiary of Pharmacia Corp.  He said Monsanto was, “knowingly and deliberately taking a different path” than in the past.

An early developer of biotechnology in agriculture, Monsanto was blinded at times by its enthusiasm and did not recognize public skepticism about the gene-splicing science and its own products, he said.

“When we tried to explain the benefits, the science and the safety, we did not understand that our tone—our very approach—was seen as arrogant,” Verfaillie said. “We were still in the ‘trust me’ mode when the expectation was ‘show me’.”

Bio-tech crops are popular with profit-conscious U.S. farmers, because they offer higher yields and accepted with few qualms by most American consumers. In Europe, demonstrations have ridiculed what activists call “Franken-foods.” Some test plots of gene-spliced crops have been uprooted by opponents in Europe.

The five-part pledge presented by Verfaillie calls for steps that include creation of an external Biotechnology Advisory Council to discuss biotech issues, sharing Monsanto research with universities, supporting a requirement for firms to notify U.S. regulators about plans to market a biotech product, seeking global standards on biotech seed, grain and food products, and selling only grain products approved as human food and livestock feed.

The St. Louis-based company also promises not to use “genes taken from animal or human sources in our agricultural products intended for food or feed.”

Monsanto also would launch new bio-crops in the United States only if they have U.S. and Japanese approval for animal feed and human food.  Europe would be included as soon as it establishes a new regulatory system.

Larry Bohlen of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, who also spoke at a conference sponsored by Farm Journal magazine, said there was an emerging “convergence” between biotech firms and critics, such as requiring all products to have human food and animal feed approval.
Friends of the Earth, a strong biotech critic, wants labeling on all foods containing biotech ingredients.  It also would suspend planting of so-called Bt crops, which contain a naturally occurring pesticide that drives off a common cotton and corn pest. Bohlen said prevention of ‘bio-pollution” was one of the group’s top three goals worldwide.

Some industry analysts have warned the controversy over StarLink bio-corn—a variety that slipped into the human food supply despite being approved only for animal feed—could cloud the future of agricultural biotech products at least for the short term.

The U.S. food industry has also been rattled this fall by recalls of 300 types of taco shells, chips and cornmeal made with StarLink corn, a variety produced by rival agribusiness giant Aventis SA .
Verfaillie, however, said Monsanto’s surveys of farmers indicated a 16 percent increase in planned U.S. plantings of its biotech corn, cotton and soybean seeds in 2001.

“The farmers want this technology. If they had a free choice, they would use it on the great majority of acres,” Verfaillie said.

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