Genetically Modified Foods Not Good Economically Either?

Are genetically modified foods costing farmers billions of dollars every year? Greenpeace finds that genetically modified soy is.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are infamous due to numerous health, safety and social justice concerns. A common counter-claim that genetically modified food advocates make is that genetically modified foods are cheaper. However, Greenpeace has recently compiled numerous non-genetically modified academic studies (yes, the “non-GM” part is a joke) showing that GM soy, a leading GM crop, produces lower yields and costs farmers billions of dollars every year. It estimates that the cost to farmers was over $11 billion from 2006 through 2009.

“Studies demonstrate that Monsanto’s ‘Roundup Ready’ (glyphosate-tolerant) soya has a 5-10% lower harvest compared to modern conventional soya lines. These lower-yielding GE (genetically engineered) soya varieties cost farmers billions of dollars every year,” Greenpeace reports.

This is not news, actually. This problem has been documented since the 1990s. Former US government science advisor Charles Benbrook found that Roundup Ready soy had a “yield drag” of 5.3% in 1999 and that conventional soy actually had over 10% more yield in some locations.

University of Nebraska researcher Roger Elmore confirmed a 5-10% yield drag (depending on location and conditions) in 2001. He also confirmed that the difference in yield was due to genetic engineering.

Cost of Genetically Modified Soy in the US

95% of soy in the US is Roundup Ready soy. The US is the leading producer of soy in the world. If you look at the total yield drag from using Roundup Ready soy, the loss is greater than US soy exports to the EU or Mexico (and maybe even to both places combined).

Calculating the financial loss from 2006 through 2009 of using Roundup Ready soy instead of conventional soy in the US, using an average farm price of $9.65/bushel, this comes to over $11 billion.

Monsanto Waits Until “Roundup Ready 2” is Ready to Admit the Yield Drag of “Roundup Ready” Soy

What else could you expect? Monsanto didn’t admit that Roundup Ready soy had a lower yield until it had Roundup Ready 2 ready to market. Monsanto is claiming that Roundup Ready 2 soy produces a 7-11% higher yield than Roundup Ready soy.

As is the concern with genetically modified crops in general, however, Roundup Ready 2 is not acting exactly as expected and researchers aren’t sure why.

“Like the first generation of Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant soya, however, there are indications that Roundup Ready 2 genetic engineering also has unintended consequences. Roundup Ready 2 plants are 5%shorter than conventional plants of the same type (Meyer 2006). Nobody knows why this is the case.”

Additionally, as one expert in the field aptly points out, how can you actually trust Monsanto’s claim that Roundup Ready 2 produces higher yield when it claimed that the original product had no yield drag?

“Two years ago, I went to a meeting about a new soybean technology. The trait company claimed there was now no yield drag with the new technology. When the original technology was released, it was touted as having no yield drag. What are we to believe about new soybean technologies,” Chris Jeffries wrote in The Seed Consultant in May 2009.

With 95% of soy grown in the US being of the Round Ready variety, I’m sure there is more behind the use of this product than its economic efficiency or yield alone, unfortunately. But taking a closer look at this financial issue (not to mention all the health and safety concerns), GM soy doesn’t seem to be the best option.

Image Credit 1: Kanko* via flickr under a CC license
Image Credit 2: tlindenbaum via flickr under a CC license

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