Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Scientists Debunk Benefits of Monsanto’s 'DroughtGard' Corn

GMO
Scientists Debunk Benefits of Monsanto’s 'DroughtGard' Corn

Union of Concerned Scientists

Monsanto’s new drought tolerant corn, DroughtGard, reduces crop losses only modestly during moderate droughts, and will not reduce the crop’s water requirements, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report found that traditional breeding and improved farming practices have done more to increase drought tolerance, and that further improvements in genetic engineering are unlikely to solve the drought problem in coming years.

“Farmers are always looking to reduce losses from drought, but the biotechnology industry has made little real-world progress on this problem,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with UCS’s Food & Environment Program and author of the report. “Despite many years of research and millions of dollars in development costs, DroughtGard doesn’t outperform the non-engineered alternatives.”

Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of all water extracted from rivers and wells, making drought a serious and costly problem for farmers. An extreme drought is still plaguing Texas, triggering a record $5.2 billion in agricultural losses in 2011 alone. Monsanto’s new corn is not likely to provide any practical help under such conditions, even by the company’s guarded claims.

The report, High and Dry: Why Genetic Engineering is Not Solving Agriculture’s Drought Problem in a Thirsty World, found that during limited testing, DroughtGard—the only crop engineered for drought tolerance approved for commercial use—reduced crop losses by about 6 percent. By comparison, breeding and improved farming practices have increased drought tolerance by roughly 1 percent per year over the past several decades.

In terms of crop yields, DroughtGard will increase overall corn production by about 1 percent because it is likely to be of practical value on only about 15 percent of U.S. corn acreage. Breeding and improved farming practices increase corn production by about 1.5 to 2 percent annually.

“If we were to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison today, we’d find that breeding and improved farming practices have increased drought tolerance in corn about two to three times faster than DroughtGard,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Classical and newer forms of breeding are also far cheaper.”

DroughtGard is further handicapped by the fact that it will work well only under moderate drought conditions, and climate scientists predict that drought frequency and severity likely will increase in some regions as climate change worsens, Gurian-Sherman said. The fact that drought is not predicable also makes it difficult for farmers to decide whether it is worthwhile to buy DroughtGard seed prior to the growing season.

Finally, Monsanto’s advertising campaigns touted its intention to develop seeds that yield “more crop per drop,” but there is no evidence that DroughtGard will help the crops or farmers use water more efficiently. And the biotech industry’s pipeline for other water-efficient crops is virtually dry.

Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help farmers address droughts by substantially increasing support for public crop-breeding programs in the Farm Bill, Gurian-Sherman said. The Farm Bill also should fund research and offer incentives for farmers to adopt practices that improve drought tolerance such, as organic farming and similar methods that improve the soil’s ability to retain moisture.

“The fact that DroughtGard may provide modest drought tolerance is a small step forward for the industry, but it’s being outpaced by other methods,” said Gurian-Sherman. “More Farm Bill investments in public-sector classical breeding and water-saving farming practices would be more cost-effective for taxpayers and farmers, and as the scientific track record to date shows, will help farmers far more than genetic engineering.”

Visit EcoWatch's GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM page for more related news on this topic.

 

Project goal: To create an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to leather, in this case using fungi.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Plastic waste is bulldozed at a landfill. Needpix

The plastic recycling model was never economically viable, but oil and gas companies still touted it as a magic solution to waste, selling the American public a lie so the companies could keep pushing new plastic.

Read More Show Less

Trending

54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Maria Symchych-Navrotska / Getty Images

By Pamela Davis-Kean

With in-person instruction becoming the exception rather than the norm, 54% of parents with school-age children expressed concern that their children could fall behind academically, according to a poll conducted over the summer of 2020. Initial projections from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which conducts research and creates commonly used standardized tests, suggest that these fears are well-grounded, especially for children from low-income families.

Read More Show Less
A teenager reads a school English assignment at home after her school shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 22, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images

The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.

Read More Show Less
In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch