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Yet Another Reason GMOs Suck
The U.S. is suffering the worst drought in 50 years. But crop damage may well have been avoided if high quality non-GM (genetically modified) varieties were available to farmers. Further evidence is emerging that glyphosate-tolerant crops are ill-equipped to deal with drought, while high quality non-GM varieties are flourishing. Monopoly of the seed industry has left farmers unable to get non-GM varieties, despite the drought having global repercussions including steep rises of cereal prices and reduced meat production in many countries.
In a commentary circulated by GM Watch (UK), Howard Vlieger, a co-founder and agroecological farming advisor of Verity Farms in drought-stricken South Dakota in the U.S., provides evidence from a farmer who has grown both GM and Verity Farms’ non-GM varieties of soybean and corn side by side. Non-GM soybean, grown in agroecological conditions to promote soil biodiversity and nutritional content is shown next to Monsanto’s GM triple-stack GM corn, which is glyphosate-tolerant and additionally expresses two Bt insecticidal toxins, grown using conventional chemical industrial methods that include the use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. The non-GM varieties appear greener, fuller and healthier. These impressions are backed up by the far superior yield reported of non-GM corn, which averaged 100-120 bushels per acre (BPA) compared to the 8-12 BPA to 30-50 BPA of GM corn.
The large yield differential was confirmed in a new set of harvest data provided by Vlieger (with accompanying photographic identification) for three fields surrounding Verity Farm, all growing Smart Stack RR corn. All were harvested for corn silage as the yields were too poor to harvest the grain. The federal crop insurance adjuster appraised yields were respectively 12 bushels per acre (BPA), 27 BPA and 28 BPA. The Non-GMO corn on Verity Farm across the road yielded 108 BPA.
The findings were replicated with soybean crops.
Previous studies found glyphosate tolerant crops require more water
Triple Stack RR corn may be especially drought intolerant, but the new evidence from the farm is consistent with previous laboratory findings that glyphosate-treated crops are less water efficient than untreated crops. One such study was performed in Brazil when farmers reported “injured-looking” glyphosate-tolerant soybean crops. The team, led by Luis Zobiole from State University of Maringá found that GM glyphosate-tolerant (GT) soybeans absorbed less water, which resulted in reduced water efficiency. The volume of water that non-treated GT soybean plants required to produce 1 g of dry biomass was 204 percent and 152 percent less than required when the plant is exposed to two 400 grams acid equivalent (a.e) of glyphosate per hectare, in single or sequential applications respectively. GT soybean plants receiving a single application of the currently recommended rates of glyphosate (600–1200 grams a.e per hectare) needed 13–20 percent more water to produce the same amount of dry biomass than non-glyphosate treated plants.
A previous publication by the same lab showed GT soybeans to have reduced lignin content and photosynthesis rates, both possible mechanisms for the reduced water efficiency. Lignin is an essential component of plant cell walls, and contributes to the compression strength of stems and to the efficient transport of water and solutes over long distances within the vascular system. Water deficiency is not the only physiological effect that glyphosate imposes on crops. It has been shown to reduce nutrient availability and immune responses and thus defence against plant diseases. At least 40 diseases are known to be increased in weed control programs with glyphosate and the list is growing, affecting a wide range of species: apples, bananas, barley, bean, canola, citrus, cotton, grape, melon, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane, tomato and wheat.
Monopolisation of the seed industry
Many farmers are fully aware of the control of the seed industry by multinational corporations like Monsanto. Prior to the mid-20th century, the majority of seeds were in the hands of farmers or public-sector plant breeders. Now, agritech giants have used intellectual property laws to commodify the worlds’ seed supply and turn seeds into private property to be bought and sold for profit.
As a result, not only are they flooding the market with patented GM seeds and preventing farmers from saving them each year, they are also diminishing the supply of non-GM seeds. Monsanto is now the largest seed company in the world followed by DuPont and Syngenta; they have all acquired or created “partnerships” with independent seed companies that sell both GM and non-GM seeds. As highlighted recently by Pierre Patriat, director of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of the Brazilian soy-producing state of Mato Grosso in Brazil, farmers are faced with little choice but to grow GM varieties, which is posing a serious threat to the country’s food security and sovereignty. An estimated 23 percent of the propriety seed market is owned by Monsanto who, in addition has used licencing agreements to spread its technology—giving some 200 smaller companies the right to insert Monsanto's genes in their separate strains of corn and soybean plants.
The demand for non-GM seeds is on the rise
According to Vlieger, the demand for their non-GM seeds is on the rise, offering an alternative to the current monopoly. While the non-GM seeds are bought out, their GM seeds are sitting in the warehouse. He is hopeful that the demand will be met with increasing supplies of non-GM varieties by small and larger companies as they awaken to the needs of farmers.
In a decisive move, Peru passed a ten year ban on GM ingredients in March 2012 in response to farmers who are worried that the introduction of GMOs will compromise the native species of Peru such as the giant white corn and the numerous species of famous potatoes. It is about time that the rest of the world follow suit (see The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World and Food Futures Now Organic Sustainable Fossil Fuel Free, ISIS publications).
Glyphosate-tolerant crops have been repeatedly shown to be less healthy than conventional varieties. Their increased water demands make them entirely unsuitable in times of unpredictable weather conditions and increasingly limited supply globally (see World Water Supply in Jeopardy). Monopolisation of the seed market means conventional varieties are unavailable, therefore reducing the farmers’ ability to effectively deal with changing conditions and most worryingly, it threatens global food security and sovereignty. A global shift to non-GM agroecological farming is the real way forward.
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