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Assessment & Impacts » Socio-Economic

Title: GM Crops Bring Bare Benefit to Farmers
Publication date: December 30, 2015
Posting date: December 30, 2015

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE 

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues 

GM Crops Bring Bare Benefit to Farmers  

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network has released the fourth report of its GMO Inquiry 2015 project entitled “Are GM crops better for farmers?” Farmers are the main customers for GM crops, but are generally not consulted before GM crops are approved for field trials or commercial release.  

The main GM crops grown are corn, canola, soy and cotton, mostly bearing either or both traits of herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. Six major companies— Monsanto (US), DuPont (US), Syngenta (Switzerland), Dow (US), Bayer (Germany), and BASF (Germany)—develop GM crops. They control 63 percent of the global commercial seed market and 75 percent of the agrochemical market. In 2007, their GM crops accounted for 98 percent of global GM acreage, with Monsanto's traits accounting for 85 percent.  

The report finds that this high level of corporate concentration in the seed market has meant higher prices, limited choices for farmers, a narrowing of genetic diversity in crops, and stagnating innovation. Meanwhile, net farm incomes in Canada have not increased because farm expenses, including the cost of GM seed, have increased substantially. Legal control over seeds, in the form of patents that prevent farmers from saving, exchanging and reusing seed, has also increased. In addition, there are no clear patterns to show that GM crop yields have increased more than those of non-GM crops; in fact, there is evidence to the contrary. Moreover, the so-called benefits of herbicide tolerance are now being overturned due to the new costs of managing the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. In Canada, there is no assessment of the potential economic consequences of introducing new GM crops including the costs of GM contamination, which farmers have had to bear in past episodes.  

The report concludes that 20 years of GM crops have benefitted the companies that sell GM seeds, but have not always benefitted farmers. It calls for a democratic decision-making process to assess what role, if any, GM crops should play in our food and farming systems. The summary of the report is reproduced below.

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ARE GM CROPS BETTER FOR FARMERS?  

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network 
http://gmoinquiry.ca/farmers/
 

Summary 

This fourth report of GMO Inquiry 2015investigates the impacts and risks of genetically modified (GM; also called genetically engineered or GE) crops on farms and famers over the past twenty years, with a focus on Canada. 

The use of patented GM traits has helped facilitate corporate consolidation in the seed market. Markets for GM crops are dominated by a few seed and agrochemical companies. This high level of corporate concentration in the seed market has meant higher prices, limited choices for farmers, a narrowing of genetic diversity in crops, and stagnating innovation. Legal control over seeds has also increased, in the form of patents on genetic sequences and other mechanisms that prevent farmers from saving, exchanging and reusing seed. GM crops have diminished the choices available to farmers, while strengthening the control of a few companies. 

Yields in GM and non-GM crops have increased at a similar rate in Canada, and there are no clear patterns to show that GM crop yields have increased more than those of non-GM crops. In fact, research comparing GM crops in North America and non-GM varieties of the same crops grown in Europe has shown that non-GM crop yields have increased as much, or more. GM traits are added to plant varieties that are already high yielding due to background genetics developed through non-GM breeding methods. It is these pre-existing characteristics, along with other factors, that have determined yield increases in the past decades, not GM traits. 

Growing GM crops is not putting more money into the pockets of Canadian farmers. Although gross farm income in Canada has increased over the past two decades, realized net income (the income remaining after farm expenses are paid) has not changed significantly. Farm expenses have increased substantially, in part because of the rising prices of seeds and other inputs. GM crops have fed into this pattern; GM seeds are significantly more expensive than non-GM seed, in Canada and other countries. 

The major benefit that GM herbicide-tolerant crops offered farmers was simplified weed management. However, the increased use of herbicides has led to the emergence and spread of herbicide resistant weeds, which are reversing this benefit and creating new costs and complications for farmers. The biotechnology industry’s solution to this problem is to sell new GM crops that are tolerant to different herbicides, an approach that will further drive up herbicide use and speed up the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds. 

GM contamination can also present serious costs for farmers. The examples of GM flax contamination, which closed Canada’s export markets, and GM canola contamination, which meant that most Canadian organic farmers were forced to stop growing canola, stand testament to these costs. Despite these experiences, new GM crops such as the GM alfalfa are being commercialized. If released in Canada, GM alfalfa contamination will have serious and irreversible impacts, the brunt of which will be borne by organic and other non-GM farmers. 

The Canadian government does not assess the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops or evaluate the benefits or risks they pose, and farmers are not consulted before GM crops are approved for growing. The experiences of the past twenty years show us that there is an urgent need for a democratic decision-making process to assess what role, if any, GM crops should play in our food and farming systems.


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