Genetically Modified Crops: Follow the Money | Civil Eats

Genetically Modified Crops: Follow the Money

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has done it again. Their annual ‘state of play’ report on genetically-modified (GM) agriculture, paid for by a host of vested interests including Monsanto, Bayer CropScience and CropLife International, uses inflated claims and sleight of hand to ‘demonstrate’ the alleged popularity of GM crops.

For example, having invented the concept of ‘trait hectares’ to calculate the global uptake of GM that even a child could see doesn’t add up (e.g., if one acre of crop has six stacked GM traits in it, the ISAAA counts it as 6 hectares of GM), this year the ISAAA once again relies on material from the controversial Brookes and Barfoot team behind the pro-GM consultancy PG Economics.

PG Economics, which claims to be ‘objective and focused on using reliable and substantiated facts,’ in fact has significant ties to the biotech industry, calling into question the impartiality of its analysis, which has time and time again been challenged on their manipulation of data.

The illegitimacy of their approach was exposed in 2009 by agronomist Charles Benbrook, whose many roles include executive director of the Board on Agriculture at the US National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences.

Nevertheless, PG Economics enjoys a wide-ranging appeal in pro-GM policy and lobbying circles. As well as being used by the biotech industry to support their marketing strategies, the company supplies consultancy services to the British and the American Soybean Association.

Brookes and Barfoot’s work was even used in 2008 by the European Commission to demonstrate elevation in GM yields without reflecting PG Economic’s own admission: “In other regions, however, profits were only marginal” (ie, the yield was only higher in one province of the three Spanish regions studied, but GM did not actually improve yields anywhere else).

This is significant as it was an early part of the framing of the debate on devolved GM cultivation decisions (or ‘bans,’ at that time referred to as ‘socio-economic considerations’) the EU is still wrestling with as member states look at the evidence of wider negative impacts of GM crops emerging from a host of scientists worldwide.

Some EU members appear to appreciate the relationships–in a 2010 study the GM-sceptic Austrian government explored the socio-economic impacts of GM cultivation and listed Brookes and Barfoot as ‘Industry or somehow affiliated to industry’.

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The stakes are high, so information matters. During the global food crises of 2007–08 and 2010–11, agribusiness gained massive profits. Pro-biotech interests—particularly industry giant Monsanto—have since launched a variety of public relations strategies, including advertising campaigns and a series of reports touting the benefits of transgenic agriculture to farmers and the environment.

Our analysis finds that the Monsanto-funded reports use questionable methods and present misleading assessments of the impacts of genetically engineered crops.

From 2009 to 2011, Monsanto sponsored annual reports on the global economic and environmental impacts of GM crop varieties published by PG Economics. While the findings in these reports have been well received by industry and pro-biotech groups, a closer look at the 2011 report titled ‘GM crops: Global Socio-economic and Environmental Impacts, 1996-2009’ reveals faulty analysis that overstates the benefits of genetically engineered crops, while understating their costs.

The use of creative data methods does not change the fact that GM is not needed to feed the world and that more sustainable and equitable alternatives can be just as, if not more, productive. A more reliable assessment of whether transgenic agriculture fits into a more sustainable and equitable future would require a look at the full range of socioeconomic and environmental consequences.

This means using real-world data where available and fully accounting for negative impacts on crop diversity, non-target species, soils, small farms and people’s ability to control their food system. It should also include consideration of how consolidation of market power in the seed, chemical and grain industries affects farmers and consumers around the world.

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When this is done, the GM picture is far from rosy, whatever the industry says, or pays others to say, and it’s past time for European policy makers to stop relying on such questionable sources. Rampant weed resistance and growing insect resistance in the U.S. and elsewhere are exposing the serious flaws in the GM experiment.

In the past few weeks alone Monsanto has pulled its GM maize out of France and BASF said it would suspend the development of GM crops in Europe, with a member of the company’s board saying “it does not make business sense” to continue trying to operate in a market that doesn’t want what they have to sell.

The only way the GM industry and their supporters can make GM look good is if they cook the books. The only way they can sell their product is in unlabelled packages in the US and elsewhere so consumers don’t know where it is. This smacks of desperation, not success.

Originally published on EurActiv

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Wenonah Hauter is Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, a national consumer organization based in Washington, D.C. She has worked extensively on food, water, energy, and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America examines the corporate consolidation and control over our food system and what it means for farmers and consumers. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans. From 1997 to 2005 she served as Director of Public Citizen’s Energy and Environment Program, which focused on water, food, and energy policy. From 1996 to 1997, she was environmental policy director for Citizen Action, where she worked with the organization’s 30 state-based groups. From 1989 to 1995 she was at the Union of Concerned Scientists where as a senior organizer, she coordinated broad-based, grassroots sustainable energy campaigns in several states. She has an M.S. in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland. Read more >

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  1. EddieValiant
    So what? If it does not make economic sense, than the farmer will choose a different product. On the other hand, if the farmer feels that his GMO crop does make economic sense, than he will stick to it. Who are you to care about it? Let the farmer decide.
  2. Ned
    Let the farmer decide? LOL. Hmm, let's see: should I used just one tractor & loads of chemicals to maintain my zillion fields of subsidized commodity crops, or do I hire lots of people & buy more equipment, and work harder to get the same result? That GMO crops are loaded with pesticides and have less nutrient value are not under consideration to the farmer...he's just part of the "produce it as cheaply as possible" mindset that dominates our culture. Nevermind that you get crap when you do that...all those autistic kids and cancer patients are not directly effecting his life.
  3. EddieValiant
    @Ned, you make lots of claims you cannot substantiate. Less Nutrient value? Autistic children? Cancer patients? Do you really believe that everything that is organic, is therefore healthy? Despite the fact that 'mother nature' made it, many fungi on plants produce toxins that are far more lethal than any compound a scientist can synthesize in his laboratory. Is organic food more nutritious? Not according to many studies.

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