Say No To GMOs! logo
April 2008 Updates

Exposed: The Great GM Crops Myth

Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Independent UK
April 20, 2008

Major new study shows that modified soya produces 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

The study - carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt - has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

Professor Barney Gordon, of the university's department of agronomy, said he started the research - reported in the journal Better Crops - because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had "noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions". He added: "People were asking the question 'how come I don't get as high a yield as I used to?'"

He grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field. The modified crop produced only 70 bushels of grain per acre, compared with 77 bushels from the non-GM one.

The GM crop - engineered to resist Monsanto's own weedkiller, Roundup - recovered only when he added extra manganese, leading to suggestions that the modification hindered the crop's take-up of the essential element from the soil. Even with the addition it brought the GM soya's yield to equal that of the conventional one, rather than surpassing it.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a "decrease" in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.

A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over. (See graphic above.)

Monsanto said yesterday that it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.

Critics doubt whether the company will achieve this, saying that it requires more complex modification. And Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington - and who was one of the first to predict the current food crisis - said that the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.

A former champion crop grower himself, he drew the comparison with human runners. Since Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile more than 50 years ago, the best time has improved only modestly . "Despite all the advances in training, no one contemplates a three-minute mile."

Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted - the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development - concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: "The simple answer is no."


Manganese Nutrition of Glyphosate-Resistant and Conventional Soybeans

By Barney Gordon
Better Crops/Vol. 91 (2007, No. 4) p. 12-13
April , 2008

This study was conducted to determine if glyphosate-resistant (GR) soybeans respond differently to Mn fertilizer than conventional soybean varieties in an irrigated high-yield environment, and if so to develop fertilization strategies that will prevent or correct deficiencies. Yield of the GR variety was less than the conventional variety without Mn fertilizer. However, Mn application (banded at planting) to the GR variety closed the yield gap. The conventional soybean variety was not responsive to Mn fertilization. Conversely, yield was reduced at the highest rate of Mn. A second phase of the study showed that a combination of Mn applied as starter and foliar application provided maximum yield response.

Read the "Manganese Nutrition" study pdf

Related study "Missing Micronutrients" pdf


In Lean Times, Biotech Grains Are Less Taboo

By Andrew Pollack
The New York Times
April 21, 2008

Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.

\u201cWe cannot afford it,\u201d said a corn buyer at Kato Kagaku, a Japanese maker of corn starch and corn syrup.

In the United States, wheat growers and marketers, once hesitant about adopting biotechnology because they feared losing export sales, are now warming to it as a way to bolster supplies. Genetically modified crops contain genes from other organisms to make the plants resistance to insects, herbicides or disease. Opponents continue to worry that such crops have not been studied enough and that they might pose risks to health and the environment.

\u201cI think it\u2019s pretty clear that price and supply concerns have people thinking a little bit differently today,\u201d said Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates, a federally supported cooperative that promotes American wheat abroad.

The group, which once cautioned farmers about growing biotech wheat, is working to get seed companies to restart development of genetically modified wheat and to get foreign buyers to accept it.

Even in Europe, where opposition to what the Europeans call Frankenfoods has been fiercest, some prominent government officials and business executives are calling for faster approvals of imports of genetically modified crops. They are responding in part to complaints from livestock producers, who say they might suffer a critical shortage of feed if imports are not accelerated.

In Britain, the National Beef Association, which represents cattle farmers, issued a statement this month demanding that \u201call resistance\u201d to such crops \u201cbe abandoned immediately in response to shifts in world demand for food, the growing danger of global food shortages and the prospect of declining domestic animal production.\u201d

The chairman of the European Parliament\u2019s agriculture committee, Neil Parish, said that as prices rise, Europeans \u201cmay be more realistic\u201d about genetically modified crops: \u201cTheir hearts may be on the left, but their pockets are on the right.\u201d

With food riots in some countries focusing attention on how the world will feed itself, biotechnology proponents see their chance. They argue that while genetic engineering might have been deemed unnecessary when food was abundant, it will be essential for helping the world cope with the demand for food and biofuels in the decades ahead.

Through gene splicing, the modified crops now grown \u2014 mainly canola, corn, cotton and soybeans \u2014 typically contain bacterial genes that help the plants resist insects or tolerate a herbicide that can be sprayed to kill weeds while leaving the crop unscathed. Biotechnology companies are also working on crops that might need less water or fertilizer, which could have a bigger impact on improving yield.

Certainly any new receptivity to genetically modified crops would be a boon to American exporters. The United States accounted for half the world\u2019s acreage of biotech crops last year.

But substantial amounts of corn, soy or canola are grown in Argentina, Brazil and Canada. China has developed insect-resistant rice that is awaiting regulatory approval in that country.

The pressure to re-evaluate biotech comes as prices of some staples like rice and wheat have doubled in the last few months, provoking violent protests in several countries including Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti and Thailand. Factors behind the price spikes include the diversion of crops to make biofuel, rising energy prices, growing prosperity in India and China, and droughts in some regions \u2014 including Australia, a major grain producer.

Biotechnology still certainly faces obstacles. Polls in Europe do not yet show a decisive shift in consumer sentiment, and the industry has had some recent setbacks. Since the beginning of the year France has banned the planting of genetically modified corn while Germany has enacted a law allowing for foods to be labeled as \u201cG.M. free.\u201d

And a new international assessment of the future of agriculture, released last Tuesday, gave such tepid support to the role genetic engineering could play in easing hunger that biotechnology industry representatives withdrew from the project in protest. The report was a collaboration of more than 60 governments, with participation from companies and nonprofit groups, under the auspices of the World Bank and the United Nations.

Hans R. Herren, co-chairman of the project, said providing more fertilizer to Africa would improve output much more than genetic engineering could. \u201cWhat farmers really are struggling with are water issues, soil fertility issues and market access for their products,\u201d he said.

Opponents of biotechnology say they see not so much an opportunity as opportunism by its proponents to exploit the food crisis. \u201cWhere politicians and technocrats have always wanted to push G.M.O.\u2019s, they are jumping on this bandwagon and using this as an excuse,\u201d said Helen Holder, who coordinates the campaign against biotech foods for Friends of the Earth Europe. G.M.O. refers to genetically modified organism.

Even Michael Mack, the chief executive of the Swiss company Syngenta, an agricultural chemical and biotechnology giant, cautioned that the industry should not use the current crisis to push its agenda.

Whatever importance biotechnology can play in the long run, food shortages are making it harder for some buyers to avoid engineered crops.

The main reason some Japanese and South Korean makers of corn starch and corn sweeteners are buying biotech corn is that they have dwindling alternatives. Their main supplier is the United States, where 75 percent of corn grown last year was genetically modified, up from 40 percent in 2003.

\u201cWe cannot get hold of non-G.M. corn nowadays,\u201d said Yoon Chang-gyu, director of the Korean Corn Processing Industry Association.

But the tightening global supply has made it harder to get nonengineered corn from elsewhere. And as corn prices soar, millers and food companies are less able to pay the surcharge to keep nonengineered corn separate from biotech varieties. The surcharge itself has been rising.

Mr. Yoon said non-engineered corn cost Korean millers about $450 a metric ton, up from $143 in 2006. Genetically engineered corn costs about $350 a ton.

In Europe, livestock producers say that regulations on genetically modified crops could choke feed supplies at a time when they are already reeling from higher prices. Even after a new genetically engineered variety is approved for growing in the United States, it might take several years for Europe to approve it for import.

Moreover, European rules require an entire shipment of grain to be turned back if it contains even a trace of an unapproved variety. Such a problem last year disrupted exports of corn gluten, a feed product, from the United States to Europe.

Feed makers and livestock producers want faster approvals and a relaxation of the rules to allow for trace amounts of unapproved varieties in shipments.

Even in the United States, where genetically engineered food has been generally accepted, the wheat industry has had to rethink its reluctance to accept biotech varieties.

Because about half of America\u2019s wheat crop is exported, farmers and processors feared foreign buyers would reject their products. Facing resistance from American farmers, Monsanto in 2004 suspended development of what would have been the first genetically modified wheat.

But some farmers and millers now say that the lack of genetically engineered wheat has made growing the grain less attractive than growing corn or soybeans. That has, in turn, contributed to shrinking supplies and rising prices for wheat.

Milling & Baking News, an influential trade newspaper in Kansas City, Mo., said in an editorial that companies that used wheat were now paying the price for their own \u201chesitancy, if not outright opposition\u201d to biotechnology.

Su-hyun Lee in Seoul, South Korea, and Yasuko Kamiizumi in Tokyo contributed reporting.

SB 958--R.I.P.

By Jeri Di Pietro, GMO Free Kaua`i
Garden Isle News LTE
April 22, 2008

Summary of dead bill to protect Hawaiian taro

The taro bill did not die from lack of support, it was amended by biotech supporters and Rep Clift Tsuji (Hilo), into a bill that was the opposite of what we wanted.

The original bill asked for a ten year moratorium on creating and growing GMO taro. We simply asked for more time while protecting Haloa and the taro farmers.

The amended bill proposed a five year moratorium on GMO Hawaiian taro varieties only. BUT it allowed GMO research on other taro varieties. It allowed Hawaiian taro to be genetically modified outside of the state, and it allowed GMO taro to be brought here and planted in Hawai`i.

The amended bill included language that would protect all GMO plants. It would prohibit our state and county from banning or restricting any GMOs. This language excluded our county from applying our CZO, charter provision, permit condition, spraying restrictions or EIS to any GMO crops.

It would have prevented us from regulating the testing, handling, transportation, notification or even imposing of labeling laws.

Wow, how did our little bill get so fat?

This exact language, known as pre-emptive law, has turned up in 16 US states and surely looks familiar to many of you, only this one went even futher in pre-empting not just country regulation but the state's attority as well! This language is a slap in the face to the county councils on every island. (Resolutions were passed in Maui County, Kauai, and Hawaii.)

We think there is a disproportionate amount of resources supporting irresponsible science and corporate profits. The Hawaiian people, farmers and the huge volunteer effort towards self sustaining islands deserve resources too. More than 7000 farmers, cultural practitioners, consumers did not want GMO kalo. Who is looking out for us?


Can We Create Life?

By Vivienne Parry
The Observer
April 27, 2008

Our knowledge of, and ability to, alter DNA remains rudimentary, in spite of notable scientific advances and the persistent dream of genetic perfection. Vivienne Parry explains

Will the parents of the future be able to use IVF and genetic technologies to dictate exactly what they want in a baby? To have a blue-eyed blond? Or one with musical ability? Super-smart perhaps? The short answer is likely to be no. So-called designer babies are not possible now and it's highly likely that they won't be possible in the future either. Here's why.

Let's say you are a pushy mum and dad who want a boy who will be a super athlete. There are some specific genes that are known to be associated with athletic ability. For instance, there's one called ACTN3. One version of it makes a protein found only in the fast muscle fibres that help sprinters produce explosive bursts of speed. One study of elite sprinters found that 95% of them had this gene variant. The problem for our pushy parents is that this gene is only one of many hundreds likely to contribute to sports fitness and performance, most of which are still unknown. So even if an embryo were to be selected that had this go-faster gene, this would not assure sports ability, let alone Olympic gold. And in any case, sports performance is about much more than just genes. It's how hard you practise, whether you have access to training and equipment, whether you are motivated, what you eat and so on.

There's another problem for our parents. If it's theirs, the embryo will have an assortment of the genes that the parents have; and if neither of them carry the right variant of ACTN3, their embryo won't have it either. Even if one of them did carry ACTN3, not every embryo they produced would have it. So they might have to screen many embryos before they found one that had it and was male.

And there's one further hurdle. The embryo would then have to be implanted in the woman's womb. Even in the best clinics, IVF only has a 40% chance of success, and if a woman is older it is much less.

At the moment, it is possible for parents who carry a genetic disease to reduce the chance that a child will be born with it in two ways. The first involves choosing the type of sperm that is used to fertilise the woman's egg. Only using sperm that carry an X chromosome to fertilise the egg means only unaffected girls are conceived.

The second technique involves screening embryos for a particular genetic disease or chromosome disorder so that only embryos free from it are replaced. This technique is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). It is limited to those parents whose babies are already known to be at risk and it is used to screen embryos for very specific problems, like cystic fibrosis. In Britain there have only been 500 cases of PGD, all for serious disease, since 1990, yet there are around 25,000 cycles of IVF each year.

It is currently illegal, but could you alter an embryo's genes so that a disease didn't occur? If this is done in egg or sperm cells (what's called germ line therapy), the changed gene is transmitted to future generations.

Gene silencing

Silencing a gene is a well established technique in mice, where it is used to create so-called "'knockout"' mice to study the effects of genes. Artificial DNA is introduced into mouse embryonic stem cells to silence one particular gene. The altered cells are then introduced into early mouse embryos, which are then implanted in a mouse womb. The resulting pups have some tissues with altered genes, but repeated breeding ensures mice that have all their tissues of the new type.

But very few genes have single effects and altering one can have deadly consequences. About 15% of mouse gene knockouts are lethal; others produce unexpected handicaps. In humans there is a gene that appears to be correlated with a 10-point boost in IQ. But it is also associated with a 10% chance of developing a muscle condition that can confine the sufferer to a wheelchair with uncontrollable muscle spasms. Altering genes isn't like editing a document in Word. DNA is an invisibly thin molecule coiled upon itself with the millions of letters that we can't see - trying to alter just three letters without damaging anything else is a truly daunting task. These dangers mean that designer babies are not possible now and may never be.

Building a new organism from scratch is possible. In January this year a US team reported in Science magazine how it built the entire DNA code of a common bacterium in the laboratory using blocks of genetic material. The team synthesised small blocks of DNA before knitting them together into bigger "cassettes" of genes. Large chunks of genes were joined together to make the circular genome of a synthetic version of a mycoplasma bacterium.

This technique is called synthetic biology and it combines science and engineering to build new biological functions and systems. The US group J Craig Venter Institute hopes eventually to use engineered genomes to make bacteria that can do useful things, such as produce clean fuels or take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

But many people are extremely concerned by the possibilities of bio-error (or bio-terror) that artificial life creates. They say artificial microbes could have dangerous consequences if they escape into the environment or if they are used to manufacture bioweapons. At present there are no international laws or oversight mechanisms to assess the safety of synthetic organisms. Organisations such as the Royal Society are currently seeking the public's view on this technology.


Hollow Victory: Enola Bean Patent Smashed At Last (Maybe)

By ETC Group
News Release
April 29, 2008

The infamous Enola bean patent, first denounced by ETC Group eight years ago as a textbook case of biopiracy, was struck down yesterday (April 29, 2008) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in Washington, D.C. One of the most controversial plant patents in history, the effort to defeat it was unprecedented because it involved the United Nations and international plant breeding institutes.

"Many people are calling the PTO's decision to reject the Enola bean patent a victory, but we're inclined to call it a travesty," said Hope Shand of ETC Group. "In essence, the U.S. patent system allowed the owner of a flagrantly unjust patent to legally monopolize markets and destroy competition - for close to half the 20-year patent term. And even now the patent owner could still appeal through the federal court system!"

"Worse still, Mexican and U.S. farmers who suffered damages as a result of this unjust monopoly will never be compensated for their losses. Patent law has no mechanism to compensate farmers and indigenous peoples who are victimized by predatory patent abuses," adds Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group's office in Mexico City.

According to ETC Group, the eight-year patent challenge is, above all, an indictment of the patent system's ability to "correct" patent abuses. The request for re-examination of the patent was filed in December 2000. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office declared its preliminary rejection of the patent three years later. Using a series of bureaucratic delays and diversions, the patent owner was allowed to legally extend his exclusive monopoly on a Mexican bean variety for over 8 years.

"We've seen protracted patent battles before. It was just last year that the European Patent Office struck down Monsanto's species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans - but it took an appeal and 13 years," said Kathy Jo Wetter of ETC Group. "The patent system is broken on both sides of the Atlantic," she adds.


The Enola bean patent holds a special place in the "biopiracy hall of shame" because the patented yellow bean was proven to be genetically identical to an existing Mexican bean variety.(1) That's not surprising, because the patent owner, Larry Proctor, first got his hands on the yellow bean when he bought a bag of beans in Mexico. After securing his monopoly patent, Proctor accused Mexican farmers of infringing the patent (U.S. patent number 5,894,079) by selling yellow beans in the U.S. As a result, shipments of yellow beans from Mexico were stopped at the U.S./Mexican border, and Mexican farmers lost lucrative markets. In 2001 Proctor filed lawsuits against 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in the U.S., again charging patent infringement.

Intergovernmental Patent Challenge

In January 2000 ETC Group (then as RAFI) denounced the Enola bean patent as "Mexican bean biopiracy" and demanded that the patent be legally challenged and revoked. ETC Group requested that the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) investigate the patent as a violation of the CGIAR's 1994 Trust agreement that obliges them to keep designated crop germplasm in the public domain and off-limits to intellectual property claims.

Agreeing with ETC Group, the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, a CGIAR center), with support from FAO, filed an official challenge of the predatory Enola bean patent in Washington, D.C. "We commend CIAT and FAO for taking this action, and for sticking with the 8-year patent challenge," said Pat Mooney of ETC Group. "Joachim Voss, CIAT's former director general, deserves special recognition for leading the patent challenge," notes Mooney.

ETC Group warns that egregious monopoly patent claims on seeds, genes and traits are by no means a thing of the past. In the midst of a deepening world food crisis, with climate chaos as the backdrop - predatory patenting is a greater threat than ever. Please stay tuned.

The Enola Bean Patent Reexamination Saga

  • 13 April 1999: Larry Proctor wins US Patent No. 5,894,079, "field bean cultivar named enola"
  • 15 January 2000: ETC Group denounces the enola bean patent as technically invalid and morally unacceptable
  • 20 December 2000: Request for Reexamination of US patent 5,894,079 (issued 13 April 1999) filed by CIAT
  • 30 November 2001: Proctor sues 16 small bean seed companies and farmers in Colorado for infringing his patent
  • 02 December 2003: USPTO's reexamination results in "Non Final" Rejection of Patent
  • 02 June 2004: Proctor submits 400+ page amendment to "Non Final" Rejection
  • 14 April 2005: USPTO issues "Final Rejection" of Patent
  • 14 October 2005: Proctor submits Request for Continued Examination of Patent
  • 21 December 2005: and issues another "Final Rejection" of Patent
  • 29 April 2008: USPTO's Board of Patent Appeals affirms the patent examiner's decision regarding the rejection of all standing claims in the Patent
  • ????? - Will Larry Proctor appeal through the U.S. Federal Court system?

1) L. Pallottini, J. Kami, G. Barcaccia, P. Gepts, The Genetic Identity of a Patented Yellow Bean, a paper presented at the American Society of Agronomy Annual Meeting, Denver, November 2-5, 2003. The official results were published in the May/June 2004 issue of Crop Science, Pallottini et al., "The Genetic Anatomy of a Patented Yellow Bean," Crop Science, 44:968-977 (2004).

top of page