Genetic Engineering Fails to Significantly Boost Crop Yields

The biotech industry claims genetic engineering was responsible for increased crop yields in the United States over the past decade, but a new report says traditional breeding and conventional agricultural improvements were the true causes of the increase.

| April 14, 2009

  • Ear of corn
    Herbicide-tolerant corn and insect-resistant corn are two of the most common genetically altered food and feed crops in the United States.

  • Ear of corn

For years, the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

That promise has proven to be empty, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

“The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven’t enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. “In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results.”

The report, Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops, is the first to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States.

Based on those studies, the UCS report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield — the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time.

6/12/2009 9:40:46 AM

Interesting article, many things to consider. I too am skeptical of UCS publications, just like everyone should be of any "study" designed to persuade. One fact left out that would have explained increased crop yields (for corn anyway), is that the true advancement in yield per acre came from the development of varieties that are able to be planted more densely than ever before, and still have high yields. Whether or not this advancement came through traditional breeding or GM I do no know. Furthermore, were these densely planted varieties also GM for herbicide resitance or anything else? I don't know the answers, but hopefully UCS considered all the information at their disposal, not just the friendly studies.

5/6/2009 11:41:35 AM

I agree with Foodchoices. This whole GM food thing has nothing to do with "the good of the People"and feeding us. It has everything to do with GREED thru Control of the food supply,thru our seeds. The end of treasured seeds that have been passed on from generation to generation.Policing farmers and their seeds. Having to buy GM seeds, from "drug companies" cause we CAN'T make our own anymore because they've been cross polinated with GM seeds.Which will starve peoples of other countries because there seeds have been rendered useless,seeds they've passed down thru famlies, gone. Forced to buy,most likley at High prices,GM seeds. EVERYONE should read up on "Monsanto" Then see what you think about this big big mess we are unwillingly getting sucked into. GREED once again,still, rearing its ugly head.$$$$$$$ is what it's all about, and we can't do anything about it.I'm stiil amazed at how fast we humans have ruined this earth in 200 years.I could go on but you get the picture. I urge everyone to check this out furthur,Esp. "Monsanto"

5/6/2009 9:10:59 AM

Monsanto is one of the primary reasons I began an organic Victory Garden. Fish genes in corn -- Ugh! Just say "No Thanks" to Frankenfoods. I don't think the world population explosion can be solved by growing more food. The real solution is BIRTH CONTROL. Birth control for free for every women that wants it. And we can't grow more food without more clean, potable water. Worldwide droughts are showing us that the real danger is not having enough clean, potable water. What are we (America) doing about that? Afterall, most of us can go for a while without food, but none of us can survive more than 3 days without clean, potable water.

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