by Robert Wager
The segment GM-Resistant Rootworms and the Future of Farming was aired on May 29th on CBC’s The Current. The program reviewed a particular type of genetically modified crop – Bt corn – and how it has performed over time. The program had several guest speakers with differing points of view. It was an interesting program overall, but there were a few keys facts missing:
- GM-resistant corn rootworms have been found in less than 1% of US corn fields so the context/scale of the problem was not made clear on the program (for more on this see the Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) IRM team’s review of Monsanto’s Cry3Bb1 resistance monitoring data (EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0922-0037) (2010), Table 2).
- Integrated pest management (IPM) can include organic production methods if they are deemed best for a given farming situation. The suggestion that IPM is separate from organic farming is simply not true.
- The suggestion that only organic farming practices enhance soil ecology is blatantly false. The National Academy of Science 2010 report, Impact of GE crops on farm Sustainability in the US stated farmers who have adopted GE crop technology have seen “substantial economic and environmental benefits.” The organic farmer spokesperson on the program ignores this fact. A good example is the well documented soil enhancements that are made possible with reduced/no tillage farming that Roundup Ready crops permit. Tilling for weeds (the organic option) is quite destructive to soil structure.
- Organic agriculture is not chemical free. They use a different set of chemicals (coppers, sulfates). The environmental impact quotient (EIQ) for some of the organic alternatives is far higher (more negative impact on the environment) than conventional or biotechnology counterparts.
- The significant yield drag for organic agriculture is not mentioned by the organic production advocate. On average decades of research show a 15-30% yield reduction for organic crop production (see Alex Avery’s book The Truth About Organic Foods (2006)). This would have a very significant impact on food prices and farmer incomes.
- There was no mention that organic agriculture use the same Bt that was the main topic of the show. Organic crop advocates often vilify Bt in GM crops and then use the very same Bt in their own agricultural practices. Where was that fact in the discussion?
Having outlined a few shortcomings of the show’s content, I would like to congratulate the panel on the The Current’s program for shedding light on the need for better IPM practices in farming. No one system of agriculture will solve all of the problems inherent in food production. The world will need to double food production by 2050 and for that we require many systems of agricultural production in order to address the challenge.
Vancouver Island University
Robert Wager has been a faculty member of the Biology Dept at Vancouver Island University for the past 18 years. He has a BSc. in Microbiology and a Masters in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Rob has been interested in Genetically Modified (GM) crops and food with emphasis on public education and public policy. He has written dozens of mainstream articles for the general public that help explain different aspects of the technology. You can follow Rob on Twitter @RobetWager1 or review his work at: http://web.viu.ca/wager
December 9, 2010
Here is a great article to follow up from what transpired on the Dr. Oz show this week. Alan McHughen and Robert Wager co-author an article in the December 2010 issue of New Biotechnology entitled “Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology”. I have attached the article here and I think that the Open Source Gods will shine favourably down on me for that (even if the journal doesn’t). Without going into detail, the article explains and refutes some of the most popular misconceptions around agricultural biotechnology.
Dr. Pam Ronald was a guest on the Oz episode which covered the issue of GE tech and food earlier this week. Dr. Ronald did a fantastic job of representing the science of biotechnology but unfortunately she had difficulty competing with the sexy soundbytes of anti-GE sentiments parlayed by “Seeds of Deception” author J. Smith. If that wasn’t enough, I was frustrated by Dr. Oz’s apparent bias against GE technology and GMO food – and I quote:
“…and this organic cereal contains no genetically modified seeds or products so that is an advantage…”
Back to the McHughen/Wager article…. the authors state:
“Popular misconceptions might be considered amusing if they are held only by a small ‘fringe’ group. But sometimes the misinformation and fear can become infectious and pathogenic, instigating bad public policy, with substantial negative consequences to everyone.”
I think that Dr. Oz should have a read, don’t you? (see article attached below)
I refer to some other online sources relating to the Dr. Oz show and Dr. Ronald’s appearance on it:
Dr.Ronald’s follow up to her appearance on the show: http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/
Want some GOOD, BALANCED information? Here are some sources: bioforitifed,org, ucbiotech.org and academicsreview.org
Check out page 729+ – article by Strauss et al on the implications of regulations on biofuel crops/development (grasses and woody plants) in US entitled “Far reaching Deleterious Impacts of Regulations on Research & Environmental Studies of Recombinant DNA-modeified Perennial Biofuel Crops in the US”
October 2010, Volume 60 No. 9
“…the current legal and regulatory situation places severe constraints on both the ability to develop GE crops at all, and then on the performance of adequate environmental studies to inform regulatory and other social decisions about their use…” (p. 738).
Strauss etal outline some ways to address the current constraints/problems:
1. focus regulatory requirements on defined risks.
2. use scientific criteria for design of categories for a low-level presence (LLP) system
3. create an early stage LLP management system
4. clarify the role of NEPA and the CBD
According to Strauss etal, “…the regulatory thicket is deep and thorny…” Resolving issues will require reworking of laws (in US and internationally) or “…a fundamental court precedent that stops the penalization of the GE process” and “enshrining into law the ‘product not process’ principle” (p. 739).
“Solving these problems will require new ways of thinking and strong scientific and political leadership to move us toward a regulatory system that enables, rather than arbitrarily blocks, the use of GE as a tool to accelerate and diversify the breeding of … biofuelcrops.” (p.739).
An article from Physorg.com outlines the report by Strauss and colleagues http://www.physorg.com/news205157589.html
Article excerpt: “The current environment poses enormous legal risks that can and have cost some companies millions of dollars in civil lawsuits, the scientists said, sometimes for damages that were more of perception and market issues, than of safety or environmental impact.”
Genetically engineered crops are more environmentally friendly than
By Elliot Entis
April 11, 2010
The Boston Globe
The yield per acre of such organic crops as wheat and beans is
between 50 and 80 percent of the yield of conventional crops
GE outperforms conventional crops: yields from genetically
engineered crops are 36% better for corn and 12% better for soy beans
Since 1997, the reduction in pesticide use resulting from
genetically engineered crops is estimated at 790 million pounds,
or 8.8%, and herbicide reduction in soybeans at 161 million
pounds, or 4.6%
“Farmers who grow Bt-corn [a GE variety that contains the natural pesticide Bt] use 75 percent less pesticides, essentially receiving the benefits of chemicals without releasing them into the environment or leaving residue on the final product.’’ Bt is one of the pesticides organic farmers use to protect their own crops.”
“The organic movement is largely a romantic ideal, far removed in many ways from science. It believes it is environmentally friendly, but it largely avoids science. True environmentalists look at the facts, and those facts do not support the growth of organic farming as a way to feed the world. However, with few exceptions, environmental organizations do not admit to this publicly. Why? Because they share a constituency: citizens who oppose certain elements of mass production farming, who yearn for a simpler time, when things were more natural. But this constituency is built on a shared belief system about the past, not the future.” http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/04/11/…