Thanks largely to Europe’s flat rejection of GMO seeds for the last twenty years, as compared to North America’s overwhelming welcome of them, the New York Times was able to conduct a thorough analysis of United Nations data on the two promised benefits of the infamous GMO products: increased crop yield and decreased pesticide usage.
The results, as many farmers already knew from years of experience, are that these promises have basically gone undelivered, and in some regards backfired entirely. But the Times’ report on their findings is valuable above all else for the hard numbers it provides, which they’ve crystallized into some very important points.
First, yield. Analysis revealed that North American GMO crops showed no gains over non-GMO crops in European countries with comparable agricultural technology (France and Germany, among others). Furthermore, looking just at American crops of the same products but comparing GMO to non-GMO, again there were no gains.
The report looks specifically at corn, rapeseed, and sugar beets, comparing the yields in North American to yields in Europe. Corn was largely equivalent (although it’s worth noting that this one of the GMO producers’ headlining seeds, one they said would help feed the world), but both rapeseed and sugar beets saw increased yields in Europe and not in North America, which is a disappointment to say the least for GMO proponents whose mantra has been based entirely on crop yield.
Pesticide use—including both herbicides and insecticides—has actually increased, despite claims from Monsanto and others that the GMOs seeds would create plants that were resistant to pests. The report cites data that herbicide use in the US has increased by 21% in the last two decades, while it’s decreased by 36% in France. Soybean herbicide use has grown 250% since the introduction of GMO seeds. Use in corn was actually decreasing before GMOs, but doubled between 2002–2010.
The more cynical of us might look at these results, along with the fact that the same company—Monsanto—manufactures both the seeds and the herbicide (Roundup), and conclude that this was their intention all along: to boost sales of Roundup. Considering Monsanto’s incredibly shady history, it’s hard to disagree, but there’s something else at work here, too.
Plants are, after years of exposure to the product, becoming resistant to Roundup, therefore farmers are using more of the product. What’s more, this increasing resistance is provoking chemical manufacturers to revisit formerly contentious compounds such as Dicamba and 2,4-D, an ingredient in the infamous defoliant Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.
The takeaway? Clearly the GMO and pesticide industries are the only people seeing any increase in profit here. Bear in mind that GMO seeds are more expensive—sometimes almost twice as expensive—than standard seeds, and that an increased need in herbicides is also taking its toll on farmers. Without an increase in yield, where is the return on investment? Consumers in the US have always been averse to the crops, so much that non-GMO grown products proudly label themselves as such.
Although the potential harm caused by the products themselves has never been scientifically proven, what has been proven many times over are the potential risks to health—including cancer—of the chemicals that are being used more and more as a direct result of GMO seed usage. That, of course, is unacceptable. Hopefully now, with this, and continued data, the US and Canada can finally see the error in their ways and ban GMO seeds across the board.