We were disappointed to read this weekend’s piece on GMO crops in the New York Times (“Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops”). The reporter chose to cherry-pick data to argue that GMOs have failed to provide significant benefits, especially yield increases, to farmers in the United States. The reporter’s arguments were misinformed– and overlooked the perspectives of millions of farmers in the United States, India, South America and elsewhere in the world, who have chosen to plant GMOs over the past two decades.
We were especially disappointed because we engaged with this reporter on multiple occasions over several months to provide interviews, background information and recommendations of third-party experts and resources. Much of this context was omitted from the article. As a result, the article may create unfortunate confusion and concern among consumers who are unfamiliar with modern agricultural practices.
As we told the reporter on multiple occasions, analyzing yield trends across geographies is complex because agronomic characteristics, maturity rates and other factors have to be taken into consideration. Making comparisons across very broad geographies – such as the United States and Europe – is especially difficult. Focusing on a comparison between smaller regions allows for better control of those variables and a more accurate comparison.
For instance, in a new analysis on the Huffington Post, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Robb Fraley, analyzes yield trends between the Canadian province of Ontario and the country of France. These two regions are agronomically similar. The big difference? GMOs are common in Ontario but not used in France. From 1997 to 2015, corn yields increased in Ontario by 51 percent, while French yields only grew about 10.5 percent.
Importantly, while this increase is significant, yield improvement is only one of the many benefits GMOs offer to modern agriculture. Let’s look more broadly at those benefits.
The article completely overlooked the benefits of GMOs for farmers in the developing world – an area where this new technology is truly changing lives, particularly when it comes to food security. According to Qaim and Kouser (2013), access to insect-resistant GMO cotton in India has increased family incomes and improved calorie consumption significantly. Indeed, because of access to GMOs, food insecurity among Indian cotton-producing households has fallen by 15 to 20 percent.
GMOs and other modern agricultural tools have also helped accelerate the adoption of practices such as conservation tillage and no-till, which helps increase carbon sequestration in soil. Brookes and Barfoot (2016) calculated that in 2014 alone, conservation tillage enabled by glyphosate-tolerant GMO corn and soybean removed 22.4 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road for a year. That benefit alone should make headlines.
The article also made misleading claims regarding the use of pesticides on GMOs. Brookes and Barfoot also report that GMOs have reduced pesticide spraying from 1996 to 2015 by 8.2 percent.
In addition, despite the article’s alarmist language about pesticide safety, it is important to note that all pesticides registered for use in the United States have undergone rigorous health and safety evaluations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These assessments ensure that pesticides can be used safely according to their label instructions, whether they are being used on GMOs, conventional or organic crops.
It’s easy for anyone to cherry-pick numbers to make a misleading argument. But it’s impossible to argue with the real-world benefits both large and smallholder farmers have seen around the world.
As a company, we are committed to delivering new tools and innovations to growers to help nourish our world in a more sustainable way. We believe GMOs are one important tool, among many, that will help feed our growing world. We invite readers of the Times piece to dig deeper than the headlines and explore the benefits of GMOs for themselves. A great place to start is at discover.monsanto.com or GMOAnswers.com.
Here’s a running list of links to responses by farmers, academics and others who are providing accurate information and setting the record straight on misinformation in the article as well.
- Andrew Kniss: The tiresome discussion of initial GMO expectations
- Kevin Folta: Rehashing a Tired Argument
- Steven Novella: The Times Gets it Wrong on GMOs
- Jayson Lusk: New York Times on GMOs
- Robb Fraley: Biotechnology Makes a Difference
- Karen Batra: NYT Misses the Point on Yields, Pesticides and What Farmers Need
- Nathanael Johnson: What the New York Times missed with its big GMO story
- Daniel R. Pearson: NYT Article Understates the Benefits of GMOs