Q & A

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But don’t genetically engineered crops have higher yields?

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Question:

Are genetically engineered crops needed to “feed the world,” as so often claimed?

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No, and in fact GE crops probably contribute to world hunger rather than alleviate it.  Roundup Ready crops reduce labor needs, and in South America have facilitated expanding soybean monocultures that push poor subsistence farmers off the land.  Only one new job is created for every 1,235 acres of land converted to GE soybeans.  This same amount of land, devoted to food crops on family farms, supports four to five families and employs at least half a dozen.  Thus, GE soybeans help big farmers get bigger at the expense of the poor, as reflected in rising rural poverty rates in Argentina and Paraguay, where the GE crop “revolution” is referred to as “agricultura sin agricultores” (farming without farmers).

Contrary to popular myth, GE cotton has not increased yields in India.  Many poor farmers persuaded by dishonest hype to try GE cotton take out high-interest loans to buy expensive planting stock.  If the crop does poorly (e.g. due to lack of rain), the loans can’t be paid back.  Suicide is increasingly common among debt-ridden cotton farmers, who have also suffered from withdrawal of government price supports.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

What are GE crops engineered for?

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Virtually 100% of GE crops in the world have one or two traits.  Insect-resistant corn and cotton produce insecticidal toxins in their tissues to kill certain insect pests.  Herbicide-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton and canola withstand dousing with chemical weed-killers.  Five of every six acres of GE crops (85%) are herbicide-resistant.  Nearly all herbicide-resistant crops are Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties, resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

No commercial GE crop is higher-yielding or more nutritious.  GE crops do not use less water or fertilizer, or grow in salty soils or flooded conditions.  Hardly any are disease-resistant.  If you’ve heard about such crops, it’s because the biotechnology industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars hyping lab experiments for PR purposes, though in a quarter century they have not been successfully developed and marketed.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

Which crops have been genetically engineered?

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Just four GE crops – soybeans, corn, cotton and canola – comprise virtually 100% of world biotech crop acreage.  Soybeans and corn predominate, and are used primarily to feed livestock or fuel cars (biofuels) in rich nations, not feed hungry people.  India and China grow GE cotton, but little or no GE food crops.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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Question:

Where are genetically engineered crops grown?

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Photo Freese head shotGE crops are concentrated in a handful of countries with industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors.  Just eight nations in the Americas – primarily the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina – accounted for 87% of GE crop acreage in 2011.  The main growers of GE crops in Brazil and Argentina are “soybean barons” who export to Europe and Japan.  Asian nations – chiefly India and China – are home to just 11% of GE crops, with the remaining 2% grown in Australia, Africa and Europe.

Featured voice: Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst

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