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Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: Monsanto

GM Crops Report Aimed at a Straw Man Creates Kerfuffle*

Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on genetically-engineered crops called “Failure to Yeild”  that did yeild a fair amount of press coverage.

However, the report’s focus on yeild is a bit of a … straw man … as UCS itself acknowledges in its FAQ:

“GE crops have provided other benefits important to U.S. farmers.  Bt corn provides protection against insect pests, and the GE traits are often available in varieties producing higher yields as a result of traditional breeding. GE soybeans provide increased convenience and save time.”

ScienceInsider, likewise, notes that

“[the UCS] results won’t surprise most farmers. They plant crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate (widely known as Roundup) mainly because that trait makes it easier and sometimes cheaper to control weeds, not because it increases yields.  The UCS study is instead aimed at the general public, in an effort to counter claims by the biotechnology industry that genetic engineering offers the best solution to global food shortages.”

In the end, the report’s actual take-home message is unrelated to the any of the novel data:

“[I]t makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of [non-GE] proven technologies…

[R]ecent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”

It’s hard to disagree with a call to apply all available tools to increase crop yeilds in the developing world.

A second story yesterday, which probably got a boost from the UCS report timing, was that Germany announced a ban on Monsanto’s GM corn, which the country had previously licensed.  This move has actually been anticipated since February, when the EU Committee of Experts failed to overturn bans in France and Greece, and is of a piece with other issues in the EU around GM crops.

* Kerfuffle: disturbance, disruption, commotion, flutter, hurly burly, to-do, hoo-ha, hoo-hah, kerfuffle (a disorderly outburst or tumult).

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Ups and Downs for Biotech Crops in the EU

Quite an a-maize-ing week (sorry) for biotech crops in the EU:

  • The European Commission announced a proposal to end Austria’s ban on biotech maizes MON810 and T25, saying that Austria had not supplied scientific evidence that the specific nature of Austria’s ecology justified the ban.
  • A report from the French food safety agency, Afssa, saying MON810 is as safe as conventional maize leaked to the press just a few days before Envirmonent Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was due to appear before a committee of European biotech experts to justify France’s ban.   This prompted French Prime Minister Francois Fillon to say Thursday that “France is maintaining the suspension while it awaits a (European) Commission decision which it will respect.”
  • When the committee of experts met Monday, they did not have the “qualified majority” (a population-weighted test) to overturn the MON810 bans in France or Greece, the same result as in December when the voting was to lift similar bans in Austria and Hungary.  Now all four cases will be addressed by the EU’s council of ministers on March 2.
  • This apparently emboldened Germany’s Agriculture Minister, who said the German government may revoke the license it already issued for the GM crop.
  • Last, but not least, today the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that requires EU governments to make the location of GM crop field trials public.  Hopefully long jail terms will deter the “activists” who will no doubt be among those accessing the information.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world:

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