"GMOs to hike farmers' income", and other hype (19/12/2004)

Parts of the article below (item 1) verge on the fantastical, not to say the nonsensical, eg "GMO fertilizers for the culturally important wagwag rice variety will be used to allow farmers to harvest even during the off-season" and "Another Filipino GMO is the cotton bollworm". (item 1)

However, in other respects it conforms to the standard patern of GM propaganda pieces, particularly in the developing world. We're told that if Bt corn acreage dramatically expands in the Philipinnes then the country will move from being a net importer to an exporter of the crop.

The Bt corn we are told generates higher yields, which improve farmers' incomes. "The experience of corn farmers since December 2002, when Bt corn was approved for cultivation in the country, was positive, with yields rising by 37 percent and profits zooming by 60 percent."

These are dramatic benefits and they contrast notably with US Dept of Agriculture findings which show, amongst much else (see item 2) that GM crops do not increase yield and may actually reduce yields and that Bt corn has had a negative economic impact on farms!

Item 3 deals with the way GM crops are being promoted in the global South.

2.GM crop data was not so rosy
3.Hyping GMOs to farmers

Source: AgBioView Newsletter (www.agbioworld.org)

CEBU CITY - Dr. Emil Javier, former University of the Philippines (UP) president, does not buy the idea promoted by some groups that the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture would worsen the living conditions of farmers nationwide.

In fact, Javier is batting for the propagation of biotechnology products like Bt corn nationwide, saying that these crops have practically little need for pesticides and generate higher yields, and these would improve farmers' incomes rather than reduce them.

Javier said the experience of corn farmers since December 2002, when Bt corn was approved for cultivation in the country, was positive, with yields rising by 37 percent and profits zooming by 60 percent of P10, 132 per hectare.

He said that these developments augur well for corn farmers, particularly in Mindanao, who have been batting for the wider cultivation of Bt corn.

Originally, only 129 hectares of farms were devoted to the cultivation of corn but the figure has reached about 30,000 hectares today.

Javier said a study undertaken by Prof. Jose M. Yorobe of the Department of Agricultural Economics of UP Los Baños showed that Bt corn has already gained wide acceptance among farmers.

Moreover, the same paper disclosed, farmers interviewed in four major Bt corn growing areas in Isabela, Camarines Sur, Bukidnon and South Cotabato said they substantially reduced the use of incentives, thus adding more to their incomes.

The superior financial performance by farmers using Bt corn has become a magnet for other cultivators, prompting Javier to say that "Bt corn cultivation would reduce corn importation."

Without biotechnology, the former UP president said, "we will import more corn, even rice and other agricultural products. The reverse will happen if we promote Bt corn and other genetically-modified agricultural products."

Javier predicted that the country would become an exporter of corn and other products if the Philippines continues to expand hectarage devoted to GMOs.

If this does not happen, the country will suffer perpetual dependance on corn imports, noting that at present, "it is cheaper to import them from the US than to get them from Mindanao."

To obviate this expensive possibility, Javier says the hectarage devoted to Bt corn will have to increase from the 30, 000 hectares devoted to the crop today.

Dr. Saturnina Halos, chairwoman of the Biotechnology Advisory Team (BAT) of the Department of Agriculture (DA), says that the country is also developing a Filipino GMO rive even as the popularity known IR-64 variety has become resistant to tungro and BB.

It has also been genetically engineered to carry more Vitamin A, which combats blindness.

There is also GMO papaya, which is protected from viruses and has longer productive lives, she added.

Another Filipino GMO is the cotton bollworm.

Banana and tomato vaccines are being developed to boost the resistance of fruits to viruses even as GMO fertilizers for the culturally important wagwag rice variety will be used to allow farmers to harvest even during the off-season.

Halos said that with GMO fertilizers, farmers can still harvest 140 cavans per hectare.

2. GM crop data was not so rosy

Letter Published in 'Farmers Weekly', 16 August 2002 (Numbers in brackets refer to footnotes provided here only, for further reference; title of letter produced by Farmers Weekly.)

GM crop data was not so rosy

The article "Data shows economic success for GM crops" (Arable, July 12) is misleading.

It quotes claims from a US National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy study part funded by Monsanto and the Biotechnology Industry Organisation. [for more on the NCFAP see:
http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=94 ]

With the exception of Bt insecticide cotton, often planted where little integrated pest management is used, examination of USDA governmental data released in June gives a different picture.

First, GM crops do not increase yield potential and may reduce yields. [1]

Second, Bt insecticide GM corn has had a negative economic impact on farms. [2]

Third, GM herbicide-tolerant crops have produced no reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied. [3]

Fourth, the reports says: "Change in pesticide use from the adoption of herbicide-tolerant cotton was not significant." [4]

Fifth, for herbicide-tolerant soya, active ingredient of herbicide applied has increased. [5]

Sixth, it states: "The adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans does not have a statistically significant effect on net returns." [6]

It adds: "Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption". [7]

The report comments that "the soybean results appear to be inconsistent with the rapid adoption of this technology" and that "An analysis using broader financial performance measures... did not show GE crops to have a significant impact." [8]

It concludes that: "Perhaps the biggest issue raised by these results is how to explain the rapid adoption of GE crops when farm financial impacts appear to be mixed or even negative." [9] The report does not refer to unreliable promotional advice fed to farmers.

The Prime Minister claims to seek a scientific debate on GM crops. Unless there is a willingness to look at all the scientific data and to avoid hype from vested interests, we are unlikely to get one.

Mark Griffiths


[1] p21 of USDA report

[2] p30 of USDA report

[3] p28 of USDA report - see graph. Note Farmers Weekly edited out from the letter the word 'overall' from what should have read 'no overall reduction'. The USDA graph in fact shows a very small reduction in herbicide active ingredient applied in the case of herbicide-tolerant corn. However, other analysis of USDA data published in a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry does not indicate any such reduction, but rather a substantial increase. In addition, a report by BBC Newsnight June 2002 has revealed that American farmers are now changing the way they grow herbicide-tolerant corn by tank mixing a wider range of ch

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