NOBULL: GM a failing technology in modern agro-ecosystems – study

GM a failing technology in modern agro-ecosystems – study

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 21:07

1. GM a failing biotechnology in modern agro-ecosystems
2. Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest – the paper

NOTE: A groundbreaking paper, “Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest”, by J.A. Heinemann, M. Massaro, D.S. Coray, S.Z. Agapito-Tenfen and J.D. Wen has been published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. The paper challenges high profile claims about the benefits of GM crops.

The paper exposes false claims by UK environment secretary Owen Paterson that the UK and Europe will be "left behind" if we don’t embrace GM crops. Mr Paterson, we don’t want to hear from you again on GM until you’ve read this paper.

Third World Network has generously provided the funding to make the paper open access. Thus it is freely available for downloading from the journal’s website.

1. GM a failing biotechnology in modern agro-ecosystems
University of Canterbury press release, 18 Jun 2013

University of Canterbury (UC) researchers have found that the biotechnologies used in north American staple crop production are lowering yields and increasing pesticide use compared to western Europe.

A conspicuous difference in choices is the adoption of genetically modified/engineered (GM) seed in North America, and the use of non-GM seed in Europe.

The team led by UC Professor Jack Heinemann analysed data on agricultural productivity in north America and western Europe over the last 50 years.

Western Europe and north America make good comparisons because these regions are highly similar in types of crops they grow, latitude, and have access to biotechnology, mechanisation and educated farmers.

The findings have been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.

"We found that the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than the use of the GM-led package chosen by the US.

"Our research showed rapeseed (canola) yields increasing faster in Europe without GM than in the GM-led package chosen by Canada and decreasing chemical herbicide and even larger declines in insecticide use without sacrificing yield gains, while chemical herbicide use in the US has increased with GM seed.

"Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chemicals in the process. The American choices in biotechnology are causing it to fall behind Europe in productivity and sustainability.

"The question we are asking is should New Zealand follow the US and adopt GM-led biotechnology or follow the high performance agriculture demonstrated by Europe?

"We found that US yield in non-GM wheat is also falling further behind Europe, demonstrating that American choices in biotechnology penalise both GM and non-GM crop types relative to Europe.

"Agriculture responds to commercial and legislative incentive systems. These take the form of subsidies, intellectual property rights instruments, tax incentives, trade promotions and regulation. The incentive systems in North America are leading to a reliance on GM seeds and management practices that are inferior to those being adopted under the incentive systems in Europe.

"The decrease in annual variation in yield suggests that Europe has a superior combination of seed and crop management technology and is better suited to withstand weather variations. This is important because annual variations cause price speculations that can drive hundreds of millions of people into food poverty.

"We need more than agriculture; we need agricultures – a diversity of practices for growing and making food that GM does not support; we need systems that are useful, not just profit-making biotechnologies – we need systems that provide a resilient supply to feed the world well,” Professor Heinemann says.

For further information contact Professor Jack Heinemann, School of Biological Sciences ( jack.heinemann), on or UC media consultant Kip Brook on 0275 030168

2. Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest
Jack A. Heinemann, Melanie Massaro, Dorien S. Coray, Sarah Zanon Agapito-Tenfen & Jiajun Dale Wen
International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Published online: 14 Jun 2013
Full text available free from:

An agroecosystem is constrained by environmental possibility and social choices, mainly in the form of government policies. To be sustainable, an agroecosystem requires production systems that are resilient to natural stressors such as disease, pests, drought, wind and salinity, and to human constructed stressors such as economic cycles and trade barriers. The world is becoming increasingly reliant on concentrated exporting agroecosystems for staple crops, and vulnerable to national and local decisions that affect resilience of these production systems. We chronicle the history of the United States staple crop agroecosystem of the Midwest region to determine whether sustainability is part of its design, or could be a likely outcome of existing policies particularly on innovation and intellectual property. Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g. Western Europe), the US agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.