This year’s brutal Midwestern drought is posing an unexpectedly difficult challenge for test plots of drought-resistant corn. So far the new varieties are showing promise, according to media reports.
About 250 farmers planted Monsanto’s DroughtGard biotech variety on nearly 100,000 acres in the western Great Plains this spring, before anyone knew the drought would hit so hard. Yet Clay Scott, a corn grower in Western Kansas, says he is “excited” about the results so far. “We’re starting to see some winners in the plots,” he told Energy and Environment News.
DuPont Pioneer’s AQUAmax hybrid variety is also in test plots, with farmers reporting good tasseling despite the drought. Test plots last year yielded seven percent more corn than conventional hybrids, the company said.
Neither company has ever claimed the new seeds are a silver bullet against drought, however.
“I don’t think there will ever be a solution for this severe of a drought,” said Mark Edge, DroughtGard marketing lead at Monsanto. “It’s really about managing risk. It’s still corn, and it still needs water.” Read more.
The European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor Anne Glover called for scientific evidence to play a more significant role in policy making surrounding agriculture and food production in an interview this week with EurActiv, an online resource for news and policy debates within the European Union.
Glover pointed out that countries’ policies toward ag biotech should reflect the substantial body of scientific evidence indicating that biotech crops are as safe for consumption as their conventionally-farmed equivalents.
Glover explained, “there is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food.” Read more.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced today its final decision to deregulate a variety of sugar beet, commonly known as Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets, that is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.
APHIS said the following in a statement: “After completing both a thorough environmental impact statement (EIS) and plant pest risk assessment (PPRA), holding three public meetings and considering and analyzing thousands of comments regarding its analyses, APHIS has determined that, from the standpoint of plant pest risk, RR sugar beets are as safe as traditionally bred sugar beets.”
This decision comes as good news to farmers, who can now freely cultivate the sugar beets, benefitting from a technology that allows more precise and environmentally benign control of weeds. Read more.
A participant in Community Supported Agriculture has issued a spirited defense of biotechnology in crops, describing as “absurd” the anti-biotech claims made by a staff writer for a local news blog. Michael Bendzela, who points out that his sole interest is as a local farmer in Maine, cites the conclusions of ag biotech experts regarding the technology’s safety in an opinion piece published by The Portland Press Herald.
Following a review of 24 long-term studies that have appeared in the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal, agricultural scientist Steve Savage points out that results from all of the studies indicate there are no health risks associated with the cultivation and consumption of genetically modified (GM) crops.
Dr. Bruce M. Chassy, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, also emphasizes that “numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles” have established that GM crops are safe for consumption. Read more.
According to the USDA’s annual report on the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops in the U.S., there has been a substantial increase in the amount of biotech corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. since 2000.
Dr. Cathleen Enright, Executive Vice President for Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement, “The need for advanced seed technology is more important than ever as we look to provide the food, feed, fuel and fiber for nine billion people by 2050. Farmers in the United States and around the world need the best tools available to achieve this goal amid the challenges of drought and climate change.”
The following are some of the key findings of the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), which conducted the study:
- Genetically engineered cotton is 94 percent of all cotton grown in the United States in 2012 (up from 90 percent in 2011).
- Genetically engineered soybeans are 93 percent of all soybeans grown in the United States in 2012 (down slightly from 94 percent in 2011; was at 93 percent in 2010).
- Genetically engineered corn is 88 percent of all corn grown in the United States in 2012 (was 88 percent in 2011, and 86 percent in 2010).
To view the USDA’s data on corn, cotton and soybeans, refer to the Economic Research Service’s website here.