ERS looks at 15 years of GMO crops

Published online: Mar 10, 2014
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A recent report from the USDA Economic Research Service says that after 15 years of use, U.S. growers are seeing an array of benefits and concerns from genetically modified crops.

Ag Department economist and co-author of the report, Michael Livingston said, “We are not characterizing them (GMO crops) as bad or good. We are just providing information,”

The ERS researchers said over the first 15 years of commercial use of herbicide-tolerant seeds have not been shown to definitively increase yield potentials, and “in fact, the yields of herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant seeds may be occasionally lower than the yields of conventional varieties. Several researchers have found “no significant differences” between the net returns to farmers who use GMO herbicide tolerant seeds and those who use non-GMO seeds, the report states. Varieties with more than one (stacked) genetically engineered traits tend to have higher yields than those with one trait or non-GE corn.

GMO crops with insect resistance are more helpful to farmers financially, allowing crops more yield potential and higher monetary returns, the report states. As well, insecticide use on corn farms was down to 0.02 pound per acre in 2010, down from 0.21 pound per acre in 1995, the report states. The report notes new Bt traits have resulted in a bigger yield advantage over conventional seed.

But while insecticide use has gone down, herbicide use on GMO corn is rising, the report states. Herbicide use on GMO corn increased from around 1.5 pounds per planted acre in 2001 to more than 2 pounds per planted acre in 2010. Growing glyphosate-resistance is a big factor in the increased use of herbicides on corn.

Farmers planted a total of 169 million acres to genetically engineered crops in 2013, about half of the total land used to grow crops last year. 93 percent of all soybeans planted were herbicide-tolerant, 71 percent of corn acres were planted to stacked-trait varieties, another 14 percent of was herbicide tolerant and an additional 5 percent was Bt.

Adjusted for inflation, the price of GE corn and soybean seed increased 50 percent between 2001 and 2010.

As of September 2013, about 7,800 releases have been approved for genetically engineered corn, more than 2,200 for GE soybeans, more than 1,100 for GE cotton, and about 900 for GE potatoes.

Of those releases, 6,772 were for GE varieties with herbicide tolerance, 4,809 for insect resistance, and 4,896 for product quality such as flavor or nutrition, and 5,190 for drought resistance.

Monsanto has the most authorized field releases with 6,782, followed by DuPont Pioneer, with 1,405, Syngenta with 565 and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service with 370.

From the consumer’s prospective, the ERS research found acceptance varies with product characteristics, geography and information. Consumers in industrialized nations, especially Europe are willing to pay a premium for foods that do not contain GE ingredients. The report says non-GE foods represent a small share of retail food sale in the United States. Developing nations have mixed results with some willing to pay a premium for non-GE foods while others are willing to pay a premium for foods with positive enhancements from genetic engineering.