EU GMO cultivation decision – science sidelined, but UK will get right to choose

Is the glass half full or half empty? Today the European Parliament passed proposals to allow EU member states to permanently ban the cultivation of GMO crops on their territories, even if scientific assessments show that the crop is safe and environmentally beneficial. This law – which was passed by 480 votes to 159 – formally sidelines the European Food Standards Agency by allowing member states to ban not just specific crops or traits, but the entire class of ‘GMOs’, without the need to provide any meaningful scientific evidence to support this ban.

The European Parliament press release makes this perfectly clear:

The new rules would allow member states to ban GMOs on environmental policy grounds other than the risks to health and the environment already assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Member states could also ban GMO crops on other grounds, such as town and country planning requirements, socio-economic impact, avoiding the unintended presence of GMOs in other products and farm policy objectives. Bans could also include groups of GMOs designated by crop or trait.

The biotechnology industry is understandably furious, because it knows that it now has no chance of getting new seeds and crops approved for cultivation across the entire EU – which will no longer operate as a Europe-wide free market.

According to Jeff Rowe, Chairman of the Agri-Food Council of EuropaBio (press release here):

Member States will receive a license to ban safe products which have been approved at European level, and they will be allowed to base these bans on non-scientific grounds. This sets a dangerous precedent for the internal market and sends a negative signal to innovative industries considering investing in Europe. European researchers and farmers have lost access to this key-enabling technology and the chance to grow more sustainable crops and remain competitive globally.

That’s the glass half empty view. I agree with it in principle: after all, allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate agricultural policy across most EU countries is a bit like allowing homeopaths and anti-vaccine campaigners to take over European health services. But this is democracy I guess – there is no rule that says truth will always triumph over superstition in a free vote. Sometimes fearmongering works. No doubt a medieval version of the European Parliament would also have passed legislation to burn witches.

So why is the glass also half full? Because member states like the UK where a more pro-science attitude is prevalent will be able to go ahead with cultivation of GMO crops without now being blocked by the forever-anti states like Austria, Hungary and France. So the latter countries, with their strong Green parties, can continue to blast their fields with fungicides, insecticides and other agro-chemicals while we in the UK can use genetically improved crops which require little to no toxic chemicals to protect them against pests and diseases.

Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, spoke for the glass-half-full portion of the scientific community by saying:

Devolving decisions down to national level will allow each country to make up their own mind and thereby free up GM technology from the pressure of intense anti-GM lobbying at the centre of the EU. Farmers and consumers across the EU will be more accepting of GM technology when they can see its benefits across their borders.

I think Professor McFadden gets it right. Yes, Europe is now irrevocably split. But at least the blockers can no longer stop science-based agricultural innovation indefinitely across the entire continent. Hopefully in the UK and some other countries like Spain and the Netherlands, farmers will soon be able to choose better crops to improve productivity and reduce chemical dependence – even as politicians and activists across the borders in France and elsewhere continue to foam at the mouth and spout their anti-GMO nonsense. Seeing is believing, and at least now we will have a chance to show that GM crops can work in Europe – in some countries at least.

Oh, and the Greens are against it, so it can’t be all bad.

56 Comments

  1. Rick Gauthier

    A big mistake, with no alternate solutions to feed all of it’s people in the future. There are many problems on the horizon concerning food and water supplies, if we do not make responsible decisions now the future is uncertain. Beware of so-called religions that are nothing but political idolatry and seek to destroy everything in their attempt to control the world. I feel a huge setback has occurred with this decision.

    Reply
    1. Bas

      Rick,
      Even in dense populated NL, we produce more than enough food nowadays!

      Once society reach a certain level of organization and education, no starvation.

    2. Cristobaldelicia

      I agree Bas. Maybe it should be researched in impoverished countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, but we don’t need it in the countries of Europe or the U.S. Here it is a matter of corporations dictating terms to small farmers. “Feed all the people of the future” shouldn’t be a blanket license that allows companies to breed more Beluga caviar or slightly cheaper Grand Cru. Without strict regulation they will focus on profits, and the poorest farmers will be no better off. That’s what happened to the so called “Green Revolution”, when high tech fertilizers and pesticides were supposed to “feed the world.”

  2. Bas

    Sometimes those people in parliament do correct the technocrats and do things well!

    Reply
  3. Wim Grunewald

    I think the glass is rather half empty Mark. UK will not be able to choose, it will have the possibility to reject. The cultivation authorisation remains a decision of all member states, Austria, France, … included.

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      The cultivation authorisation indeed remains a decision of all member States. But individual member States will be able to exclude their territory, or part of their territory from the authorization.

      The UK will be able, for instance, to approve an authorization and exclude Scotland and Wales from its scope. Austria and France, for example, will be able to exclude their whole territory. But they will also be able to vote on the authorization.

      The original idea was that such States would not vote against, but abstain. My point – or rather my fear – is that they (or some of them) would nevertheless vote against.

  4. Mary M

    Seems to me they split the baby in half in this case. Nobody’s happy. And maybe the side with science can keep their half of the baby alive, at least.

    Reply
  5. Miles

    “we in the UK can use genetically improved crops which require little to no toxic chemicals to protect them against pests and diseases.”

    This sounds to me like you are in danger of falling into the same set of fallacies as those you criticize for running witch-hunts or mongering fear.

    Where is the evidence that the current set of GMO crops reduce the level of agrochemicals applied to the fields in which they grow? This peer-reviewed journal paper indicates quite the opposite. http://www.enveurope.com/content/24/1/24

    Contrary to what you may believe, I am not against GM technology. I believe that it has the potential to provide environmental benefits while increasing crop yields. It’s just that at the moment, the motivations for producing GM crops are purely profit-driven; and GM crop producers have no real interest in environmental improvement.

    Reply
    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      I agree. But the point is not to quote a single paper, particularly not one by Chuck Benbrook, who has a strong agenda and has worked closely with the organic lobby in the past. Who doesn’t have an agenda, you ask? How do we avoid cherry-picking, such as you just did? Well, that’s why we need meta-analysis, across the whole of the peer-reviewed scientific literature. For that I recommend this paper in Plos One – open access. Here’s what the abstract says:

      On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

    2. Bas

      Even without GM, the use of chemicals & toxics decreased greatly thanks to the better production methods that are used nowadays in agriculture..

    3. Clyde Davies

      The main criticism levelled at the Benbrook analysis is that he uses the wrong metric. He focusses on pesticide use per acre. The proper metric ought to be pesticide use per tonne of yield. If he’d done that we’d see a substantial reduction in pesticide use. See http://www.bigpictureagriculture.com/2012/10/an-evaluation-of-benbrooks-pesticide-use-study-super-weeds.html

      Moreover, this broad-brush metric doesn’t take into account that nasty chemicals such as atrazine are now being replaced by the far more benign glyphosate. You could probably drink a tablespoonful of the latter without suffering any ill effects.

      The only pesticide that doesn’t lead to weed resistance is hand-pulling. That’s fine if you have a country where most people work on the land, including children who ought to be at school.

    4. Rick

      “Where is the evidence that the current set of GMO crops reduce the level of agrochemicals applied to the fields in which they grow?”

      But, ht and pip traits are a small subset of potential applications of genetic engineering, although they at present dominate private sector commercial applications of the technology. I’m not going to argue whether instilling ht or pip traits is a wise use of the technology and I will even agree that the current set of ht and pip traits have had tradeoffs. But there are current and future applications that are probably neutral with respect to husbandry choices. For instance, is there any thing to suggest that the ringspot virus resistant ge varieties have any effect on herbicide use, or that dictate that ge papayas cannot be raised under organic management. The fact that the trait was instilled via ge and not some other method has little if anything to do with what and how many pesticides are utilized in its cultivation. The pending citrus greening resistance application of ge is another example that does not necessarily encourage or dictate pesticide use, and in fact may very well avoid heavy pesticide use that is the current prevalent strategy for trying to prevent or slow it.

      Not disputing any of your arguments, but would you agree that a modification of your statement to say something like the following would be more accurate: “Where is the evidence that the current set of commercially deployed crop varieties with ge mediated herbicide tolerant or pip traits reduce the level of agrochemicals applied to the fields in which they grow?”

    5. Miles

      Thanks Rick.

      As I said, I’m not against GM in principle. I was thinking mostly in terms of the UK and EU as this was the basis for Mark’s original post. Papaya and Citrus may be crops that can be grown in the EU, once climate change really kicks in. For the moment though, the main crops will be HT and Bt etc.

      The prospect of GM crops being grown under organic conditions is an interesting one and certainly worth exploring. I wouldn’t imagine the UK’s Soil Association will be particularly keen to go down this route though. Neither can I see Bayer, Monsanto or BASF being especially interested in developing GM-crops for the organic market, for obvious reasons.

    6. Scott

      Mark,
      Why settle for a paltry 37% reduction in pesticides, when you can reduce pesticide use by 95% or more integrating organic biological methods? Why settle for a 68% increase in farmer profits when you can increase profits 1000% or more? And why cling to and try to moderately improve the hugely destructive industrial models of agriculture, when regenerative models of agriculture are out there? You claim to be an advocate for the environment, yet you support reducing the damage done by industrial agriculture, but are against actually improving the ecology. Reducing the damage is not the same as improving the ecology. At best it just slows the downward trend a bit.

      Look at what this father son team have done.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4_Qa0D3E1A
      or this dairy farm
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnDg-FJiOec
      or this type of grain production.
      http://www.milkwood.net/2010/12/07/why-pasture-cropping-is-such-a-big-deal/
      They are not alone, and I guarantee you that while these methods are actually well documented scientific based agriculture, (case studies are available from USDA-SARE) those types of solutions are not included in your Plos One meta study. That’s because your Plos One study is comparing like to like. One destructive way of doing agriculture with another slightly less destructive way of doing agriculture. It doesn’t even include at all types of agriculture that are sustainable or regenerative. Not even a blip on the screen.

    7. Sam

      “genetically improved crops which require little to no toxic chemicals to protect them” – That is the problem! The toxic chemicals ARE in those plants already. Then it transfers into an animal and into a human, or directly into a human. Then it will do the same horrible thing that it does to a bug, but a bit slower, so a human will not know exactly why he is dying. Find a pic of a worm died from Bt toxin and you will see the result that awaits humans.

  6. William Hughes-Games

    Whether you are for or against GMO crops, if you are a country exporting to Europe it is worth your while to ban GMO crops too to ensure your market. If you dabble in GMO, all your crops will be suspect. It is all or nothing.

    Reply
  7. austrartsua

    If individual countries are capable of making up their own mind on GMO crops, why not let them decide everything for themselves? Abolish the EU. It is undemocratic and should go. You don’t have to support ukip to understand that.

    Reply
  8. Miles

    Mark – thanks for your reply.

    I have looked at the Klumper and Qaim paper.

    Just because it is a review, does not mean it has greater weight than other peer-reviewed papers. I thought it was weak in several areas and have read critique pulling it to pieces.

    The papers selected are a mix of peer-review and grey literature; the data come from just three countries, and 50% of the papers are only on Bt cotton. There is no mention of HT-resistant weeds – an increasing problem with GM crops.

    To claim from these data that GM technology has reduced pesticide use is ridiculous – the study found no such causation. For HT-crops, they didn’t even find a reduction in herbicide use.

    Even if all the papers in the review were scientifically robust, what bearing do trials in India South Africa and the USA have on European GM crops? Are we going to start growing Bt Cotton in England? GM crops in Europe will be primarily HT, not IR.

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      “To claim from these data that GM technology has reduced pesticide use is ridiculous – the study found no such causation. For HT-crops, they didn’t even find a reduction in herbicide use. ”

      Um, yes they do. Look at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629 . They found an overall decrease in pesticide quantity of -37%. So, did they concoct these figures?

    2. Miles

      Clyde – the 37% figure was for pesticide use. Pesticides in this context means insecticides and herbicides.

      As the paper states:

      “While significant reductions in pesticide costs are observed for both HT and IR crops, only IR crops cause a consistent reduction in pesticide quantity.”

      the authors go on to say

      “While HT crops have reduced herbicide quantity in some situations, they have contributed to increases in the use of broad-spectrum herbicides elsewhere”.

      what they do not go on to say is that increased use of herbicides with HT-crops is driving evolution in weed species, creating new herbicide resistant weeds, which require a wider range of herbicides to control, which drives evolution of weed species – need I go on?

      The review did not find a reduction in herbicide use for HT-crops, as I said.

    3. Clyde Davies

      You said, and I quote DIRECTLY: “To claim from these data that GM technology has reduced pesticide use is ridiculous – the study found no such causation.”
      The paper flatly contradicts you. Categorical statements like this are either right or wrong. GM technology HAS substantially reduced pesticide use, period.
      I’m not saying that applying herbicide willy-nilly is a good idea in the long term either. It might be anathema to some, but on the whole GM technology has reduced herbicide use to the benefit of farmer, consumer and the environment. And IR and HT crops don’t come as a package either: we can choose whichever we want to grow.

    4. Scott

      What difference? 37% is not nearly enough, even if true.

    5. Clyde Davies

      Scott: we’ve been through this argument beforehand. It’s called ‘making the perfect the enemy of the good.’ As far as I can concerned, any practicable decrease in pesticide use is a GOOD THING and ought to be ENCOURAGED.

    6. Scott

      Clyde,
      Small mercies. But until the system changes, those small mercies mean not too much at all.

      I mean if you dropped pesticide use 37% as part of a gradual shift to regenerative agriculture? Yes. Very good. But if you drop pesticide 37% as part of the destructive models of industrial agriculture currently practiced, it is pretty bad.

      That’s why I have repeatedly stated, if GMOs were developed to change to regenerative agriculture, I would be on board. But currently the technology is being abused and is merely being used to prop up the failing conventional models.

    7. Clyde Davies

      Well, where do Bt crops stand by your reckoning? They might not have been *developed* to support regenerative agriculture but they’re also not *incompatible* with it. As far as I’m concerned, that where you should be setting your bar.

    8. Scott

      Bt is borderline. Not particularly important because the Bt crops are ones we don’t need, and Bacillus thuringiensis can be sprayed already anyway. But not too bad considering. The best use of GE technology I have personally seen is the GMO American chestnut. It works by giving the Chestnut tree the ability to metabolise the toxins produced by chestnut blight. They still get it, but it won’t kill them. When you combine this GMO with the standard breeding work being done with Chinese chestnuts that have 3 genes responsible for actually fighting off the infection, you end up with a 97% or more American chestnut, that functions in the ecosystems just like the native trees, and has a very very very high survival rate. Nearly immune. Even better resistance than pure chinese chestnut strains.

      Advantages here is that the gene comes from wheat, a food crop. Not only is it not toxic, it actually allows the plant to get rid of toxins. The American Chestnut was near extinction, so this buys time for the species to recover its former range. It is a food crop as productive as corn or soy and can actually replace them and eventually provide timber too..

  9. Clyde Davies

    Sorry, that last sentence should have read “..but on the whole GM technology has reduced *pesticide* use to the benefit of farmer …”

    Reply
    1. Miles

      Do I really need to explain the difference between causation and correlation to you?

    2. Clyde Davies

      Are you *seriously* suggesting that this correlation is spurious? God knows, there are plenty of the like around but I don’t honestly see how this one can be. If there were an INCREASE in pesticide use you’d be the first to be pointing the finger at GM crops.

  10. Wackes Seppi

    « Is the glass half full or half empty? »

    We shall see!

    In my view it is empty. Entirely, not half.

    So, member States may decide to prohibit the cultivation of GM crops on all or part of their territory. Those which will do that will, first of all, have to have valid reasons. The prohibition measures must be

    « in conformity with Union law, reasoned, proportional and non-discriminatory and, in addition, are based on grounds such as those related to:]

    ((a) environmental policy objectives relating to impacts which might arise from the deliberate release or the placing on the market of GMOs and which are complementary to the impacts concretely examined during the scientific risk assessment conducted according to this Directive and Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003;

    (b) town and country planning;

    (c) land use;

    (d) socio-economic impacts;

    (e) avoidance of GMO presence in other products;

    (f) agricultural policy objectives;

    (g) public policy » (this ground cannot be cannot be used individually, only as a complement).

    Try to figure out a scenario that meets this provision. And, above all, that would withstand the scrutiny by a national court such as the French Conseil d’État or the Court of Justice of the European Union; and possibly a complaint before the World Trade Organization. And then consider what position will be taken in the vote on the authorization of cultivation (for the countries not having notified a prohibition) by a minister such as Stéphane Le Foll who, on top of this, is guided by ideology. Would he cast a « yes »? No! Would he abstain ? Again no! He needs a « no » to make his case look stronger in the event of litigation.

    We should also be charitable enough to consider that he has at least a partially functional brain. Would you think he could vote « yes » or abstain and then explain to French farmers that he had been ready and more than happy to concede to, say, British farmers a competitive advantage?

    Reply
    1. Scott

      A competitive advantage? Really? When it comes to competitive advantage, the winner is the country that regenerates their soil health, ecosystem health, population health and socioeconomic health. Not one single thing on that list is best done with GMOs in the industrial ag business models. Every single one of those things can be better done by advanced French Biointensive methods. There is no concession needed to any industrial ag, no matter where they happen to be from. Why? Because there are no GMOs designed for biointensive ag. They simply don’t exist. The closest is maybe Bt GMO classes of crops. But they are not needed. They don’t improve profits over other biointensive methods, and biointensive beats conventional systems with or without GMOs already.

      GMOs are only an improvement over the conventional models, they fall far short of beating any of the best high tech organic models.

    2. Wackes Seppi

      « … advanced French Biointensive methods… » ?

      I happen to be French and to monitor quite closely agricultural matters. Never heard of this! Would you care to explain or give some references?

      Wheat yields fare in France between 7 and 7.5 tons per hectare on average for « conventional » and around 3 tons for « organic ». In 2014, they were rather at 2.5 tons, i.e. three times less.

      No competitive advantage for GMOs? Correction: the GMOs currently on the market – each one has to be considered on its own merits. Why are some farmers’ unions and the great José Bové arguing against this new (anti-)European Union system on the basis of the argument of distortion of competition between European member States?

      May be, this will also enlighten you:

      http://thefoodiefarmer.blogspot.com.au/2014/12/gmo-versus-nongmo-cost-of-production.html

      And, by the way, herbicide tolerant crops, whether GM or not, are a great thing for conservation agriculture, the one maintains soil health.

    3. Scott

      Wackes Seppi,
      You’ll need to wait on citations. I posted several on the thread just above this one and they are still awaiting moderation. French biointensive is primarily a small farm/horticultural technique for fruit and vegetable production. It is labor intensive but is even more profitable due to significantly larger yields. No offense to you French, but there are organic models here in the US that beat biointensive. However, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Organic technology is growing so fast it is hard to keep up. This isn’t your grandmothers organic. Not even close. The common thread of all these systems is that they create artificial ecosystems that function and mimic natural ecosystems. That gains you several benefits not the least of which is the nutrient and water cycles. Basically, biology creates nutrition and pest control instead of needing to pay for high cost inputs (organic or chemical). Yet even without inputs, the fertility increases each year instead of decreasing each year. Biointensive is kind of an early version of the concept. So although others have taken the concept further, I give credit to the French for early development..

      However, you specifically mentioned wheat and sent a link for corn and soy. That requires something different to beat the conventional models. Definitely can be done, but biointensive wasn’t designed for that. You would need to consider something like Pasture cropping MIRG and holistic management for that. And yes they easily out compete all the conventional models, not only in yields, but in ecosystem regeneration as well.

    4. Scott

      Here, watch this and tell me where the long term competitive advantage lies?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpjNoSGYSPc

    5. Wackes Seppi

      Many thanks for your reply.

      We are moving away from the subject of the post, but some debunking is appropriate.

      It is first and foremost utterly wrong to extend an experience – real or embellished – in the field of horticulture (vegetable and fruit production) – to broadacre agriculture.

      I look forward to the references but guess one of those may be the ferme biologique du Bec Helluin. It is one of the very few operations for which there are some data. Quite unsatisfactory, but nevertheless, data.

      Half an acre of cropped land, or even a quarter or a fifth, would suffice to draw a revenue, it is being claimed. How much more land is necessary to get the inputs for that half an acre? To get for instance the compost, the chipwood, manure, etc.? We do not know!

      Is it true that 1,000 square metres for one worker would suffice? The farming activity is monitored by people from AgroParisTech. Their test said « it is possible », but this comes at the price of some heavy fiddling. The latest summary says you need 2000 hours, excluding administrative work, marketing, maintenance of the site. Obviously, this is not manageable by one person. In addition, the calculations were made on the basis of the market value of the marketable produce, whether ot not it was actually sold.

      If one assumes that it is indeed possible, a necessary requirement is to have a market. This in turn requires that the producer enjoys a reasonable lever of exclusivity.

      There are no indications on the real productivity. This is a minor concern if the producers serves a club of customers willing to pay the price and bear the risks of an irrégular production patterns, with some outright crop failures. It is another story if you want to feed the country.

      And this applies also to broadacre agriculture.

      « …there are organic models here in the US that beat biointensive »? Why is it that these are « models » and that « organic » and « alternative farming systems » occupy less than one percent (if I am not mistaken) of crop and pasture land?

    6. Scott

      Wackes Seppi,
      You’ll have to wait still longer for how we do it here in USA on large broadacre farms. My post is still awaiting moderation unfortunately. I don’t dare keep posting this information. Mark Lynas has shown no propensity for being sympathetic to modern science based organic methods and breakthroughs. If I post too many times it will likely get blocked.

  11. Alan

    But are new approvals devolved down to the member States? Will GM crop developers submit dossiers to England, or to the EU? I didn’t see that in the new law.

    And if applications for new GM crops still go through the old approval system, what will keep France, Austria et al. from continuing to vote against them? Again, I saw nothing in the new law that obliges those forever anti-States from at least abstaining.

    Reply
  12. R.J.(Bob) Evans

    I’m generally a glass half-empty kind of guy but I was encouraged by this ruling. Over time those countries that adopt GMO technology will see yield and efficiency benefits from that adoption. Obviously its not the ideal solution but we live in an imperfect world. Yield curves for the EU c/w North America have been diverging for over 10 years now. If that trend continues then those European states that adopt the technology will also pull away from their more backward neighbours. Ultimately this is a market based solution and I’m a big fan of market solutions.

    Reply
  13. Geert De Jaeger

    No one can predict what will be the consequences of this law. If the attitude of the anti’s remains the same when new GM crops have to be approved for import or cultivation at the level of the European commission, nothing will change. Remember, this decision at national level is simply added to the procedure, it is not replacing the decision at European level. The difficulty has always been to pass at European level. I am looking forward to see if that will change. If it does not change, Marc’s original fear that this law will finally kill GM in Europe will come true.

    Reply
    1. Proteos

      I completely agree with this comment: whether this EU law works as Mark expects entirely rests on the authorization process at the EU level to start functionning as other similar processes: as a purely administrative process based on the advice of the EFSA.

      If the gridlock continues, this law will just be one more hurdle to clear to get GM to the fields.

      If the law has passed, there must have been a gentlemen’s agreement, but things could quickly turn awry. First of all, all new authorizations at EU level are certain to be attacked by Green NGOs.

    2. Wackes Seppi

      « No one can predict what will be the consequences of this law. If the attitude of the anti’s remains the same when new GM crops have to be approved for import or cultivation at the level of the European commission, nothing will change. »

      That’s right. However, the new provisions only modify the procedure for the approval for cultivation.

    3. Geert De Jaeger

      Correct, thanks for this.

  14. Geert De Jaeger

    Concerning the discussion here on the consequences of using de HR and IR crops:

    – About the latter: substantial drop in spraying of broad spectrum insecticide use, no doubt about that. Even cotton farmers in the neighbourhood, who do not use pesticides nore GM cotton, have an advantage because they profit from more predator insects in their field. All these have been substantially reported.
    – About the former: this trait had never the purpose to lower herbicide use, just change the herbicide spectrum. The real advantage lies in the stimulation of no-tilling practice, in Argentina this has been spectacular consequences for soil preservation. In regions of South Europe, like Portugal, some farmers are begging to get access to HR corn because they want to practice no-tilling because they face serious erosion problems. We should add though, that it has been equally stupid to rely on only one broad spectrum herbicide. They will mix more herbicides, so the marginal environmental advantage is expected to slowly disappear. Canada for instance never had problems with weed resistance sofar because they rotate their GM with different herbicides. Although one cannot rule out the impact of cold winters here, killing remaining weed seeds.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      It is certainly not required to use a herbicide resistant GMO in a no till system. It is not even required to use herbicide in a no till system. If the portuguese have erosion problems, they probably should look to pasture cropping, companion planting, cover cropping and similar things. All significantly better than any GMO herbicide resistant crop system. Then not only will they halt erosion, but actually start building back the soil.

    2. Geert De Jaeger

      Indeed Scott, but now you turn the discussion to which agriculture system we would need. And that is another discussion. In conventional large scale farming, the use of HR crops made no tilling possible and this is an asset of the GM technology itself on this type of farming, not less, not more. Whether we would better turn to your cropping systems is a much broader discussion, not related to the GM technology itself. Because GM is simply a technology that bring in traits. So let us stick to the discussion on the value of the technology itself.

    3. Scott

      No till in the conventional chemical dependant system was around long before the first GMO was developed. Decades before. There is absolutely no need for a herbicide resistant GMO to no till. You have the cart before the horse. FIRST no till was developed, then a GMO was developed decades later to fit in that system.

      Which is my beef against GMOs BTW. They were developed for the wrong type of agriculture. Instead of using this amazing technology to better the agricultural models, the technology was used to prop up a failing model of agriculture. Lipstick on a pig.

  15. Geert De Jaeger

    You see Scott, as I stated, you give critique on GM that is actually critique on the agricultural system. This is amother discussion. Weed control is a big problem in many no tilling systems and GM has helped there. As I said, no less, no more.
    GM is just a breeding technology and can be used in any agricultural system. That it is at the moment a priori refused in many other systems is not a decision based on agronomic science.

    Reply
    1. Scott

      Agreed, But you need to understand where that came from. The first GMOs were an abuse of the technology. The two became forever linked in the publics mind. I was one of the organic producers that opposed a ban of GE technology from organic.

      But at the same time, there are no decent GMOs out there that are useful to me. So to a degree it is a mute point. However, the point I was making has little to do with this. You claimed they stimulate no till which is a good thing. I am just saying that no till has little to nothing to do with any GMO. They are unrelated.

      Now if there was a ban on herbicides, it could effect conventional no till systems. But the GMO ban has no effect on no till at all.

    2. Geert De Jaeger

      Well Scott, it has been substantially reported in Argentina that no till took off in a spectacular way in conventional soy since the introduction of GM soy, and that was a consequence of being able to use a herbicide that crop plants could be made easily resistant against. And I know that you do not need GM to make crops resistant against a herbicide, but GM can make this much easier and flexible. Within that frame it is fair to conclude that the GM trait has this pushing effect on no till.

    3. Scott

      Correlation, not causation. There is no causal reason why soy needs to be GMO or herbicide resistant to be no till. They are unrelated. Same goes for corn or anything else.

      If the people in Argentina think a GMO is required, all it really means is they were never taught how to do it without.

    4. Wackes Seppi

      « The real advantage lies in the stimulation of no-tilling practice »

      The real advantage is also the substitution of glyphosate (RoundUp) – which has one of the best toxicological and ecotoxicological profiles* – and more recently glufosinate for more problematic herbicides. The real advantage is also that the farmer can get rid of (almost) all weeds with one herbicides instead of a cocktail of herbicides. He can wait and see wether or not to spray. The window of application is quite extended.

      Of course, HT crops are no miracles. They are no substitute for good husbandry. Yes, « it has been equally stupid to rely on only one broad spectrum herbicide ». But farmers and breeders have learned the lesson.

      There is a now rather old British study which compared the environmental impact of three HT crops with their conventional counterparts (maize, OSR and sugar beet if I am not mistaken). It found that two of them were more friendly to the fauna. This is because farmers could let the weeds grow until they became a nuisance for the crop whereas the conventional crop has to be « cleaned » right from the beginning.

      Scott writes: « It is certainly not required to use a herbicide resistant GMO in a no till system. It is not even required to use herbicide in a no till system… » There are three answers to that:

      1.  Crop husbandry is not a matter where the answers to a particular problem can be drawn from some Youtube clips or from the literature of some gurus who proclaim they have the miracle solution.

      2.  HR crops are indeed not « required » for no-till, nor even herbicides. I have hand-weeded in my young age… But herbicides help, as do HR crops. And in some instances both are required for the farming operation to be technically and economically possible.

      Scott also writes: « Which is my beef against GMOs BTW. They were developed for the wrong type of agriculture. »

      The truth is now spelled out. It is unfortunately a general problem in Europe: there is a vocal anti-GMO and more generally anti-technology fraction which advances any kind of argument to justify their rejection.

      No, GMOs were not « developed for the wrong type of agriculture ». They were developed for any kind of agriculture (except « organic », whose gurus have decided that GMOs are not allowed). The largest numbers of GM users are the cotton growers in India and Burkina Faso. South African women growing maize for their livelihood and that of their families are also found of GM.

      GMOs are not limited to HT and Bt.

      Hawai’s growers can continue to produce papayas with ringspot resistant trees instead of going bust. Ugandan banana growers (banana being Uganda’s staple) are awaiting a GM banana resisting to Xanthomonas wilt. Hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved with Golden Rice, were it not for governmental hesitations, stirred up by European activists (and politicians). Vitamin A enriched bananas could also be grown in Uganda by 2020, were it not… We, Europeans, could grow a starch potato for industrial use whose processing would be much more environmentally friendly. Potatoes resistant to blight, etc., etc.

      The new authorization procedures give us hope that there will be an end to the Brussels deadlock. I won’t hold my breath. But pessimists sometimes have good surprises.

      « Lipstick on a pig » ? Shocking!

      ________________

      *  This will of course be challenged by those who boast an ideology.

    5. Scott

      My post awaiting moderation is now posted. Please scroll up and check the 4 references first. Then we will have a context for discussion.

  16. Lao Tzu

    ‘Oh, and the Greens are against it, so it can’t be all bad.’
    So there we have it, this so-called environmentalist, but actually a journalist who hung around them a bit once long ago.
    So all you GM addicted fantasy nuts, please answer this one question which appears to me, on the surface and under it, to be illogical:
    GMOs are modified, we are told, to withstand certain [patented] herbicides. How then does herbicide use decrease when the weeds it is designed to kill haven’t been so modified [ignoring the ‘accidental’ spread of modified genes to weeds now], it only makes sense if more herbicide is used, the crop being able to withstand it but the weeds not. We also must ignore the poison take up into the food crops.
    Me, I’ll stick with organic, which has higher yield than chemical/GM http://eartheasy.com/blog/2011/10/7-ways-organic-farms-outperform-conventional-farms/
    It IS all bad, from start – when Monsanto acted like the mafia, bullying, threatening, bribing – to now – when paid shills dispense unscientific and ecologically illiterate nonsense to spread acceptance or an unnecessary and poisonous technology, just like climate change deniers spread lies spread by paid shills to cause slowdown in CO2 reductions.
    These are the biggest conspiracies, and they’re real. No truthers, alians or chemtrails, just greedy capitalist filth and the servants they buy the loyalty of. Must say Lynas is doing an assiduous job. Then there’s the nuclear industry, another with lots of money he’s interested in acting as spokesman for. Arms trade Mark? It’s a growth industry as well as a death one. Lots of room for entrepreneurs without any decency to make a mint.

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      « So all you GM addicted fantasy nuts, please answer this one question which appears to me, on the surface and under it, to be illogical: GMOs are modified, we are told, to withstand certain [patented] herbicides… »

      Oh Dear!

      GMOs are – for the purposes of this conversation – plants which have been modified to express a new characteristic (or to not express an existing characteristic). The ability to withstand a herbicide, in contrast to their « conventional » counterparts, is only one field of application.

      The advantage of a GMO which has been made tolerant to a given herbicide is that that herbicide can be substituted for others, possibly used as a cocktail. Others whose convenience of use is lower. Others whose toxicological and ecotoxicological profile is much much more problematic.

      « I’ll stick with organic »? Your choice!

  17. Colin

    My concern with GM crops is the risk of unforeseen consequences. Scientists appear too willing to ignore the possibility that a GM “improvement” might prove unexpectedly beneficial to some obscure organism. The consequential impact further up the food chain might be very detrimental. What’s good for veroa is bad for bees……
    Have GM scientists forgotten the “butterfly effect”?

    Reply
    1. Wackes Seppi

      If this is your concern, then you should take henceforth all measures to avoid any initiative. Walking on the wild side may lead you to unwittingly carry some obscure organism having devastating effects in its new environment.

      Same is true for « conventional » plant breeding, for crossing variety A with variety B to produce a new one which, unexpectedly, proves very favorable to a major disease. We have had cases…

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