Factual science and maybe science

March 24, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image RemovedI am not against genetic modification but only against the way that herbicide manufacturers are using it to justify patenting any plant in nature that interests them and then, in my opinion, trying to use the patents to gain unfair monopolies in the food and farm economy. So whenever I see research favoring agricultural GMOs that sounds to me like only maybe science, not proven science, you can hear my teeth grinding clear across the room. The latest is some research out of Purdue University being publicized all over and in at least one publication, Farm and Dairy, under the headline “Eliminating GMOs Would Raise Food Prices.” Note well that it doesn’t say “could” raise prices but “would” raise prices, insinuating that the findings conclude with a fact, not a possibility.

Purdue scientists fed data gathered from worldwide cropland production in 2014 into a computer model which then told them that eliminating all GMOs in the United States would mean a decline in corn yields of 11.2%, soybean yields down 5.2%, and cotton down 18.6%. They then stated, as if it were written in stone and not in a computer program, that 250,000 acres of pasture and forest would have to be converted to cropland to make up for that loss. If not, commodity prices for corn would increase as much as 28% and soybeans 22%. Food prices would rise one to two percent or $14 billion to $24 billion a year.

Snot. This is not proven science but just maybe science. Maybe it’s correct, maybe it’s not. First of all it is based on an assumption that GMO crops produce higher yields than conventional crops. Plenty of data out there indicates that this is only true when GMOs decrease weed and insect infestations enough so the crop can reach its potential. GMO corn and soybeans so far do not generally have genetic potential in themselves for increased yields, especially Roundup Ready soybeans.Maybe that will come, maybe not according to everything I have read. So if farmers find other ways to control bugs and weeds (some are hiring work crews to hoe out Palmer amaranth that has become immune to pesticides), increased yield from non-GMO crops might be just as probable as from GMO crops. You can’t canonize either assumption as truth by running it through a computer model programmed with that assumption.

More indicative of bias, who says that nearly 250,000 acres of pasture and forest would have to be converted to cropland to make up the difference? Farmers could easily get that 250,000 acres, if indeed it were needed, by taking it out of the millions of acres of corn now being grown for piston engine food, not animal and human food. Some 40% of the corn in the corn belt goes to make ethanol. This at a time when we are glutted with cheap oil.

And what about history’s model which shows that farmers continually over-produce and send farm prices to the cellar as is happening right now. If one is concerned about farmers’ incomes, removing 250,000 acres from cropland might be a way to do it. Government programs over the years have tried to do that time and time again, but farmers and agribusiness have always found ways to increase yields to offset the cut in acreage.

But even if I accept Purdue’s maybe science as true, and even if I thought that more increases in yields were not forthcoming except with GMOs, there are 250,000 acres of land now idle that could grow crops without having to tear up productive forest and pastureland. I need look no farther than the creek valley behind my pasture to see at least 100 tillable acres that have been allowed to go back to brush. I would only have to find 2500 other places where this is occurring, and I don’t think that would be hard to do in an area as vast as the United States. I could find quite a few thousands of idle acres on the outskirts of cities where lots of land is now growing up in brush, held by investors waiting for developers to buy it. If I needed a little more there are golf courses around that are not making any money because of too many golf courses. One I know very well is being plowed up for crops right now. Much more plausibly, there are millions of acres in empty lots, oversized industrial and institutional campuses and backyard gardens—enough land to raise vast, unknown increases in food supply— which is what the new locavore farmers are doing.

Maybe if I read the full report from the Purdue scientists, they take all my objections into account. Otherwise I can’t believe they could be so short-sighted in their conclusions. But I haven’t read the full report nor will other farmers. We read what the media reports. And what is being publicized is maybe science.
Photo: "Wild forms of Zea mays are called ‘Teosinte’. Image description: Over time, selective breeding modifies teosinte’s few fruitcases (left) into modern corn’s rows of exposed kernels (right). (Photo courtesy of John Doebley.)" 2003. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Gene Logsdon

Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio. Gene is the author of numerous books and magazine articles on farm-related issues, and believes sustainable pastoral farming is the solution for our stressed agricultural system.

Tags: farming, genetically modified crops, GMOs