Ag Policy Blog

GMO Study on Labels, Farmer Income

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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As Emily Unglesbee and many others reported on Tuesday, the National Academy of Sciences released a long awaited report, "Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects."

Weighing GMO Safety: http://dld.bz/…

Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, Analysis Finds: http://dld.bz/…

The report looked at so many topics regarding biotech crops that we may be pointing to this National Academy study for quite some time. The benefit of such report is the consolidation of so many studies and meta-analysis on a given topic in one place.

While most people lately use the term "genetically modified organisms," or GMOs, the scientists throughout the academy report use "genetically engineered" or GE crops.

The report overall declares GMO/GE foods are safe and environmentally sound. Critics still have a bone to pick and they've been filling up email inboxes with complaints all day.

A chapter of the report looked at social issues and included a section on consumer acceptance for foods using ingredients from GE crops in a section on consumers' acceptance. Researchers highlighted more than 100 studies showing people are less willing to pay for foods from GE crops than those without any ingredients from biotech crops. U.S. consumers are more accepting of GMO/GE foods than Europeans, but there still isn't much awareness about which foods are derived from GE crops.

The academy report also took a stab at the labeling issue, noting the broad range of costs claimed if labeling of food from biotech crops became mandatory. The researchers pointed to the risks of higher costs largely due to unintended consequences that are actually playing out in the market now.

"If required to label, manufacturers would probably reformulate products to avoid labeling by using non-GE ingredients where possible instead of putting on a label that will lead to a loss of sales," the academy scientists stated.

That's basically what has happened in the European Union, the report noted. Companies then have to pay for testing and also focus on achieving segregation to keep co-mingling to a minimum.

Further, a mandatory label might not actually increase consumer choice. Given that companies will push to reformulate, it will take the products with GMO/GE ingredients off the market.

Researchers touted to benefits of a voluntary non-GMO/GE label as a more efficient way of providing consumers the information. The counter-argument posed by researchers is that a voluntary label means a lot of foods won't have any label designation, limiting the ability for consumers to know what is in their food.

The overall academy finding was the consumers' willingness to pay for non-GMO food is price sensitive and the economic effects of labeling GMO foods is uncertain.

At the end, it's unclear if this information provides any comfort to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee trying to drum up support for GMO labeling language that can achieve enough compromise to garner 60 votes.

Farmer Benefits

Looking at farmer income, researchers with the academy also noted data was spotty and not comprehensive, but the available evidence on economic return showed farmers benefit from herbicide-resistant soybeans, Bt corn, Bt cotton and both Bt and herbicide-resistant corn and cotton.

One meta-analysis of farmer income cited a collection of studies on herbicide-tolerant corn, cotton and soybeans as well as Bt corn and cotton. It showed profit increased an average of 69% for adopters of those crops because of a 21.5% increase in yields and a 39% decrease in insecticide costs.

Another study on the same crops in 16 countries showed higher costs for GE crops were offset by greater yields, translating into higher margins.

Taking herbicide-resistant corn, cotton and soybean together, one study found that profit increased 64% for farmers who use those herbicide-tolerant crops -- because of 9% higher yields and 25% lower herbicide costs.

A paragraph in that chapter on sugar beets may best sum up how a GE variety can change the dynamics for a farmer. A study looked at the early cost difference between GE seeds and non-GE seeds. While farmers buying glyphosate-resistant varieties paid $131 per hectare ($53 an acre) on royalties, other farmers spent more than $95 an acre paying people to hand weed fields. The net economic benefit to GE sugar beet growers was $576 per hectare ($233 an acre). Researchers could not repeat the study a second year because there weren't enough non-GE sugar beet fields left to make a comparison.

And yet, the academy had other studies showing net returns on herbicide-tolerant crops were the same as they were for farmers of non-GE crops.

The chapter on social issues also includes sections on topics such as seed availability and cost; co-existence and gene flow; constraints on trade; intellectual property; social and economic effects beyond the farm; and regulation.

A link for each chapter in the study can be found here: http://nas-sites.org/…

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Comments

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Jay Mcginnis
5/18/2016 | 6:45 AM CDT
Lets see a report on how much Monsanto gains from their monopoly on the worlds grain production???