A remark made in 2010 by Oxford University's Paul Collier that sparked the beginning of a study headed by University of Wisconsin Professor Jack Heinemann which, published on June 14, has astoundingly revealed that high U.S. crop yield increases is probably not due to genetic engineering.
Collier said that Europe has lost productivity in comparison to the U.S. as a result of shunning GMOs in their crops. Heinemann's new study, however, reveals that this is not the case at all. The new research completely opposes Monsanto's online "Biotech GMO Safety Advantages," which states that "Improving crop yield can be accomplished through both breeding and biotechnology. GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology."
Heinemann's study compares the productivity of U.S. crops over time, in comparison with those in Western Europe. Agriculture in the two regions is similar, with the adoption of GMO crops being the one chief exception. Still, the results of the study indicated that North American crop production has in fact fallen behind that of Western Europe, despite U.S. farmers using genetically modified seeds and more pesticides. In fact, the real key to high crop yields is a lowered use of chemicals. As Heinemann has put it, the University of Canterbury researchers "found that the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by Western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than the use of GM-led packages chosen by the U.S."
In light of this, Monsanto's insistence that GMO crops are superior to unmodified crops is looking more and more questionable. This uncertainty also comes at an interesting time; the World Food Prize just recently revealed their three 2013 laureates, all GMO scientists, stating that the scientists "will share the 2013 World Food Prize for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology. Their research is making it possible for farmers to grow crops with: improved yields; resistance to insects and disease; and the ability to tolerate extreme variations in climate."
Thereby, the new facts revealed in the study reflect badly on both Monsanto as well as the World Food Prize, for whom two of the prize recipients are key sponsors. Global leaders have stated that by giving the prize to leaders of the seed biotechnology industry has "betray[ed] the award's own mandate to emphasize 'the importance of a nutritious and sustainable food supply for all people.'"
Even with strong reasons given for why GMOs undermine sustainability and defy the goals of the World Food Prize, the study stands alone at the moment. One of this year's World Food Prize recipients, Marc Van Montagu, states "These crops are as safe, if not safer, than food that comes from traditional agriculture ... if somebody denies that we bluntly can say they are misinformed."
As obnoxious as that sounds, it is highly unlikely that one academic study could lead to a large scale investigation of the validity of Monsanto's scientific research. Still, it was the same Marc Van Montagu who said that the most important part of raising awareness was explaining the scientific facts to society. At the very least, Heinemann's new study will challenge what people think those facts are.