Farmers Stung as Consumers Reject Transgenic Crops
By Catherine Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, September 24, 1999 (ENS) - Farmers in the United States are facing lower prices than expected for many bioengineered crops, as many European and domestic markets are boycotting altered foods. Some industry experts are predicting that demand for genetically modified seeds will be dramatically reduced next year, and fear that there may no longer be enough non-modified seeds to meet farmers’ needs.
Contrary to the predictions of some farmers, government officials and biotechnology companies, prices paid this year for many genetically modified (GMO) crops will be lower than prices for conventional crops. Japan and the European Union are refusing to import GMO grains and products made with GMO crops, driving prices for conventional crops up and prices for GMO crops down.
But among the crops now being harvested are millions of acres of GMO crops, including 55 percent of the U.S. soybean crop, 35 percent of the corn crop and 39 percent of the cotton.
A two tiered harvest system is developing, as farmers, grain elevator operators, truckers, and food manufacturers and distributors take steps to keep GMO and non-GMO crops separate.
GMO crops must be segregated so that huge distributors such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) can meet consumer demand for non-GMO crops in countries that reject them over health and environmental concerns. On September 1, ADM told suppliers to keep altered crops separate, stating that while the company feels biotechnology is safe, "We must produce products that our consumers will purchase. If we are unable to satisfy their requests, they do have alternative sources for their ingredients."
"GMOs cost more and they yield less, regardless of what marketers might say," says Bill Christian of the National Family Farm Coalition. The costs of separating the crops and testing for their purity has placed an enormous burden on farmers who spent extra money on modified seeds in the expectation of seeing larger yields.
Instead, many farmers are seeing a smaller harvest than they had with conventional crops. Some studies show that modified soybeans produced six to seven percent less yield per acre than conventional soybeans.
"This has probably been from a historical view the biggest step backwards in terms of productivity in the current era," says Dr. Charles Benbrook of Benbrook Consultant Services. Benbrook previously served as an agricultural policy analyst on the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.
The extra hours and shipping expenses of separating GMO crops from conventional crops are hitting farmers particularly hard this year due to record low commodity prices, drought and flooding. After paying premium prices for GMO soybean seeds, some American farmers expect to be paid 18 cents less per bushel for GMO soybeans than for conventional varieties, due to market boycotts.
"We’ve lost a $200 million corn market in Europe because of Bt contamination. There’s just a trickle of corn going to Europe," says Christian.
Benbrook says consumers can expect to be bombarded with messages from biotechnology companies like Monsanto and Novartis, makers of modified seeds, attempting to portray GM crops as safe and healthy. "Seed companies and life sciences companies have realized they’re in a battle for the hearts and minds of consumers," he says.