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German Study Finds GM Crops Good for Farmers and the Environment

The “pro” side in the debate over the benefit of genetically modified foods got a big boost from science this month, with an international study funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program FOODSECURE concluding that GM crops are good for the economy and reduce the amount of pesticides used in agriculture.

The German study is the largest review ever conducted on the effect of GM crops on farming. It is a meta-analysis, meaning a rigorous study of the numbers inside past studies on the topic. The review included studies of GM crops conducted from 1995 to March 2014 that were published in English.

Published Nov. 3 in PLOS ONE, the peer-reviewed, open-access publication for the Public Library of Science, the meta-analysis found that GM crops are a “promising technology.”

According to the authors, GM crops have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent and increased farmer profits by 68 percent.

Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops, they reported. And in a conclusion that contradicts those who’ve argued GM crops are not right for the developing world, the authors found that yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

Authors Matin Qaim and Wilhelm Klumper, both of Germany’s Gottingen University, said they hope their research will help build public trust for GM technology.

In a world that will be challenged to increased food production to meet future population growth, the study found GM crop yields can be increased by 14 percentage points more in the developing world than in the developed world. Pests and weeds are a bigger problem in developing nations, another reason GM technology brings bigger benefits there.

Commercial GM crops include those that are modified to increase resistance to pests, to glyphosates or to herbicides used for weed control. The German study found that herbicide-tolerant crops have lower production costs, while insect-resistant ones do not. In that case, the need for less pesticide is offset by the higher seed prices, the study showed.

© Food Safety News
  • fed up

    I noticed they did not talk about any nutritional benefits. Comparing the vitamin/nutrient content of today’s crops versus 1950’s crops, we will find a lower nutrient value. We basically need to eat twice as much to get the nutrients we were able to get years ago.

    • Amelia Jordan

      I don’t think you can find evidence of that. I also don’t see why the lack of products that improve nutritional value means we should toss this tech to the wayside. It’s possible to make more nutritious crops, and I think that should be done, but reducing pesticide use by 37% is not laughing matter for the health of the environment and global agricultural sustainability.

      • whoisoutthere

        I do believe there is some evidence. Our soils are so over farmed that yeah, we now have to add back in nutrients (fake stuff) in order to produce things with nutritional value. Try google …

    • Skeptic

      You don’t have anything but speculation to back up that statement. Show us the hard science and I’ll agree with you. This sounds like commonly repeated fallacy, but hey, prove me wrong

    • There is no study making this claim. Not even among the organic growers.

      The problem today is people eat junk food. The good stuff is still good.

  • John Baize

    Please explain your comment Marge Mullen

  • Andre

    “According to the authors, GM crops have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent and increased farmer profits by 68 percent.”

    Are these even “con” side issues?

  • John Baize

    Biotech crops are the most researched and studied crops ever. Considering the many anti-corporate and pro-environment people at the US EPA there is no question no biotech crops would get approved if they wee any evidence they were bad for the environment or fir human health. Farmer have adopted biotech crops because they are safer for farmers and farm workers (because of less pesticides) and they increase yields. Farmers are not stupid. They would not be using the crops if they did not make sense. Those critical of biotech crops simply do not have scientific evidence to back up their claims that biotech crops are bad.

    • whoisoutthere

      LOL. Anti-corporate and pro-environment people at the EPA? Since when? BTW: what is wrong with being pro-environment at the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. Maybe you could move to China since you seem to be opposed to environmental regulations. Just remember to bring a heavy duty mask and not breath too deeply.

    • Most researched ever, eh?

      Let’s ignore thousands of years of study and research before the idea for transgenic modification came along. Because we all know, science didn’t exist before 1990.

      • Cassandra

        His point is that the new GM varieties produced are studied for years, comparing them to unmodified varieties and looking for allergens or any new characteristics. When conventionally produced varieties come out, they aren’t required to be studied at all, even though they have many new characteristics, since there are many new genetic combinations created by cross breeding, and major genetic scrambling caused by chemical mutagenesis and mutagenesis by irradiation.

        Mutagenesis is a very old, conventional method of plant improvement that gets no scrutiny, even in varieties grown by organic farmers, and yet people object to a new variety of rice that only contains rice genes, if genetic engineers produce it. It doesn’t make sense to me. Does it to you?

        • As you say: mutagenesis is a very old, conventional method. And it does get scrutiny. In Canada, plants modified via mutagenesis have to be labeled as genetically modified. And they can’t be labeled as organic in Europe.

          I’m not adverse to taking a closer look at these types of mutations. But that we don’t for one type of genetic modification, and do for another is no reason to stop the investigations into the one type that is being investigated.

          It’s funny because people say GMO crops are safer, but that’s because they do have to go through a level of scrutiny. So, continue the scrutiny on the genetically modified plants, and add additional scrutiny for the mutagenic plants.

    • sam melvin

      FARMER are forced to BUY from Monsanto , Why do you think so may more farmers market are operating in the uSA again.poeple want orga nic free food and eggs.meat etc etc

      • Cassandra

        What do you mean? I know farmers and they all choose whatever seed they want, and they change this every year if they want to. There are zillions of seed companies. How could Monsanto force anyone to buy anything? You might be confused by the fact that farmers willingly sign an agreement not to save seed for the next year’s crop if they choose to buy a GM crop. But most commercial farmers buy the latest, greatest new seed for their crops annually. This has been true since the 1930s for corn, long before anyone thought up GM crops. If a farmer doesn’t like a GM crop, he just buys something else the next year. It’s that simple. Someone has lied to you about forcing, and all you have to do is ask a conventional farmer that you know and trust. Please explain what you think is happening, and how it could even be legal.

        • al42215

          Selective breeding has been going on for a lot longer than individuals realize. There seems to be confusion and Monsanto and GMs get grouped into one large “thing” as I’m coming to find out during a research paper for a class. There are many other companies out there, and companies that do not patent every seed they develop. I encourage people to walk outside and actualy visit a research center for an hour and ask questions and see what they do as it can be very eye opening.

          Individuals should consider focusing their efforts on their habitual eating habits. I just recently went on a vacation for over two weeks and shared every single meal with another individual and was completely satisfied and even felt like that was too much food. That alone tells me that our portions are excessive. http://ushfc.org/about/

          Here’s some other information from the EU regarding a 20+ year research release prior to this that was backed by the government regarding the safety of GMs.


    • Mongrel

      Correct, “farmers are not stupid”. When their neighbors GM crop jumps the fence and pollinates their own non-GM crop, rather than face financial ruin from lawsuits from Monsanto, it’s prudent to just begin buying seeds from Monsanto.

      Let’s not forget the 270k farmers in India who’ve killed themselves when faced with financial ruin due to Monsanto’s monopolization of cotton seeds in India. The farmers have to get loans because the only available seeds are now limited to Monsanto’s very expensive GM seeds. For whatever reason, if their crop should fail their unable to repay the loans.

      It’s not a matter of smartness, rather it’s a matter of monopolization of world seed supply. Quite simply, Monsanto wins by attrition.

  • PeterStiff

    If pesticide use has been reduced and the technology is working as intended, why is there a need for “higher-powered” 2,4-D + Roundup ready crops? I wouldn’t think this would be necessary if the Roundup ready crops are so effective. To me, this can only logically be answered by the fact that weeds are developing resistance to the increased amount of Roundup being used. And the only way to continue to say that pesticide use is being reduced is to increase its potency.
    Doubling up the toxicity/potency of the chemicals used doesn’t sound like a reduction to me. Maybe researchers should look at the concentration of the active ingredients (ppm) versus the volume of pesticide used (gallons) when evaluating usage. And let’s focus only on the herbicide resistant crops – leave BT crops out of the data, as to not skew the numbers. [Compare herbicide use to herbicide use and insecticide use to insecticide use]
    If someone can point me to research that shows a reduction in the amount/concentration of active ingredients applied (or some consistent unit of measure besides gallons of “pesticide”), I would consider believing claims that “Pesticide use has decreased as a result of round-up ready crops.” Until then, the facts seem to point toward an increase.

    • Donald Sutherland

      This is from a Nov.2014 Wired Mag. story:
      “Superweeds now infest an estimated 70 million acres of U.S. farmland, causing roughly $1 billion in damage. The problem is growing fast, and farmers have scrambled for solutions. Dow and other large agrotech companies, including Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta, have responded by engineering plants to withstand combinations of herbicides rather than glyphosate alone.”

  • whoisoutthere

    Where is the actual study and who paid for it? Honestly, I have read quite the opposite for GM crops in a multitude of studies.

  • battleshiphips

    The anti faction is not prepared to accept science that contradicts their belief system.

  • mthstar

    I really don’t want to eat a plant or animal that has had dna from a totally different species. Who knows the nutritional, biological and/or ecological effects of messing around with nature like that.

    • Joe Blow

      You do realize that evolution is basically the same concept right? Only difference is it is done “naturally” by “God”.

      • mthstar

        It’s done gradually in nature….gives times for other organisms in an ecosystem to adapt (or die).

    • whoisoutthere

      agree. those who claim it’s been done for thousands of years don’t understand the difference between crossing two plants to grow something, and what is being done today.

      • Mongrel

        That’s akin to race-mixing being the same as the hybrids of Dr. Moreau.

  • ND

    The antis really need to stop pretending that they care about science. They have already made up their minds (because, I don’t know, Foodbabe told them so?), and anything that proves them wrong is “paid for by Monsanto” or something equally conspiracy theory-ish.

  • Joe Blow

    Anti-GMO side says, “who paid for this?!” “Corrupt I tell you!” Then there is a study showing findings that GMO’s are bad for you (if there is) and the pro-GMO side says “what hippy designed this study?”

    This is as old as all of the coffee studies…nothing new here because people have already made up their minds either way no matter how much evidence is provided.

  • whoisoutthere

    *Yawn*. Your subtle insult is boring.

  • whoisoutthere

    I read the article. Still not convinced of legitimacy, as it really isn’t much of anything other than repeating carefully selected data. Gotta try to get those dang paranoid Europeans on the Monsanto bandwagon.

  • I don’t believe this is the largest meta-review study. This is one of the larger studies of based in the English language.

    Te findings are a little optimistic, especially considering how limited the studies really were. For instance, they looked at all GM crops, not just one specific type of crop. And they looked at studies globally. This might sound exhaustive, but if you check out the studies for, say, corn, there are very few studies actually listed, and most were by the same researcher(s).

    More importantly, the studies don’t reflect new trends that the USDA has been tracking, at least in the United States. Which means the studies don’t reflect a growing resistance to both herbicides and pesticides.

    Which also then reminds us of the fact that for all the claims of exhaustive researching, the one thing the studies don’t have on their side is time. The use of GMO crops is still relatively new from an agricultural perspective, so we can’t say, “Oh, they’ll always be a benefit! They’ll always save money! They’ll always use less herbicide/pesticide/fungicide”, because frankly, there is proof this is so. There isn’t even enough consistency, especially post 2008, to guarantee this will be so.

    I do appreciate this report being in an open publication, where we can examine the data they use to derive their work. I respect the work. But I think claims about the debate being over are optimistic, at best, and a bit misleading, at worst.

  • You can access the studies they used for their meta-analysis. It’s one of the PDF documents. And the raw data is in a spreadsheet.

  • mthstar

    messing around in a gradual manner. Plus, if GM occurs in nature all the time, why aren’t the GM companies broadcasting the specifics of what they do to educate everyone how natural it is? They set up shop in my County; I search the local paper for any piece with their name in it, and nothing! If what they do is so safe, they need to provide education/outreach. What do they do instead? Secretly pass opposition banning laws, etc etc. That’s shady and there must be a reason for it.

  • JustAnotherStupidSkeptic

    Removing scientific facts from the equation for a moment, I find it’s the ethics of the big food companies that bother me the most. When the “labeling law” came up for the vote in California a couple of years ago, frankly I did not know how I was going to vote. But, having worked in advertising for many years I found that the campaign material that came to our house, urging us to vote against labeling, was deceitful & manipulative. I decided that, until such time that I could find some valid answers to my questions about GMO’s, I wanted to know what was in my food.
    Since then I have observed that Monsanto & the GMA have sunk millions into anti-labeling campaigns across the country. And invested a bit into litigation against the state of Vermont for passing such a law. Of course, that begged the question “Why, if their product was so safe, did they not want us to know what was in our food?”|
    The answer, from all forms of news media available to me, worded in various ways, is basically this: The public is not educated enough [too stupid or ignorant] to make a qualified decision regarding the food they buy.
    Essentially, I am not allowed to make a choice except by taking a Leap of Faith & putting my trust into a corporation who paid out millions to Vietnam Veterans, yet never admitted that there was anything wrong with Agent Orange, based on the assurances that trickle down from the news agency they feed info to b/c I am an Idiot? Or do they think there’s a chance that I (& hundreds like me) are capable of logical thought, able to trace reports & statements to their primary sources, & evaluate said sources in order to understand their motivation? THAT is enough to turn one into a Conspiracy Theorist.

    Not allowing one’s customers to make an informed choice because the corporation that stands to profit insists on making the decision on their behalf sounds like the citizens of the USA are being denied the FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. That is not what makes Democracy work. That is not how America is supposed to function. That’s how it’s done in a Totalitarian society. I am an adult, Monsanto is not my mommy, and this is NOT the Dark Ages. Good or bad, I want to know what’s in my food before I buy it. I’ll then make my own choice, and if necessary, I’ll make my own mistakes.

  • Joe C.

    Oh please. Federal governments saying that GMOs are good? I don’t believe them or the thousands of independent studies that attest to their safety and benefits. I have a complete, almost religious, faith in better-credentialed people like Dr. Joe Mercola (doctor of osteopathy), Food Babe (computer science expert), Mike Adams (who holds a bachelor’s degree in an undisclosed discipline), and Dr. Oz (a cardiologist who has opened my eyes to the promise of miracle diets).

    I heard that the government is in the pocket of Big Food. There must be some credible links out there to support it, but I don’t have time to provide them here, because I’m late for my tinfoil hat-making class.

    • Dianne Tea

      “I have a complete, almost religious, faith in better-credentialed people like Dr. Joe Mercola (doctor of osteopathy), Food Babe (computer science expert), Mike Adams (who holds a bachelor’s degree in an undisclosed discipline), and Dr. Oz (a cardiologist who has opened my eyes to the promise of miracle diets).”


  • mthstar

    GMO also engineers DNA to tolerate ‘cides. We need less/no herbicide, not more in our ecosystems.