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Farm groups reject anti-GM crop report claims

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network questions whether yield gains are due to GM technology

A report that claims genetically modified crops are no more productive than conventional ones doesn’t match the reality of what Canadian farmers find in their fields every year, farm groups say.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which opposes GM crops, says in a report that yields of GM and conventional crop varieties “have increased at a similar rate in Canada, and there are no clear patterns to show that GM crop yields have increased more than those of non-GM crops.”

Don McCabe, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, makes no apologies about growing GM crops on his southwestern Ontario farm. Speaking to academics and government officials at the Food Security and Climate Change, McCabe said, “I get five times the yield with GM corn on the same land.”

CBAN also said farm expenses “have increased substantially, in part because of the rising prices of seeds and other inputs. GM seeds are significantly more expensive than non-GM seed.”

Terry Daynard, another Ontario farmer and agriculture commentator, says, “The CBAN people suggest Canadian farmers are stupid, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy higher-priced seed which has no benefit. The CBAN superficiality seems to ignore costs of production. For example, premiums in the vicinity of $100/acre are needed to entice Ontario farmers to grow non-GM soys.”

Numerous studies show that GM crops combined with good farming practices produce high yields per hectare, he said.

It’s generally estimated that 97 per cent of the canola grown in Canada is GM, about 80 per cent of the corn and between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the soybeans. There is some GM sugar beet production as well.

Brian Innes, vice-president of government relations for the Canola Council of Canada, said the evidence is completely contrary to CBAN’s claims. Higher yields are only one attraction of GM seeds. Other benefits include reduced field work, soil erosion and fuel emissions, all of which are environmental pluses.

“There’s a dramatic improvement in weed control costs,” he said. “Our research shows an overall financial benefit from growing GM. The returns are higher than from conventional seeds by a significant amount.”

“GM traits are added to plant varieties that are already high yielding due to background genetics developed through non-GM breeding methods. It is these pre-existing characteristics, along with other factors, that have determined yield increases in the past decades, not GM traits,” CBAN states.

The first GM crops were introduced 20 years ago.

Debra Conlon, manager of government relations with Grain Farmers of Ontario, said GM corn has increased in yields by 300 bushels per acre in just 15 years.

The CBAN report also raised the issue of growing weed resistance to certain pesticides. These weeds “are creating new costs and complications for farmers. The biotechnology industry’s solution to this problem is to sell new GM crops that are tolerant to different herbicides, an approach that will further drive up herbicide use and speed up the spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.”

Innes says that herbicide resistance has been a problem since pesticides were first introduced. Crop rotation and using different products can go a long way to prevent the spread of herbicide resistance. “It comes down to the way farmers manage their land year after year.”

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