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December 22, 2011 

Monsanto Corn Unlikely To Help Drought-Stricken Farmers

Statement by Doug Gurian-Sherman, Senior Scientist, UCS Food & Environment Program

Yesterday, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would allow unlimited planting of a genetically modified variety of corn designed by Monsanto Co. to be resistant to certain kinds of droughts. The company and the USDA have both admitted the crop will fare only modestly better than current conventional varieties under low- and moderate-level drought conditions. This means that this corn will be useful only for a fraction of corn acres – just 15 percent by USDA estimates.

In addition, there are several types of new drought-tolerant corn, made through conventional breeding, in the United States and abroad likely to do as well or better than Monsanto’s corn. Data from U.S. researchers suggest that conventional breeding is producing drought tolerance two to three times faster than genetic engineering.

Below is a statement from Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food & Environment Program:

“Monsanto’s new corn will not be a silver bullet for farmers suffering from the kind of severe drought facing the Southwest right now. While the industry continues to say it’ll do better, achieving substantially higher levels of drought tolerance with genetically modified crops in the foreseeable future is uncertain. Furthermore, it’s unlikely this drought-resistant crop will actually save water as Monsanto would like everyone to believe. Classical crop breeding can produce drought-resistant crops that are cheaper and more effective than what Monsanto has come up with.

“Ultimately, the only way to address the water challenges that American farmers face every day will require readdressing how we farm, which crops we breed and grow, and how we allocate the water we use to farm. The biotechnology industry has been working on drought-tolerant and water-saving crops for more than a decade, and the results so far, while useful, are underwhelming compared to conventional techniques like breeding. At most, this crop is a Band-Aid, not a cure.”

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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