Monsanto's Drought Tolerant Corn Outpaced by Conventional Breeding, Better Farming Practices

Alternative Heat/CC BY 2.0

Though genetic engineering proponents often claim that they'll be able to produce drought-tolerant crop varieties that out-perform conventional hybrids, and that these GM crops are an ideal solution to climate change, food security, etc, a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists casts serious doubts on these boasts.

Report author Doug Gurian-Sherman:

Farmers are always looking to reduce losses from drought, but the biotechnology industry has made little real-world progress on this problem. Despite many years of research and millions of dollars in development costs, DroughtGard doesn't outperform the non-engineered alternatives.

DroughtGard is a variety of GM corn, developed by Monsanto, currently undergoing field trials in the western Great Plains, "designed to enhance yield stability when water is limited."

The UCS study found that while crop yields of DroughtGard did decrease crop losses by 6% and would increase overall US corn production by 1%, conventional crop breeding has been increasing drought tolerance by about 1% per year for the past 10 years, while this conventional breeding combined with improved farming practices has been able to increase corn production by 1.5-2% annually.

Gurian-Sherman says, in addition to be cheaper than genetic modification, conventional crop breedings has increased drought tolerance 2-3 times more quickly than GM.

The report continues to rip apart the claimed benefits of DroughtGard, pointing out that the slight productivity increases observed only occur in moderate drought conditions, and that, contrary to Monsanto's claims "there is no evidence that DroughtGard will help the crops or farmers use water more efficiently."

Here's the full report: High and Dry: Why Genetic Engineering Is Not Solving Agriculture's Drought Problem in a Thirsty World

Tags: Agriculture | Genetically Modified Food | Genetic Engineering