It pays not to cultivate GM crops, survey finds

The first economic analysis of growing genetically modified crops on a wide scale has found that the biggest winners were the farmers who decided not to grow them.

The study, which looked at maize yields in the corn belt of the United States, found that farmers who continued to grow conventional crops actually earned more money over a 14-year period than those who cultivated GM varieties.

All farmers benefited from the significantly lower level of pests that came about after the introduction of GM maize to the US in 1996, but the conventional farmers who continued to cultivate non-GM varieties also benefited financially from not having to pay the extra costs of purchasing GM seeds.

Previous studies into the economics of growing GM crops have concentrated on the farmers who have taken up the technology, but the latest research looked at a wider area, including non-GM fields that may have benefited from being near fields planted with GM varieties.

GM maize, which is called corn in the US, has a bacterial gene called "Bt" added to it so that the plant excretes a protein which has a toxic effect on the European corn borer, a serious insect pest introduced accidentally into America in 1917.

Nearly two-thirds of the US corn belt is now cultivated with Bt maize, and it has had a dramatic impact on the decline of the corn borer moth, which cannot distinguish between the GM and conventional varieties. When female moths lay their eggs on Bt corn, the larvae die within two days of hatching.

Paul Mitchell, an agricultural economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where the work was carried out, said the main corn-growing states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska experienced a total economic benefit of $6.9bn (£4.6bn) over the period from 1996 to 2009 as a result of less maize being lost to the corn-borer pest.

But the non-GM corn areas accounted for 62 per cent of this total economic benefit because, in addition to preventing crop losses resulting from lower levels of pests, these farmers did not have to spend any extra money on the technology fees associated with the purchase of GM maize.

"Previous cost-benefit analyses focused directly on transgenic crop acres. This study is the first to include the value of area-wide pest suppression and the subsequent benefits to growers of non-transgenic crops," Dr Mitchell said. "In this case, the value of the indirect yield benefits for non-Bt crops exceeded the net value of direct benefits to the BT corn acres."

The study, published in the journal Science, found that Wisconsin farmers benefited to the tune of $325m (£217m) as a result of the overall suppression of the corn borer pest between 1996 and 2009. About 75 per cent of this cumulative economic benefit went to the farmers who cultivated non-GM maize.

William Hutchinson of the University of Minnesota, the study's lead author, said an analysis showed that the European corn borer moth has declined in the fields neighbouring those of GM crops by between 28 and 73 per cent, depending on the initial level of infection. The scientists were able to make these estimates because of good records of pest populations going back 45 years.

"Additionally, environmental benefits from corn borer suppression are likely occurring, such as less insecticide use, but these benefits have yet to be documented," Dr Hutchinson said.

Farmers in the US who cultivate GM maize with the Bt gene are encouraged to set aside plots of land adjacent to the GM fields where they grow conventional varieties of maize. This tactic helps to prevent the evolution of Bt-resistance in the corn borer moth, which is more likely to occur when the entire crop is genetically modified.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Unqualified NVQ Assessors - Health, Social Care & Management

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning independent ...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate Start - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders