Photo: Audrey Grace (Flickr)
“Farmers are always looking to reduce losses from drought, but the biotechnology industry has made little real-world progress on this problem,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist in UCS’s Food & Environment Program.
Less Than Dazzling Results
Based on available information from the US Department of Agriculture, UCS found that DroughtGard — which contains the gene cspB from the soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis — does not improve yield more than traditional breeding methods. In addition, UCS asserts the new hybrid does not exhibit improved water use efficiency, a measure of how much water a plant consumes in relation to its yield.
In response, Karen Batra, spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), states, “It’s too early to make assumptions about drought tolerant technology, while it is still being tested.”
Monsanto planted DroughtGard trials on 10,000 acres across the Great Plains region in 2012, and this growing season will provide more information on the hybrid.
Alternatives To Genetically Modified Crops
The UCS report advocates other paths towards enhanced food production in water-limited situations, such as cultivation practices that improve moisture retention in soil and additional funding for public crop-breeding programs.
- Monsanto’s “DroughtGard” Corn Barely a Drop in the Bucket (Union of Concerned Scientists, press release)
- High and Dry: Why Genetic Engineering Is Not Solving Agriculture’s Drought Problem in a Thirsty World (Union of Concerned Scientists, full report)
- Science group finds drought-tolerant GMO corn lacking (Times Live)
- DroughtGard Hybrids (Monsanto)