The Journal of Science just published the first large scale economic analysis of genetically modified (GM) crops. According to their data, farmers who grew conventional corn earned more money over the 14-year study than farmers who grew GM corn.
The GM corn known as Bt corn is modified with a gene that fights the corn borer moth, a pest which has terrorized the Midwest's corn crop since its introduction to the US from Europe in 1917. If a corn borer lays eggs on the corn, the larvae dies within two days.
It was widely believed that the GM corn would save farmers money by eliminating the pest that kills the corn, which in turn would allow for larger harvests. However, the study finds that the costs of the GM technology fees are so expensive that it is more economically viable to lose a large portion of the farmer's crop than pay the technology fee.
Other factors may be at play, as well. Since the corn borer-killing GM corn was introduced in 1996, the amount of European corn borers has significantly declined. In fact, Bt corn's resistance to corn borers and other insects is so effective that Bt corn can be found in 63% of all US corn acres.
Although this GM crop has limited the number of borers, it has also raised concerns that borers may become resistant to Bt corn. Add this to worries about the unstudied impact of GM corn on human consumption and the environment and Bt corn may not be the superhero that it seems.
For better or for worse, the market may have the last say in the GM corn debate. If Bt corn does not create a profit for farmers, it may disappear altogether from American fields.
- It pays not to cultivate GM crops, survey finds (MinnPost)
- GBenefits of Bt (University of Minnesota)