Truth: GM-adopting countries have reduced farmer choice

Myth at a glance

It is often claimed that the adoption of GM crops by a country increases farmer choice.

But countries that have adopted GM seeds have decreased seed choices. Consolidation in the seed market has led to the big seed companies, which are heavily invested in patented GM technology, withdrawing high-performing competing non-GM seeds from the market. This trend has been documented in the US, Brazil, and India.

A study on farmer seed choices in Europe found that the GM-adopting country, Spain, had fewer seed choices on offer to farmers than non-GM adopting countries. Moreover, GM-adopting countries, including the US, had no yield advantage.

It is often claimed that the adoption of GM crops by a country increases farmers’ choice of which seeds to plant. But this claim is not supported by evidence and on the contrary, there is evidence that once a country adopts GM crops, seed choice decreases.

This happens because a few companies own a large proportion of the seed market.1These companies are heavily invested in patented GM technology and have been able to restrict the availability of competing non-GM seed or withdraw it altogether from the market.

For example, a 2011 media report said that seed companies had responded to farmer concern about the high price and less than impressive performance of GM seed by withdrawing a non-GM variety of maize that gave higher yields. The report added that the companies are raising the prices of herbicides used by non-GM farmers to artificially increase the cost of non-GM production.2

In India, non-GM cotton seeds have been withdrawn from the market.3,4,5 The same process has happened for non-GM soybean seeds in Brazil, forcing farmers to buy GM seed, as reported by Pierre Patriat, the president of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of Mato Grosso. Patriat said that the trend threatens seed and food sovereignty and security.6

Similarly in the US, farmers disillusioned with GM crops are unable to return to planting non-GM seeds because they are not available in the marketplace, as reported in British farmer Michael Hart’s documentary film, Farmer to Farmer.7

The result of these developments is that farmers are forced into dependency on the GM industry. Such reports expose claims that GM crops increase “farmer choice” – and that countries that do not adopt GMOs have reduced choice – as disingenuous.

Choice of seed decreases in GM-adopting country

GMO proponents’ claims that farmers in countries that do not adopt GM crops have fewer seed options were tested in a research study on European countries with differing degrees of GM adoption. The study found that far from offering greater farmer choice, adoption of GM crops was accompanied by decreasing seed choice. Along with the increasing adoption of GM crops in Spain, the GM maize-adopting country in the study, came a decline in farmers’ seed choices. In the non-adopting European countries, farmers had more maize varieties available to them today than they had in the 1990s, despite restricting GM varieties. Moreover, there was no yield advantage in GM-adopting countries, even when the analysis was extended to the US.8

Conclusion

Countries that have adopted GM crops have seen seed choice decrease. Seed market consolidation has led to competing high-performing non-GM seed varieties being withdrawn from the market, restricting farmer choice.

References

  1. Howard P. Visualizing consolidation in the global seed industry: 1996–2008. Sustainability. 2009;1:1266-1287.
  2. Roseboro K. Iowa organic farmer says non-GMO corn outperforms GMO. The Organic & Non-GMO Report. http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/april2011/organicnongmocornoutperformsgmo.php. Published April 1, 2011.
  3. Roseboro K. Scientist: GM technology has exacerbated pesticide treadmill in India. The Organic & Non-GMO Report. http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/february2012/gmtechnologypesticideindia.php. Published February 1, 2010.
  4. Aaronson T. The suicide belt. Columbia City Paper. http://www.gmfreecymru.org.uk/documents/suicidebelt.html. Published November 10, 2009.
  5. Disappearing non-GM cotton – ways forward to maintain diversity, increase availability and ensure quality of non-GM cotton seed. Karnataka, India: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL); 2011. Available at: http://www.fibl.org/fileadmin/documents/en/news/2011/ProceedingNationalWorkshop_DisappearingNon-GMCotton.pdf.
  6. Patriat P. Speech delivered at the association of seed producers of Mato Grosso, on May 11, 2011 at the soy industry conference SEMEAR 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. GMWatch. 2012. Available at: http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/1-news-items/14092.
  7. Hart M. Farmer to farmer: The truth about GM crops [film]. http://gmcropsfarmertofarmer.com/film.html. Published 2011.
  8. Hilbeck A, Lebrecht T, Vogel R, Heinemann JA, Binimelis R. Farmer’s choice of seeds in four EU countries under different levels of GM crop adoption. Environ Sci Eur. 2013;25(1):12. doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-12.