* Report challenges effectiveness of Monsanto corn
* Says no improved water efficiency
* Monsanto says new corn mitigates risk of yield loss in
* Field trials ongoing this year
By Carey Gillam
June 5 New genetically altered corn aimed at
helping farmers deal with drought offers more hype than help
over the long term, according to a report issued on Tu esday by a
science and environmental advocacy group.
The Union for Concerned Scientists (UCS) said the only
genetically altered corn approved by regulators and undergoing
field trials in the United States has no improved water
efficiency, and provides only modest results in only moderate
"Farmers are always looking to reduce losses from drought,
but the biotechnology industry has made little real-world
progress on this problem," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a plant
pathologist and senior scientist for UCS. "Despite many years of
research and millions of dollars in development costs,
DroughtGard doesn't outperform the non-engineered alternatives."
UCS used data generated by Monsanto, the developer
of biotech "DroughtGard" corn approved by regulators in December
and an analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It
said Monsanto's corn "does not appear to be superior to several
recent classically bred varieties of drought-tolerant corn."
Conventional breeding techniques and improved farming
practices have helped boost drought tolerance of corn planted in
the United States by about 1 percent per year over the past
several decades. The group calculated this was roughly equal to
or better than what the new GMO corn has demonstrated.
Monsanto said its new drought-tolerant corn "can help
farmers mitigate the risk of yield loss when experiencing
drought stress, primarily in areas of annual drought stress,
which in the U.S. historically has been the Western Great Plains
Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher said, "Specifically,
these hybrids with the drought trait can use less water during
severe drought stress and have more kernels per ear."
Monsanto's Drought Gard corn hybrids are in the final phase
before commercialization in on-farm field trials. The company
hopes to roll the product out commercially next year.
Drought is a significant problem for agriculture in the
United States and globally. Last year, extreme drought in Texas
and throughout the U.S. South wiped out crops and left livestock
without pasture or hay, with damages to the agriculture industry
calculated at more than $5 billion.
Monsanto, DuPont, and other biotech companies have
touted crops that perform better in drought as a means to help
farmers combat water shortages. The UCS report said that
classical and other forms of breeding are more cost efficient
and effective than genetic engineering.
"An exaggerated expectation about the capacity of genetic
engineering at the expense of other approaches risks leaving
farmers and the public high and dry when it comes to ensuring
that the United States and other nations can produce enough
food, and have enough clean freshwater, to meet everyone's
needs," the report said.
UCS said that rather than relying on private industry
research, Congress and the USDA should substantially increase
support for public crop-breeding programs to improve drought
tolerance, and should use conservation programs funded under the
federal Farm Bill to expand the use of available methods for
improving drought tolerance and water use efficiency.
A spokeswoman for the biotechnology industry said
genetically modified drought-tolerant crops could still prove
"It's too early to make assumptions about drought tolerant
technology, while it is still being tested," said Karen Batra,
spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).
"It's absurd to assume it's an either/or debate. With
growers all over the world dealing with climate change and
increased demand due to overpopulation, we need to turn to all
the means available - including improved seeds and biotechnology
to address these challenges."