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Agricultural News

Jayson Lusk Offers Doubts About New York Times Effort to Denigrate US Farmers for Use of GMOs

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 02:56:59 CDT

Jayson Lusk Offers Doubts About New York Times Effort to Denigrate US Farmers for Use of GMOs A study by the New York Times claims genetically modified crops offer no significant yield benefit and lead to increased herbicide use. An article published over the weekend by the New York Times says: "Genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides." The study compared data from the U.S. and Canada with Europe, which the study says has largely rejected genetic modification, to reach its findings.

The study says herbicide use has increased in the U.S. at a time when genetic engineering was touted to reduce chemical use. Citing an Agriculture Department study, the New York Times says herbicide use has grown two and half times in the last two decades. Monsanto's chief technology officer, Rob Fraley, alleges the Times "cherry-picked" data to reflect poorly on the industry. He told the Times: "Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don't think it provides a major benefit," adding that "biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously."

Oklahoma State University Ag Economist Dr. Jayson Lusk says the author of the report, Danny Hakim, seemed to be working really hard to make his story match up to the headline that he developed- "Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops."

Lusk writes "The implications seems to be that Hakim believes farmers shouldn't be using biotechnology or that they were duped into adopting.  Even if we grant Hakim's premises that biotech crops increased herbicide use and didn't increase yield (as I'll detail below, there are good reasons not to fully accept these claims), the conclusions that benefits are "over hyped" seems a bit misplaced.  

Jayson then uses an analogy that most everyone can grasp- the iPhone versus the previous generations of devices it ended up replacing. " When Apple came out with the first edition of the iPhone, one might too have said its benefits were over-promised.  After all, we already had flip phones to make mobile calls, the iPod to listen to music, the Blackberry to type emails and texts, and so on.  Did the iPhone really offer that much new?  Was it all that much better than what previously existed?

"Well, rather than trying to studiously compare features of the new iPhone to all the previous devices, shouldn't we just look and see whether consumers actually bought it?  Look at the millions of decisions of individual consumers who weighted the relative costs and benefits.  It seems millions of consumers judged the new phone to be worth the extra money (indeed, some people stood outside in lines for days to get it).  In short, we know the iPhone delivered on its promise because millions of customers bought the phone and have come back again and again to buy new versions.

"This is what economists call revealed preferences.  If we want to know whether people think product A is better than product B, we don't have to survey and ask, we just have to look and see what they chose.   

So- Dr. Lusk then says let's jump over to biotech seeds. Based on data from the USDA on farmer adoption of biotech corn, soybeans, and cotton in the U.S.- we see a remarkable adoption of this technology.  "For each of these these three crops, adoption of genetically engineered varieties (including both herbicide tolerant (HT) and insect resistant (Bt)) is over 89% of acres planted.  So, when we look at the decisions made by thousands of real-life flesh and blood farmers who have weighted the costs and benefits, they have voluntarily adopted GMOs en mass.  The fact that biotech was so readily adopted by farmers (and is still so widely in use) aught to tell us something."

Lusk then goes on to quote weed scientist Andrew Kniss who says the New York Times writer tried to make data from France and the US become apples and apples for comparision's sake- but in reality simply showed he knows little to nothing about production agriculture.

Kniss says ""I have to say this comparison seems borderline disingenuous; certainly not what I'd expect from an "extensive examination" published in the New York Times. The NYT provides a few charts in the article, one of which supports the statement about France's reduced pesticide use. But the figures used to compare pesticide use in France vs the USA are convoluted and misleading. First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible. Second, the pesticide amounts are not standardized per unit area, which is critically important since the USA has over 9 times the amount of farmland that France does; it would be shocking if the U.S. didn't use far more pesticide when expressed this way."

He adds that Hakim seemingly picked out data from France because it apparently met the goal of his story- US Farmers are dumb for using GMO technology. He adds that wonder why France was singled out by Mr. Hakim as the only comparison to compare pesticide use trends. Pesticide use across Europe varies quite a bit, and trends in most EU countries are increasing, France is the exception in this respect, not the rule."

You can read Jayson Lusk's full blog post on this New York Times attempt to become a farm publication for a day by clicking here.

Monsanto's Robb Fraley also responded in blog fashion to the New York Times article- you can click here to read their response.



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