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Farmers profit off gene-modified crops

Genetically-modified corn cobs are seen at a corn field.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Turning a profit while you till your field is what farmers try to do. One of the big variables about that is deciding which seeds to plant. For the past 15 years or so, more farmers have been choosing genetically-modified seeds for crops bred with specific traits, like resistance to insects or to drought.

Today the National Research Council released a report evaluating the profitability of those genetically-modified crops. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Caitlan Carroll reports.


CAITLAN CARROLL: This report says farmers spend less on pesticides and get bigger crops from genetically-modified seeds.

Peter Raven heads the Botanical Garden in St. Louis and contributed to the report. He says the sturdier the crops, the less time farmers have to spend weeding and watering.

PETER RAVEN: The main benefit from growing GM crops for farmers is that they get about 30 percent of their time back.

KEITH RYAN: Yeah, I don't know if I would necessarily agree with 30 percent less time. It certainly is a lot more efficient.

That's Keith Ryan. I caught up with him as he was planting corn on his farm in Taylorville, Ill.

Ryan says when you have built-in traits, like insect resistance, you don't have to drench the crops with insecticide.

RYAN: You don't have to mess with getting all the insecticide on you personally and deal with the ramifications that come with that down the road.

But the report says a number of weeds are developing resistance to Round-Up, a popular weed killer that doesn't damage genetically-engineered crops.

Analyst Bill Freese at the Center for Food Safety says the South is seeing some of the worst effects of this new resistance.

BILL FREESE: There are weeds down there that farmers are using seven or eight different chemicals and still can't kill. So now they're going back to hand weeding, which hasn't been seen for decades.

Authors of the report say farmers' heavy dependence on Round-Up contributed to this situation. Farmer Keith Ryan says as other herbicides have come down in price, farmers have been using them in tandem with Round-Up. But weed resistance is inevitable.

I'm Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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I checked Marketplace the other day and I have noticed that the Monsanto ads have disappeared from the air. Are they no longer a sponsor? If Marketplace would respond to my call, emails, or comments here perhaps I would start listening to the show again regularly...

Its been weeks now since it was broadcast and I'm still thinking about this article and feeling sad and even faintly nauseated by the fact that you aired it. I love Marketplace, which is by far my favorite radio program, but I was incredibly disappointed and repulsed by this piece. I've been unhappy about your sponsorship from Monsanto for a while now – they are NOT a green company and their strangle hold on the American food industry is doing damage to consumers, producers and the environment every day.
I was thinking about that again at the top of the hour and wondering how you could be expected to effectively cover such a large and influential and eminently newsworthy organization when they were regularly contributing to your costs. Just a few short minutes later you broadcast this piece, which describes the company and their flagship product (Roundup) in nothing such positive terms and quoting a source from their (very company town) base in St. Louis without noting that fact. You talk about the time saved with bioengineered Roundup Plants and how nice it is for farmers not to get it on their hands but gloss over the fact that CONSUMERS ARE STILL EATING this noxious substance. Further you don’t mention that the concentration of the chemical found in the GM plants can be thousands of times more than in spray applications. This culture of pesticide is leading to a terrible arms race with weeds and is already creating resistant strains that we won’t be able to deal with under the current system. There was another article on this topic in the New York Times today: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/business/energy-environment/04weed.htm...
Even from a financial point of view, Roundup is not helping farmers. The high costs of pesiticde and fertilizer are largely responsible for running most of America’s small farmers out of business in the last 60 years and have resulted in ever larger and more corporate farms. This is not a sustainable solution and I’m ashamed of you for promoting it on your show without looking into the downsides. I really hope it was just ignorance and not willful promotion of one of your sponsors. I hope for better coverage in the future.

I have quit donating to my local public radio affliates because I am tired to listening to Monsanto and ADM ads.

"So now they're going back to hand weeding, which hasn't been seen for decades."

Wow! What a concept. Nothing wrong with more work, even if it's a summer job for a high-schooler.

We need to stop lacing our food supply with this stuff (to put it very lightly).

7 or 8 chemicals on one crop?

Maybe NPR should do an indepth story about what these "ramifications" might be that Ryan mentions.

Until public radio researches BOTH sides to this GMO issue, AND REPORTS both sides, I will no longer support public radio.
GMO causes contamination to whole crops where farmers are using NON GMO seed...when this happens these farmers loose TRUE SEED CAPABILITY and are accused by Monsanto of stealing their seed patent! NPR DO YOUR HOMEWORK and stop supporting propaganda!

From B Korb 04/16/2010
"I support three public radio stations, and I'll be notifying them not to expect any donations from me as long as they continue to serve as the Monsanto propaganda mouthpiece."

Please make sure that you do notify them of this. I think many people who are posting here feel the same way and they should give these radio programs the fair chance to know about this by emailing them directly from their contact page.

I support three public radio stations, and I'll be notifying them not to expect any donations from me as long as they continue to serve as the Monsanto propaganda mouthpiece.

I agree with many who are angered by the airing of Monsanto sponsored program. For nearly 5 years NPR was the only radio I used to hear. Not any more.

On April 14, 2010 the Marketplace show on my local NPR station began with an announcement that the show was underwritten by Monsanto.

I was very surprised then to hear a story about farmers who are profiting from using genetically modified seeds. NPR did not point out the connection that genetically-modified seeds are made by Monsanto and that Monsanto was sponsoring the program. This portion of the show was really an extended advertisement for Monsanto.

I am disappointed that NPR allowed this program to air. Knowledgeable scientists – but not necessarily the general public – are aware of the dangers of genetically modified foods. European countries have banned them because of the potential health effects of these “man-engineered” foods. In addition, Monsanto is ruthlessly prosecuting farmers who choose not to use these seeds, and running them out of business. Plant scientists have set up seed banks to protect non genetically modified seeds to save the world from famine when this man-engineered scheme eventually causes chaos. This is the botanical equivalent to letting Wall Street banks regulate themselves. It may be making money for Monsanto now, but it’s going to adversely affect all of us at some point in the future.

Shame on you NPR – you have severely shaken my confidence in your “independent” reporting.

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