Type of Publication: Report
Author(s): Doug Gurian-Sherman
Publisher: Union of Concerned Scientists
Publication Date: March 2009
Keywords: GMO, genetic engineering, corn, soybeans, productivity, crop breeding, yield
Driven by economic and political forces, food prices soared to record highs in 2007 and 2008, causing hardships around the world. Although a global food shortage was not a factor then or now—worldwide food production continues to exceed demand—those recent price spikes and localized scarcity, together with rising populations in many countries and individuals’ rising aspirations, have brought renewed attention to the need to increase food production in the coming decades. Many commentators and stakeholders have pointed to the alleged promise of genetic engineering (GE)—in which the crop DNA is changed using the gene-insertion techniques of molecular biology—for dramatically improving the yields of staple food crops. But a hard-nosed assessment of this expensive technology’s achievements to date gives little confidence that it will play a major role in helping the world feed itself in the foreseeable future. This report is the first to evaluate in detail the overall, or aggregate, yield effect of GE after more than 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization in the United States. Based on that record, we conclude that GE has done little to increase overall crop yields.