Indiana’s corn and soybean industries are pushing back against a New York Times investigation that alleges genetically modified crops, or GMOs, haven’t done what they set out to do.
Companies like Monsanto made GMOs a mainstay in agriculture 20 years ago, by altering corn and soybeans to kill pests and withstand chemical use.
The idea, according to a front-page story published Saturday in The New York Times, was to grow more food with fewer chemicals. These days, 90 percent of American corn and soybeans are genetically modified.
The New York Times looked at data from the United Nations and other studies to compare American yields and chemical use to that of Europe, where GMOs are largely banned.
The paper concluded that GMOs haven’t delivered. It says with the advent of GMOs, the U.S. has needed more chemicals to achieve even the same yields as Europe. And it says the health risks from those additional chemicals outweigh any unconfirmed risks from the GMOs themselves.
Indiana is one of the nation’s top corn and soybean producers, and it’s also home to seed companies such as Beck’s Hybrids and Dow Agrosciences. They design crops using genetic engineering as well as traditional breeding.
Indiana Corn Marketing Council President and Soybean Alliance CEO Jane Ade Stevens says farmers are constantly introducing safer and more eco-friendly chemicals to their fields.
“Even if I were to say, ‘Yeah, they might be using more herbicides,’ it doesn’t mean it’s more toxic,” Stevens says.
She also notes The New York Times uses different units of measurement for Europe and the U.S., and she says since the U.S. has much more farmland, the industry itself is different in North America.
But she says some of the trends highlighted in The New York Times story are accurate, including that yields would rise steadily with or without GMOs.
“People think we’re gonna see these huge jumps — no, and farmers never felt that way,” she says. “And maybe we misled people in thinking that there were gonna be these huge yield increases.”
Stevens says GMOs are useful for keeping yields steady in times of drought, for example. And she says they make soil healthier by letting farmers till and water their fields less.
Monsanto, for its part, dismissed The New York Times’ data as “cherry-picked.”