Natural Foods Merchandiser

Bush Aid Package Includes GM

By Vicky Uhland

President Bush's recent request to Congress for a $770 million aid package to ease the global food crisis earmarks $150 million for developmental farming, which includes the use of genetically modified crops.

In a May 1 press briefing, U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs Dan Price told reporters that GM crops could significantly increase world food supplies.

"Biotechnology and crops developed through biotechnology really have done wonderful things in terms of crop yield, drought resistance and insect resistance," he said.

But a February Friends of the Earth/Center for Food Safety report disagrees with Price's crop yield and drought resistance claims.

The report, "Who Benefits From GM Crops? The Rise in Pesticide Use," analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Resource Service and other sources and found that overall, GM crops don't yield more than other crops.

"Even the [USDA] admits that no GM crop on the market has been modified to increase yield. The main factors influencing crop yield are weather, irrigation, soil fertility and conventional (nonbiotech) breeding for increased yield," according to an FOE/CFS statement.

The report cited research from the University of Nebraska that found that Roundup Ready soybeans, the world's most widely planted GM crop, have a 6 percent lower yield than conventional soybeans.

It also disputed biotech industry claims that GM cotton has boosted cotton yields worldwide, citing data that shows that the higher yields are attributable to more favorable weather conditions (India, the U.S.) and more irrigation (South Africa) rather than biotech traits.

"Significantly, biotechnology companies have not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought tolerance or salt tolerance. Disease-tolerant GM crops are practically nonexistent," the report concluded. "Virtually 100 percent of the world acreage planted with commercial GM crops have one or both of just two traits: herbicide tolerance and insect resistance."

The U.S. tried to introduce GM crops in Africa in 2002, but several countries refused because of European Union opposition. According to the Chicago Tribune, the U.S.'s Price is working to persuade the EU to change its stance on GM crops in Africa.

The Bush food-crisis package must be approved by Congress before it can be enacted.

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