– A few weeks ago, the Environment Correspondent of the Independent
on Sunday, pursuing his ongoing campaign against GM crops and foods,
published an article purporting to “expose the great GM crops myth”.
The supposed myth was that the use of transgenic crops increases yields although there is plenty of evidence in support of conclusion that yields often are indeed increased. We were now told that, according to an authoritative new study, “genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops”.
That study, carried out at the University of Kansas by Professor Barney Gordon and reported in the journal Better Crops, looked at the responses of near-isogenic (i.e. not quite genetically identical) lines of GM soya to limiting levels of manganese in the soil and the provision of more of that element. “The study”, claimed the Independent on Sunday, “confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available”.
The trouble is that it didn’t and Professor Gordon was not at all impressed by the newspaper misrepresenting his work. Gordon’s study (according to its author) “…was conducted to determine if glyphosate-resistant (GR) soybeans respond differently to Mn fertilizer than conventional soybean varieties in an irrigated high-yield environment, and if so to develop fertilization strategies that will prevent or correct deficiencies. Yield of the GR variety was less than the conventional variety without Mn fertilizer. However, Mn application (banded at planting) to the GR variety closed the yield gap. The conventional soybean variety was not responsive to Mn fertilization. Conversely, yield was reduced at the highest rate of Mn. A second phase of the study showed that a combination of Mn applied as starter and foliar application provided maximum yield response.”
Professor Gordon has written a rebuttal to the Independent on Sunday, pointing out that the statements made by the newspaper “are ripe for clarification”. As he puts it, his refutation is his attempt to set the record straight before the perversion of his research findings and the resulting backlash go any further.
He shows in detail how his work and his data have been misinterpreted and commented that “As for the statement...that my work shows that ‘genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops’, consider first and foremost that the experiment was not designed to address this question. For example, plots for both varieties were worked over by hand to remove weeds, as we were interested in only studying the effect of Mn on the experiment and not on the effect of weeds in the crop. Furthermore, the claim that GM soybeans produce 10% less yield than conventional is misleading, in that when the lowest rate of Mn was applied to GR soybeans there was no yield difference between the two.”
And Professor Gordon reaches an all-too-familiar conclusion: “Unfortunately, at times research findings can be exploited to inappropriate ends, as was done…..in The Independent”.
We await next Sunday’s issue of the newspaper with more than our usual interest.
1. Geoffrey Lean (20.4.08). Exposed: the great GM crops myth. The Independent on Sunday (http://www.independent.co.uk:80/environment/green-living/exposed-the-great-gm-crops-myth-812179.html)
2. Barney Gordon (2007). Manganese nutrition of glyphosate-resistant and conventional soybeans (North America). Better Crops, 91(4), 12-13
3. Barney Gordon (8.5.08). Manganese nutrition of HT and conventional soybeans - setting the record straight. Seed Today (http://www.seedtoday.com/info/ST_articles.html?ID=56952)