Monsanto is promising a new range of genetically engineered crops in coming years that will solve global warming, reduce the use of toxic pesticides and end hunger. Don’t count on it. Greenwashing is one of the favourite tactics of the chemical and genetic engineering behemoth. Monsanto revealed their crop of dream genes at the FarmTech 2008 workshop in Edmonton this week.
Some proposals are pure fantasy, such as a single gene for yield. Others are unworkable, untestable and dangerous, including plans for GE crops with up to eight implanted genes. As with the often publicized but as yet unrealized Golden Rice, containing vitamin A, biotechnology companies often promise altruistic ends for their products, but deliver and promote the same old lines of seeds that tie farmers into dependence on fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides.
Farm Tech Show News
Crop biotech just hitting its stride
By Lee Hart
If Canadian farmers think biotechnology has already gone a long way to improve crop production and efficiency, they need to hold onto their hats, says a lead researcher with Monsanto.
Using biotechnology over the past dozen years to develop crops that are resistant to certain herbicides, diseases and insects has been a valuable development, says Steve Padgette, Monsanto’s vice-president of biotechnology.
But there are even more exciting crop protection, production and quality-enhancement traits being researched now that will hopefully be available to farmers in the next few years.
Padgette (shown here at left), who was one of the co-inventors of Roundup Ready technology, told farmers attending the 2008 FarmTech Conference in Edmonton there is a multi-million dollar, worldwide initiative to bring a wide range of crop production and value-added enhancements to producers and consumers.
“It must be remembered in developing crops with these improved traits, it is a combination of both conventional plant breeding and biotechnology that is being used,” says Padgette.
“There is so much happening right now, that has so much potential. The bottom line is, there has never been a better time with more promise from an agricultural research perspective to take the science that is available and put this technology to work out in the farmer’s field.”
Padgette told producers that herbicide tolerance technology has been the most widely accepted agricultural technology in history, with some 250 million acres of herbicide-tolerant crops produced worldwide now. That number is expected to grow to 350 million by the end of the decade.
Farmers today see some crops using single-trait biotechnology such as herbicide tolerance in canola, while some corn varieties, for example, have been developed with multiple biotech traits such as three different genes that provide herbicide tolerance, disease tolerance and insect pest tolerance. That's known as gene stacking.
Ongoing research over the next few years is expected to produce:
• Crops that will have up to eight genes stacked to provide multiple modes of controlling pests both above and below the ground, as well as multiple modes of herbicide tolerance.
• Crops developed with biotechnology that will have improved drought tolerance, which will not only benefit crops grown in traditionally dryland areas, but may also enhance the performance of crops grown under better production conditions, and even under irrigation. Preliminary field trials show an average of a 10 per cent improvement in yield.
• Crops developed with biotechnology with improved nitrogen utilization, which means achieving an eight to 10 per cent yield improvement from the same amount of fertilizer.
• Crops developed with the inclusion of a single gene that overall increases yield. The yield gene, referred to as the “holy grail” of biotechnology, has already shown it can increase soybean yield by up to seven per cent. A combination of a yield gene and improved herbicide tolerance gene could increase canola yields by 14 per cent.
• Crops developed with biotechnology with improved oil and other quality characteristics. A soybean variety that produces a healthful omega-3 oil is one example.