A Punch to the Mouth: Food Price Volatility Hits the World

Perfect Storms

2011 was an abysmal year for the global insurance industry, which had to cover yet another enormous increase in damages from natural disasters. Unknown to most casual observers is the fact that during the past few decades the frequency of weather-related disasters (floods, fires, storms) has been growing at a much faster pace than geological disasters (such as earthquakes). This spread between the two types of insurable losses has moved so strongly that it prompted Munich Re to note in a late 2010 letter that weather-related disasters due to wind have doubled and flooding events have tripled in frequency since 1980. The world now has to contend with a much higher degree of risk from weather and climate volatility, and this has broad-reaching implications.

And critically, it has a particular impact on food.

Many factors seen over the past decade have produced higher food prices: population growth, urbanization, the decline of arable land per person, and the upgrading of diets for example. But more damaging than food inflation has been the pushing of global food prices out of their long, quiet envelope of stability. From the recently released UN Report on the World Food Situation:

The FAO Index (Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N) shows that, while prices are once again down from a peak, a troublesome volatility started to affect food prices this decade. These are the very prices that caused social instability in countries like Mexico in 2007-2008 (pressure on corn prices, owing in part to US corn ethanol mandates) and more recently in northern Africa (Arab Spring).

Commodity observers will note the rough correspondence with oil prices, and of course that’s no mistake. Inputs to food production are heavily composed of fossil fuels. In the same way that both high (and highly volatile) oil prices play havoc with economies, food prices and marginal speculation in food have done the same.

2011 also saw the highest average oil prices since 2008, at $94.81 per barrel. That is not far below the average high of 2008, at $99.67. In between was a crash in oil prices -- and most commodities -- which unfolded at a rate almost as rapid as the original run-ups from 2006-2008. What happens next?

The USDA has just released its Food CPI readings for 2011, along with their forecast for 2012.

With 11 months of data recorded, the outlook for the 2011 Consumer Price Index (CPI) and food price inflation has become clear. The CPI for all food is projected to increase 3.25 to 3.75 percent. Food-at-home (grocery store) prices are forecast to rise 4.25 to 4.75 percent, while food-away-from-home (restaurant) prices are forecast to increase 2 to 2.5 percent. Although food price inflation was relatively weak for most of 2009 and 2010, cost pressures on wholesale and retail food prices due to higher food commodity and energy prices, along with strengthening global food demand, have pushed inflation projections upward for 2011.

For 2012, food price inflation is expected to abate from 2011 levels but is projected to be slightly above the historical average for the past two decades. The all-food CPI is projected to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent over 2011 levels, with food-at-home prices increasing 3 to 4 percent...

With non-existent wage growth and a dearth of investment opportunities, these price advances in food costs have much more impact than it appears. What asset classes are keeping pace with the year-over-year increases in food? Certainly not stocks, as the S&P 500 has gone nowhere in a decade. Moreover, a 3.5% increase in Food CPI this year, with more to come next year, falls on top of a deeply under-utilized US economy in which tens of millions derive income from government transfer payments, most of which are not sufficiently ratcheting higher from “inflation-adjustments." Food Stamp recipients, for example, are not seeing food inflation adjustments in their benefit checks that would compensate for the price increases. Not even close.

As you may have heard, milk was the top commodity performer in 2011, up 40% on the year in the futures market. A question: do you think milk is a central staple in American family diets? There's more. On a year-over-year basis through November, according to USDA, beef prices are up 9.8%, egg prices are up 10.25%, and potato prices are up 12%. (This partly explains why junk-type grocery foods make up an ever-larger portion of food-stamp purchasers' shopping carts. Sadly, people are buying caloric content, not nutrition).

Now, compare these price increases to the average individual Food Stamp benefit, which is basically flat year-over-year, moving from $133.79 in 2010 to $133.84 in 2011. And to the extent that households use Food Stamp benefits to plug overall cash flow problems, the very central and related pressure from higher gasoline prices also deflates the impact of the Food Stamp benefit.

Food Stamp Nation

The march higher in Food Stamp participation following the 2008 crisis has been relentless. The trend has paid no attention whatsoever to assertions of economic recovery or jobs growth in the US.

Yes, in the aggregate there has been moderate growth in private sector payrolls since the lows. There has also been a very big turnaround in exports, as this part of the economy has seen a veritable resurrection, growing to 15% of GDP. However, the upsurge in national Food Stamp participation (SNAP) has been stronger than them all. In December of 2007, just after the declared start of the “recession,” national participation in SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) stood at 27.385 million. As of the latest data, this has ballooned to 46.268 million.

Because the national figures are so enormous and harder to comprehend, for several years I have kept track of Food Stamp (SNAP) users in Los Angeles County -- alongside oil prices. Southern California illustrates well the dilemma for most of the nation: Through the force of US demand, we have lost the control we once enjoyed over oil prices, while at the same time we remain locked in to automobile-based transport. Previous recessions in the US would have knocked gasoline prices down for longer. Not so anymore. Earlier this year, it became clear to me that before year end, the number of L.A. County participants on Food Stamps would eventually cross the one million mark. That grim marker has now been achieved:

The above chart of L.A. County SNAP users echoes the FAO chart from the United Nations. Upward-moving volatility in energy is concurrent with wild swings in food prices and waves of people in need of public assistance. Wages in the US have remained flat while millions of workers remain either unemployed or underemployed. Meanwhile, urbanization in the developing world has continued apace, forcing food prices and energy prices up at the margin. The results are not complicated. When demand begins to hit a resource whose supply cannot be easily increased, then price moves to ration demand and price becomes more volatile.

That process, so obvious to many, can unfortunately digress into a series of time-wasting arguments about speculators and whether the world is running out of...(insert your preferred natural resource here). On the contrary, natural resources rarely, if ever, run out in the marketplace. The US is not running out of oil, or corn, and the world is not running out of coal, or copper. What we have seen however in the past decade is that a number of structural changes to human development, primarily industrialization in the Non-OECD, have combined to put an unexpectedly large burden of demand on world resources -- at a rapid rate. Meanwhile, many natural resources, such as copper and oil in particular, had already reached a more difficult place in the arc of their own extraction history when this started to unfold. 

The Decline of Arable Land

The result is that energy resources, and thus the ease of using energy resources in food production, began to converge with a long decline in the availability of arable land.

It is not for nothing that farming acreage in the US Midwest is up over several hundred percent since the lows twenty years ago. (As a personal aside, I remember those lows very well; I lived on a struggling soybean farm in Iowa during graduate school in the late 1980s). The world is in the midst of a New Great Game. But this time, the hunt is not on only for energy resources, but for agricultural resources -- mostly cropland.

On my own blog, I recently did a short post on a study of urbanization in China’s Pearl River Delta and its aggregate effect on climate and precipitation. In short? Paving over the earth decreases rainfall. I also found these two photos from NASA, comparing satellite views of the Pearl River Delta over a 24-year period from 1979 to 2003.

The loss of arable farmland per capita in China has placed enormous pressure on the global food system and all of its inputs, especially fertilizer. The miracle of the food revolution, much trumpeted over the past 30 years as the latest achievement of technology and innovation, is not to be dismissed. But there are limits. We can only convert so much farmland to urbanscape while making up the difference with N, P, and K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) before we lose resiliency -- and redundancy -- in the global food system. It did not used to be the case that a bad wheat crop in Australia or the Ukraine would hit global wheat prices so hard. Moreover, because food is a renewable resource, a level of overconfidence about our ability to respond to demand crept into policy-making and forecasting.

In Part II: Preparing for Higher Food Prices, using the most recent data, I show what’s happened to arable land around the world and talk about how we have created ever more tightly-coupled fragility in our systems of food production. I also chart the relative performance or return on various investments, compared to food, and show that despite the avoidance of the matter, stagflation has now entered the US economy. (How does one cope with flat wages and rising food prices?) Finally, I have just finished reading Julian Cribb’s The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, 2010, and found his discussion of virtual water very much on point, and relevant to our next set of challenges:

In theory, countries that lack water can import virtual water as food commodities with those with plenty. So too, countries that lack the energy to grow all their food can import surplus food from countries with highly productive oil based farming systems--provided they are rich enough to afford it. The fact, however, that a billion people starve while another billion wallow in surpluses of food so huge that they throw away half undermines this idea.

-- from The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb, page 122.

As I discuss in Part II, the United States is also becoming swept up in the globalization of food production, as it remains a titan of commodities exports, on an absolute basis. But the hunger for US food exports has implications for our own population, which struggles with falling (real) wages and depressed purchasing power. Will Americans be able to afford to pay what the world can afford to pay for food?

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/a-punch-to-the-mouth-food-price-volatility-hits-the-world-2/

1979 to 2003 is a 24 year period, not 14.

Doug - thanks for catching this error.  Corrected. 

Genetic modification of crops is a regular source of fear and subject of ridicule on these pages, from readers and commenters but also from the authors and contributers. These comments and news pieces are often unbalanced at best or misguided at worst.  It’s great to finally see ‘official’ reference to a publication that deals with this subject in a balanced manner, although GM was not mentioned in the posting.  I urge all those unsure about or prejudiced against GM crops to pick up Julian Cribb’s excellent book or download the $8 Kindle e-book (you can read it on your PC/Mac with the free Kindle app).
Some of the knowledgeable author’s points:

  • GM crops ‘may have lessened the use of insecticides on farms, leading to cleaner food and a healthier environment’
  • They were poorly introduced (basically without prior notification of the public)
  • ‘…biotechnology offers real promise for tackling some of the fundamental drivers of the coming famine—the shortages of water, land, nutrients, emerging diseases, soil problems, erratic climate, and the like. The world’s food supply is not sufficiently secure that we can afford to turn our back on any technology that may help to address these in a safe and sustainable fashion, and especially one that can accelerate the delivery of new types of crops to meet urgent needs.’
  • ‘For the sake of food security as well as for reasons of consumer preference it will be important to pursue both approaches and not to neglect conventional breeding in favor of molecular methods of plant improvement or vice versa.’
  • ‘GM crops are sometimes depicted by their critics as being characteristic of a Westernized farming system that is anathema to smallholder agriculture. In reality, both sorts of agriculture can take advantage of the tools of biotechnology to reduce inputs of fuel, chemicals, and fertilizer and raise crop resistance to pests and diseases, as they need to do.’
  • ‘biotechnology potentially holds benefits as great or even greater for the small subsistence producer and the organic farmer compared to the large modern commercial farm, as it may enable the small producer to sidestep the high-cost, high-intensity chemical farming route—yet still achieve greater outputs of food. Also, some agricultural challenges may simply not be solvable without the use of biotechnology.’
    Cribb, Julian (2010-07-11). The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It (Kindle Locations 2339-2342). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Errrr…  yes we are!  It’s just we’re not running out NOW, but we started running out the very first time a barrel of oil or a tonne of coal was removed from the Earth’s crust.


 To Isildur22:

If you think that the contributers to this site seem prejudiced against GM foods, I believe that it may be because many here are more likely to know the FACTS of the issue than the average person who may have only heard the propaganda of the biotech industry.
If Julian Cribb states that GM crops 'may have lessened the use of insecticides on farms, leading to cleaner food and a healthier environment' then he is, in fact, NOT very knowledgeable.
I recommend reading the following very well-documented report:
The GMO Emperor Has No Clothes, a Global Citizen's report on the state of GMOs.  
It covers many of the issues with GM crops, including the fact that GM crops have not increased yields in ANY crop, but I have copied some of the section on increased pesticide/herbicide use here to prove my point:
Reduced Use of Chemicals 
Despite claims that genetically modified organisms 
(GMOs) will lower the levels of chemicals 
(pesticides and herbicides) used, this has not been 
the case. This is of great concern both because 
of the negative impacts of these chemicals on 
ecosystems and humans, and because there is the 
danger that increased chemical use will cause pests 
and weeds to develop resistance, requiring even 
more chemicals in order to manage them.
In India:
UÊ A survey conducted by Navdanya in Vidharbha 
showed that pesticide use has increased 13-fold 
there since Bt cotton was introduced. 
UÊ A study recently published in the Review 
of Agrarian Studies also showed a higher 
expenditure on chemical pesticides for Bt 
cotton than for other varieties for small farmers. 
(Are there Benefits from the Cultivation of Bt cotton? 
Review of Agrarian Studies Vol 1(1) JanuaryJune 2011. Madhura Swaminathan* and Vikas 
Rawal)UÊ Non-target pest populations in Bt cotton fields 
have exploded, which will likely erode and 
counteract any decrease in pesticide use (Glenn 
Davis Stone. Field versus Farm in Warangal: Bt 
cotton, Higher Yields, and Larger Questions.World 
Development, 2011; 39 (3): 387)
In the US, due mainly to the widespread use 
of Roundup Ready seeds: 
UÊ Herbicide use increased 15 percent (318 
million additional pounds) from 1994 to 
2005—an average increase of ! pound per 
each acre planted with GM seed—according 
to a 2009 report published by the Organic 
Center. (http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.
UÊ The same report found that in 2008, GM crops 
required 26 percent more pounds of pesticides 
per acre than acres planted with conventional 
varieties, and projects that this trend will 
continue due the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. (http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.
UÊ Moreover, the rise of glyphosate (the herbicide 
in Roundup Up)- resistant weeds has made it 
necessary to combat these weeds by employing 
other, often more toxic herbicides. This trend is 
confirmed by 2010 USDA pesticide data, which 
shows skyrocketing glyphosate use accompanied 
by constant or increasing rates of use for other, 
more toxic, herbicides. (Despite Industry 
Claims, Herbicide Use Fails to Decline with 
GM Crops.” GM Watch. http://www.gmwatch.org/
latest-listing/1-news-items/13089)In Argentina, after the introduction of 
Roundup Ready soya in 1999:
UÊ Overall glyphosate use more than tripled by 
2005. A 2001 report found that Roundup Ready 
soya growers in Argentina used more than 
twice as much herbicide as conventional soya 
growers. (“Who Benefits from GM Crops? 
Feed the Biotech Giants, Not the World’s Poor.” 
Friends of the Earth International, February 
2009). (http://www.foei.org/en/resources/publications/
pdfs/2009/gmcrops2009exec.pdf)UÊ In 2007, a glyphosate-resistant version of 
Johnsongrass (considered one of the worst and 
most difficult weeds in the world) was reported 
on more than 120,000 hectares of prime 
agricultural land - a consequence of the increase 
in glyphosate use. (Ibid)
As a result, it was recommended that farmers use 
a mix of herbicides other than glyphosate (often 
more toxic) to combat the resistant weeds, and it is 
estimated that an additional 25 liters of herbicides 
will be needed each year to control the resistant 
weeds. (Ibid).
 Failed Technology: GE crops do not control pests and weeds,  they create super pests and super weeds Herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops were  supposed to control weeds and Bt crops were  intended to control pests. Instead of controlling  weeds and pests, GE crops have led to the  emergence of super weeds and super pests. In  the U.S., Round Up Ready crops have produced  weeds resistant to Round Up. Approximately  15 million acres are now overtaken by Roundup  resistant “superweeds”, and, in an attempt to  stop the spread of these weeds, Monsanto has  started offering farmers a “rebate” of up to $6 per  acre for purchasing and using other, more lethal  herbicides. These rebates offset approximately  25 to 35 percent of cost of purchasing the other  herbicides. Agronomists around the world are alarmed by the  growing epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds,  also known as superweeds, that have evolved  resistance to glyphosate as a result of the intensive  use of this herbicide.  From November 2007 to January 2011, the number of reports of confirmed  glyphosate-resistant weeds in the U.S. nearly  doubled from 34 to 66. Infested acreage more  than quintupled, from 2.4 to 12.6 million acres.
The other huge issue with GM foods is the potential health risks from eating them.  For anyone who would like more information on that subject, you may wish to read the article here:
Here is a quote:
By early 1996, genetically modified tomatoes had been sold in US supermarkets for more than a year, and GM soy, corn, and cottonseed were about to be widely planted. But not a single peer-reviewed study on the safety of GM foods had been published, and there was not even an agreed-upon protocol for answering the question,"Is this stuff safe?"
The UK government was about to change all that, and Hungarian born chemist Dr. Arpad Pusztai was their man to do it. He beat out 27 competing scientists for a £1.6 million grant to develop a safety testing protocol; it was supposed to eventually be required for all GM food approvals in Europe.
But when Dr. Pusztai fed the GM potato to rats using his new safety testing protocol, he got a shock. Nearly every system in the rats' bodies was adversely affected—several in just 10 days. Their brains, livers, and testicles were smaller, while their pancreases and intestines were enlarged. The liver was partially atrophied. Organs related to the immune system, including the thymus and the spleen, showed significant changes. Their white blood cells responded to an immune challenge more slowly, indicating immune system damage.
On the afternoon of August 11th, two phone calls were allegedly placed from the UK prime minister's office, forwarded through the Institute's receptionist, to Professor James. Dr. Pusztai's hero status was revoked.
The next morning, the director suspended Dr. Pusztai after 35 years of service. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit and his twenty member research team disbanded. The government never implemented their GMO safety testing protocol.
Dr Pusztai is not the only researcher to find adverse health effects in animal feeding studies, and there are many many reports of increased animal illnesses and infertility problems being reported.  Thousands of sheep have died after grazing on bt cotton fields, etc.  In humans, many diseases are increasing over the past 10+ years including allergies, immune disorders, digestive problems etc, and the experts are baffled.  For example, according the CDC, food allergies are up by 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 and are more severe, often requiring hospitalization or resulting in death.  

We are near one major and total cluster f-ck. I am the most optimistic Man you will ever know but when reality smacks me in the face I get just a little peeved, more prepared, and will take whatever measures are necessary. Regards

I’d tend to agree with Mike there. We really are running out of resources. Of course it’s location specific but when everything’s tied into the global market and priced accordingly, we are all in the same boat.
Unless some other new source of oil opens up in Alaska (Americas parklands?), the Alyeska pipeline is threatening to be shut down because it won't have the minimum sustainable flow. The Bakken shale is mostly an urban myth that MAYBE could provide the equivalent of one year's worth of US oil consumption, of course spread out over a 10 year period so it will offer little salvation (remember Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's article the other month about how the US would be a ``Phoenix`` rising to a new era of prosperity because of the Bakken deposit? I dont think he was purposely misleading – I think he truly believed it).
What I find concerning is that we are being told that Alberta oil sand will save us all from Peak Oil … when the whole deposit amounts to 11 years of current global oil consumption (350 billion barrels / 31 billion) … and would require gobbling up 10% of the known global reserves of natural gas to extract due to its EROEI of 3:1 (6.2 quadrillion cubic feet  / 670 trillion) … and this is our savior?!
We are running out of resources because all we’ve done is slide down the EROEI curve from 200:1 Saudi crude to 3:1 Alberta oil sand. And somehow people get duped into believing that building nuclear reactors to turn tar into gasoline is an efficient use of energy resources? That’s "progress" and "technological innovation". Unfortunately, hardly anyone in mainstream-land understands the EROEI concept.
Were being told we have over a century of coal left, and similar for natural gas, and THREE centuries of oil sand. But when Conventional oil extraction rates fall off the cliff soon then all those other more difficult fossil fuels will be called upon to take up the slack, and with the low EROEIs involved in turning them into liquid fuels, all those centuries of deposits turn into about 25 years. We`re putting a LOT of faith in future discoveries.

Oh you’re referring to the Jeffrey Smith who claims he can levitate?  He’s also a ballroom dance instructor when he’s not selling GMO fear.



Gallantfarms shows us once again that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him think. 

But my post was not for the prejudiced and the mind-made-ups, but for the undecideds and the want-to-know-mores.  Regular readers of this site know already that we’re not going to have enough food in the near future, from erosion and liquid fuel and fertilizer shortages post peak oil to name a few reasons.  I, and Julian Cribb clearly, in the interest of minimizing starvation, merely suggest that we not handicap ourselves for the sake of "purity of essence" or because of the vehement opinions of the misled.  As in the case of global warming research, a couple of contrarian scientists (or pseudo-scientists) and weak studies do not overturn the wealth of knowledge that has been gathered as to the safety and usefullness of agricultural biotechnology.  There has never been a documented case of human illness from GM food; we need this technolgy now and will need it more in the future.

Here’s more on GMOs, human health, and Jeffrey Smith, written by actual university food scientists:

GM food options aren’t any riskier than others   from http://thehill.com/opinion/letters/98503-friedman-day-a-reminder-of-govts-growing-deficit

From Bruce M. Chassy, Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Professor of Food Safety, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and David E Tribe,  Senior Lecturer, Food Biotechnology and Safety, University of Melbourne, Australia

Mr. Jeffery Smith (“Genetically modified food introduces host of dangers” May 10) claimed Saenators Lugar and Casey had been duped by the biotech industry because their bipartisan bill states that agricultural biotechnology “shall be used” to conduct research. Mr. Smith would do well to read the language of the bill before offering comment. What the bill attempts to ensure is that biotech research will not be deliberately excluded in the search for solutions by pressure from fear mongers like Mr. Smith. The exact words of the bill: “include research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.” That is the only time the words “genetically modified” appear in the bill.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Mr. Smith, the self-appointed Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology that he created, and author/publisher of two books about the horrors of genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, should attack a bill that seeks to reduce world hunger. To advance his agenda, he chooses to ignore the repeated findings of the National Academy of Science and the National Research Council that GM foods pose no new, special or different risks to the environment or to food safety than crops produced by any other breeding method. Fifteen years of successful harvests of biotech crops by tens of millions of farmers have proven the technology yields environmental and economic benefits and is safe.

And we expect Mr. Smith to ignore the American Medical Association’s (AMA) finding that GM foods are safe to eat and instead favor the words of a tiny splinter group of physicians who formed the American Academy of Environmental Medicine because they could not convince the AMA to accept their radical unscientific positions. We recently launched a website that we call Academics Review (http://academicsreview.org) that exposes each of Smith’s claimed GM food-caused maladies to scientific scrutiny and contrasts them with findings in peer-reviewed scientific research publications. 

Although Smith would have people believe that biotech has been prematurely and irresponsibly unleashed on the world as a result of some conspiracy and must be reined in, in fact quite the opposite is true – if anything needs to be changed, governments need to relax the overzealous, unjustified, and counter-productive hyper-precautionary regulation of GM crops. From a scientific perspective, these crops are no riskier than any other and usually perform better than conventional varieties.

Urbana, Ill., and Moonee Ponds, Australia  




@isildur2 & gallantfarms
I just read that weeds and pests are already getting resistant much, much sooner than expected. Some farmers aren’t following guidelines for maintaining effectiveness. "Weeds and pest will be slow to build resistance unless farmers don’t follow the guidlines/Weeds and pest will be slow to build resistance if farmers follow the guidelines". They never seem to put the if/unless in the press release or reports. I don’t trust anything Montsano or the government tells me anyway.

We don’t need GMOs.  Period.
The problem with modern industrial agriculture is that it’s, well… industrial in nature!  We shouldn’t be fighting Nature, we should be going along with it.  Nature hates uncovered soil and monoculture.  End both, end of problems.  And in any case, traditional GM agriculture STILL needs shedloads of irrigation and fertilisers and ploughing up thousand acre farms, all unsustainable and all requiring loads of Fossil Fuels.  I wonder if Oil and Gas is used as feedstock for the manufacture of Glyphosate?

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1. GM crop yields

First-generation genetic modifications address production conditions (insect and weed control), and have not been modified to increase yield. Yields of both GM and conventional varieties vary depending on growing conditions, such as degree of infestation with insects or weeds, weather, and region of production.i Furthermore:


  • A 2003 report published in the journal Science states that “in the United States and Argentina, average yield effects [of GM crops] are negligible and in some cases even slightly negative”.ii

  • The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2004 report on agricultural biotechnology acknowledges that GM crops can have reduced yields.iii

  • In 1998 several universities carried out a study that demonstrated that, on average, Roundup Ready soy varieties were 4% lower in yield than conventional varieties.iv


i European Commission, 2000. Economic Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops on the Agri-food sector. http://europa.eu.int/comm/agriculture/publi/gmo/cover.htm

ii Qaim, M. and Zilberman, D., 7 February 2003. “Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in

Developing Countries” in Science, vol. 299, p. 900.

iii FAO, 2004. Agriculture Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor? The State of Food and

Agriculture 2003, p. 50.

iv Oplinger, E.S. et al., 1999. Performance of Transgenetic Soyabeans, Northern US.

http://www.biotech-info.net/soybean_performance.pdf and Gianessi, L.P., April 2000. Agriculture Biotechnology: Benefits of Transgenic Soybeans. National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, p. 63. http://www.ncfap.org/reports/biotech/rrsoybeanbenefits.pdf


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4. Reduced soil erosion and fossil fuel use

It is claimed that growing GM crops results in reduced soil erosion and reduced fossil fuel use because no till or reduced till methods are used. However, whilst organic and integrated pest management systems have been successful in no till without the use of herbicides, these are overshadowed by GM and other industrial no-till, which is inherently dependent on the use of herbicides. Both herbicides and pesticides require fossil fuel use for their production and during use. Far from being low impact, this results in a cycle of increased use of herbicides and increased resistance. Dependence on herbicides is storing up future problems such as resistance, as well as health, water, environment and biodiversity impacts.


residue breaks down more slowly? BT gene affects soil microbes ability to break down lignin in stalks? 
there is alot of studies many contradictory esp the recent studies supported by the seed purveyors saying thee is no difference.                                                                                                                                           

GM crops are nothing more than the continued manipulation and financialization of natural processes. A corporations attempt to gain more power and wealth with little or no regard for anything else.There will be the "marketing" of alleged gains in productivity followed someday by the realization that there truly is no free lunch and the true costs to our island will be far more than the alleged benefits were ever worth.
Short term, big ag wins. Long term, we all lose.

@ DantheMatrix: We need GMOs, period.  They certainly do raise yields, which is why nearly every farmer in the Midwest uses them.  We went from 100 bushel/acre corn to 200 now, and the companies say 250 or 300 bushel corn will be here in by 2030 with GMOs.  Now, living in rurual Iowa as I do, I know that some farmers already get 300 bushels, when the year’s weather is favorable for their locality (lots of rain) and when they use advanced seeds .
@jonesb.mta:  Of couse the weeds would evolve!  That’s what all organisms do when selection pressure is applied!  Everyone knew this but you?  The farmers certainly knew it.

@robie robinson  Do you know what farmers mean by the word "residues"?  That’s just the non-kernel plant matter that’s left in the field after harvest.  The second article says that there are more residues, more plant material, because the plants are healthier!   The article says the yields of bt corn are thereby higher.  This is the kind of "problem" that farmers want to have. But you think the ag company should have warned farmers to expect healthy-plant problems when they are selling seeds carrying a gene that kills insects that try to eat the plants?


You know, "Google research" is pretty easy.  Gallantfarms spent just a few seconds to find a floating, dancing GMO risk expert.  One can type just about any word and add the word "dangers"after it and find something that will kill you or the planet if we’re not careful.  Type "dangers organic farming" and you’ll find a host of people (some with advanced degrees) who will tell you it will kill you.  Keep up the good research, boys!

If i were of quick wit and typing ability i’ld keep this going,the argument that is. The farmers here are spraying nitrogen fert. on the stubble that is supposed to be good so it will break down in sufficient time for next crop. http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/extra-n-needed-speed-decay-bt-corn-stalks as you implied one can find something to back up any position.robie,husband,father,farmer

Not every Walmart has groceries, but thoes that do are part of their supply chain. Walmart is the inventor of just-in-time delivery, and they did it by getting their supply chain electronically hooked into their registers, so that suppliers know what is selling and help them resock. Where this fits into food prices really hit me between the eyes this past hoiiday season. It makes Walmart a good gauge of coming food price increases.
I shop at Walmart only very occasionallly, like once every three months, since  I absolutely HATE shopping there but they have certain things no one else around here carries (things I miss from NY). While I am there I like to grab anything they carry that is significantly cheaper than in our local supermarkets - little grocery items like canned mushrooms (mostly canned vegetables and dairy, but also things made with grains) . In November I noticed that all of the things I went to Walmart for were now the same price as in a reglar supermarket. It’s a good thing we are tryiing to depend on neither.

I no longer buy certain things in grocery stores or at Walmart. Pickles and pickled jalapenos are good examples. Let’s talk about pickles. A tray of four kirby (pickling) cukes in the supermarket is $2. An overflowing peck of kirby’s (in seaon) at the flea market stall is $4. (A peck is a 1/4 bushel) At the state farmer’s market, a case (2 bushels) is $18. So, the same volume of pickling cuccumbers as the $18 case is $32 at the flea market, and $64 at the supermarket. The price differentials are the same for tomatoes, jalapenos, beets and apples - and more.

And the only reason I am BUYING cucumbers to pickle is that I’ve not quite gotten growing the cukes in the garden down to a science yet. Seed is even cheaper, and saving heirloom seed is the cheapest of all. If you can, let’s break loose of supply chains and live in abundance - and garden. If you can’t, at least these alternatives might help you make ends meet. (Two bushels too much for you? Then go in with some other familes and share a case of whatever you all like, as sort of an informal food coop) .Just make sure to ask for local produce when you get there.

I don’t disagree that GMO’s are much more productive than natural strains. The issue is how much are those productivity gains dependent on irrigation and synthetic fertilizer inputs? And, when those inputs are reduced or eliminated, how productive will the GMO strains be? Probably less than the historical natural varieties. If there was a way to increase ecological productivity in a sustainable way without irrigation or fertilizer inputs, nature would have already figured it out; she’s had a few billion years to work on it. We are in a classic case of ecological overshoot, and no amount of denial will change that.

First, we had money created out of thin air, now it’s corn…
Biomass is biomass… whether it’s GM or not.  ALL the atoms in a plant have to come from somwhere, and the only places they can come from is the air, the water, and the soil.  So to get three times the yield, you need to find three times the molecular mass, so you’re either depleting the soil big time, or adding three times the inputs.
This year, one of my garden beds generated broccoli heads the size of dinner plates… but I had buried all my pigs’ offals in it!  I can garantee it won’t happen next season…
You NEVER get anything for nothing.
Nature herself may be the best opponent of genetically modified crops and pesticides.  Not only plants, but insects are also developing resistance.  The Western rootworm beetle – one of the most serious threats to corn – has developed resistance to Monsanto’s Bt-corn, and entire crops are being lost. [Image]
Farmers from several Midwest states began reporting root damage to corn that was specifically engineered with a toxin to kill the rootworm.  Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann recently confirmed that the beetle, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, has developed resistance to the Bt protein, Cry3Bb1.

[quote=Damnthematrix]Biomass is biomass… whether it’s GM or not.  ALL the atoms in a plant have to come from somwhere, and the only places they can come from is the air, the water, and the soil.  So to get three times the yield, you need to find three times the molecular mass, so you’re either depleting the soil big time, or adding three times the inputs.
I somewhat agree. However, biomass is composed primarily of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen (and of course water). Carbon is found in endless quantities in the air. Nitrogen can come from either of two sources – from atmosheric fixation of nitrogen gas, or from external application of fertilizers. The atmospheric fixation of N is something that legumes do. They have symbiotic bacteria in their roots which fix nitrogen in return for getting carbohydrates from the plant. So theoretically, both C and N could be fixed in unlimited quantities simply from the air. But in reality, plant fixation of N is limited.
To maintain long term soil productivity all the other minerals also need to be replenished as well, which is why I am a little skeptical that organic methods could sustainably be ramped up to the high rates of productivity that we currently get out of intensive agriculture because with all those nutrients leaving the site via food harvesting, they would also have to be replenished at a high rate. I suppose this could be done organically, but it would require a lot of biomass to be brought on to site to offset the loss, and where would that come from? Ideally what we should be doing is simulating 4 billion years of how nature used to do it and pumping our sewage back onto the fields but that is a huge engineering undertaking and it would need to be sterilized first.
Not that I think that higg intensity industrial agriculture is any more sustainable for producing high yields. That’s why I’m not optimistic that current agricultural yields can be sustained via any method for a long time into the future. There are too many people on the planet, period.

Yep, and that problem will take care of itself at some point.