"Genetically modified technology is absolutely price neutral"

Graham Brookes, an agricultural economist and director of the UK-based PG Economics limited, a research and consultancy organisation, has authored a study on genetically modified (gm)crops. He talks to Sourav Mishra about gm crops

Published: Saturday 15 April 2006

According to you, the net cumulative benefit, since the advent of gm technology in 1996, is US $27 billion. How did you come to that figure?
We considered the legally approved acreage of gm crop across the globe and then economic and environmental benefits were calculated based on nominal price economics.

But nominal price calculations have their limitations, especially because they don't take inflation into account.
Calculating the economics in 21 different countries with different currencies and gm crops is a complicated process, which is why we took to nominal price calculation.

Ideally, the real price based on inflation in different countries should have been taken into account, but the study, 'gm Crops: The Global Economic and Environmental Impact -- The First Nine Years 1996-2004' is fair and has been accepted and published by AgBio Forum, a peer reviewed journal.

Isn't it true that gm seeds are expensive and the technology is not useful for resource-poor farmers? For instance, in India, input costs are very high for those with modest income and clearly they cannot afford gm seeds. Similar instances are found in Argentina as well.
I disagree. The technology is price neutral. In 2005, 8.5 million farmers across the globe planted a total of 90 million hectares (ha) gm crops and 90 per cent of those, mostly in China, Argentina and India, were small and resource-poor, with an average landholding of less than 1 ha. With respect to Bt cotton in India, although the input cost is very high, farmers stand to gain because they save on the cost of pesticides.

Would you say the technology is crop-specific, essentially because most benefits are reaped by soybean growers in the us and Argentina?
No, I disagree again. Soy is grown abundantly and farmers are reaping benefits because us and Argentina accepted the technology much before others. They have an edge over others because they adopted the technology quite early.

Would you agree that the subsidy regime for gm crops in the us is creating a skewed supply situation in agriculture commodities markets?
It is true farmers are getting huge subsidies and a larger planted area thus benefits more.

What is the impact of increase in gm area on environment? How has it affected the greenhouse gas emissions?
The use of pesticides is reduced by 172 million kg (6 per cent reduction volume wise), and the overall environmental footprint from gm crops was reduced by 14 per cent. The use of gm crops promoted reduced tillage and lesser use of energy-led farm vehicles.

An estimated 1,000 billion kg of carbon dioxide emission is reduced, which amounts to removing 20 per cent of all the cars off the road in the uk.

When gm technologies are transferred from a developed country like the us to India, it certainly is not 'most suitable' for Indian conditions, yet the trend continues. Doesn't this amount to dumping?

I understand the problem. But the introduction is only a trial-and-error process. You will get better technology in the second and subsequent generations. The first generation, however, has gained acceptance among farmers.

But in such cases of redundant technology being introduced at higher cost, people resort to developing illegal seeds, like in Gujarat. Do you support this?

No, it's a serious case of Intellectual Property Rights infringement. By doing so, the effort of genuine breeders goes unacknowledged. This also results in losses for companies investing billions in research and development.

What should India's approach towards gm crops be?

If India is trying to become a market economy it must protect the interests of multinationals. This will benefit poor farmers.

Your research portrays a rosy picture about the state of affairs on gm. But there is another school of thought that the study is sponsored. What is your take on the matter?
I despise people who give a wrong notion about a good technology. But I'm an objective researcher and am giving you the appropriate picture. I would term media and ngo s' behaviour as irresponsible.

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