Anna and Frances Moore Lappé are well known for their ideological antagonism toward agricultural biotechnology, so it is no wonder that every point in their April 24 letter on this subject is insupportable. Their assertion that genetic engineering of crops leaves "cash-poor farmers dependent on buying seeds, fertilizer and chemicals while providing uneven results, increasing weed resistance and undermining biodiversity" isn't supported by the facts.
According to a just-released economic analysis by U.K.-based PG Economics of the impacts of genetic engineering in agriculture from 1996-2011, the net economic benefit at the farm level in 2011 was $19.8 billion, which translates to an average increase in income of $329 per acre. For the entire 16-year period, the increment in global farm income was $98.2 billion—49% of which resulted from lower pest predation and weed-related losses and improved genetics, while the remainder came from reductions in the costs of production.
In 2011, just over half of the gains in farm income accrued to farmers in developing countries, 90% of whom are cash poor and small operators.
Far from providing "uneven" results in the field, genetically engineered crops offer superior, more reliable pest and weed control, and therefore greater economic and food security. Those advantages are reflected by a "repeat index"—the percentage of farmers who choose to plant genetically engineered crops again after trying them once—that approaches 100%. But farmers who don't wish to embrace the new technology can simply purchase conventional seeds.
Henry I. Miller, M.D.