Top Scientists Warn That Genetically-Manipulated Crops Could Irreversibly
Change Farm Soil
Monsanto Investing News web page.
Scientists warn of DDT trap.
Dairy Exporter July 1999
The New Zealand dairy industry, in its enthusiasm to adopt
biotechnology, must be careful it doesn't fall into the same trap as the
world did with DDT.
That is because the introduction of genetically engineered products
into the agricultural environment is a "one-way street, but unlike DDT
the pollution from genetic engineering once introduced, will be
self-perpetuating in the soil, the plants, the animals and the rest of
the environment." This is the view of NZ and internationally recognised
soil scientists from Massey University, Dr Max Turner, a soil chemist,
and Dr Neil Macgregor, a soil microbiologist.
Both men consider' themselves objective scientists without anti-science
leanings, though they say that in questioning the value of GE crops and
foods they will probably be labelled 'luddites' by those promoting
genetic engineering, and its products, mainly for the 'profit of the
promoters and at a cost to the gullible'.
"The gains the corporates and their promoters are promising us from GE
will not solve any problems," Dr Macgregor said, "either from the view
of lowering costs or increasing production."
Citing USDA funded research through University of Wisconsin involving
5000 non-GE and 3000 GE soybean crops in 8 US states, he said it had
been found the GE modified crops yielded on average 6% to 8% less than
non-modified crops, and seed plus weed costs rose from around $20 to
between $40 and $00'acre. Less yield and higher costs of production for
the GE crops was not good news. In the United States, already more than
10 million acres has been planted with GE crops, while research is just
starting to assess the environmental risks of the technology.
For New Zealand, Dr Turner said, the only answer to the GE conundrum
was to broaden the debate and extend the research further from just
food safety aspects into the wider implications for land use and soils.
"Nobody has looked at the soil implications," Dr Turner said. "Most of
the current interest is in health and food safety issues, but no one
has taken into account that GE modified crops are likely to leave a
genetic imprint on land on which they are grown.
"For NZ this could mean that land on which these crops grow or on which
GE modified animals roam could lose value. The use of GE products could
limit the versatility of the land in a similar way to what DDT use on
Canterbury cropping and sheep farms has done; These farms have
effectively been devalued because they can no longer be used for
"No one has even thought of the implications of crop residues, from GE
crops, remaining in soils after the crops have been grown and
harvested:' he said.
Dr Macgregor and Dr Turner said they were speaking out on the GE issue
because they felt that some in the dairy industry hierarchy were pushing
GE solutions for problems which did not exist. They believed, as
Independent members of the academic community, it. was their duty to
speak out on controversial issues like GB when other scientists were
not so free to discuss these issues in public.
Dr Max Turner, a soil chemist, is a member of the Soil & Earth Sciences
Group within the institute of Natural Resources at Massey University, a
position he has held for almost 30 years. He obtained bachelor and
masters degrees in agricultural science at Massey and a PhD in soil
science from University of Minnesota. He held a postdoctoral position in
the USDA Plant, Soil & Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell University, New
York, and has been a visiting professor at University of Colorado in
Fort Collins and University of Wisconsin in Madison. He is a member of
the American Agronomy Society, the Soil Science Society of America, NZ
Soil Science Society, NZ Grasslands Association and NZ Agronomy
Society. Dr Turner teaches, or has taught, soil chemistry, soil
fertility, fertiliser matters
to agricultural, veterinary, degree and diploma students at graduate &
Dr Neil Macgregor, a soil microbiologist, is an academic member of the
Soil & Earth Sciences group in the Institute of Natural Resources,
Massey University. He graduated BSc and MSc from University of Otago,
and PhD from Cornell University, New York. He has held faculty positions
at University of Arizona in Tucson and University of Wisconsin in
Madison, and research and technical advisory positions with Institute
National Recherche Agronomique, Montpellier, France, and International
Atomic Energy Agency at Vienna, Austria. A member of OPEG (Organic
Producers Export Group) of Tradenz, Dr Macgregor's primary lecturing
and research activities are in cell biology, soil biology and
biochemistry (e.g., biological nitrogen fixation), and microbiology,
and co-ordinates the Organic Farming Systems course.