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January 13, 2010

It's Soooo GM-Over

by John Phipps

Iam calling this tipping point first. The opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops has jumped the shark, nuked the fridge, teetered into lameness. 

I know barriers remain, such as various European Union and Japanese sanctions and GM wheat. My prediction is simply for an inflection point in increasingly futile resistance.

My opinion is prompted mostly by the evaporation of premiums for non-GM corn. I shall miss that 65¢ next year. Especially since my conventional corn was better than my triple-whack. Except for the lucky dudes along the river, those markets have dwindled as economically hard-pressed customers grit their teeth and eat GM grits to save money.

Not So Bad After All. But the more telling development is the relentless stream of time. We've been feeding folks Roundup Ready soybeans since 1996. And guess what? Despite every investigative effort by hostile science, no evidence of problems has come to light. The streets are not littered with the corpses of GM victims, no long-term effects have even been suspected and the finding of "substantially equivalent” has been upheld.

Fourteen years is pushing a generation, and consequently anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) campaigns could soon be something that belongs to people who dress too young and do weird things with their hair to disguise retreating hairlines. It may become the double-knit leisure suit of food issues.

In fact, remaining resistance to properly approved GMOs may accrue mostly to marketing blunders, in my opinion. For example, consider the difference between Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and rBST. RR beans were a game changer—a quantum leap in productivity. Furthermore, they were priced to encourage rapid adoption before objectors could imagine consumer problems. Thus by the time unreasonable fears became fashionable, not only was the soybean supply thoroughly infused with GM material, an enormous and politically powerful body of fans (farmers) were on board to mount a strong defense of the technology.

Contrast this to rBST. This incremental productivity advancement was priced too close to the value point for dairy farmers. As such, adoption was slower and fewer producers shed tears when it fell from favor. Another difference was the proximity in the production chain to the consumer as compared with soybeans, which are primarily used as feed. Consequently, marketing GM products directly to consumers may require a higher producer premium to develop the fan base needed to withstand initial resistance.

Similarly, RR wheat likely needs to be a slam dunk for farmers, at least for the first few years. Adding additional traits to corn is looking less like a guaranteed booster. Such technologies call for a farsighted and flexible business plan.

One question is whether farmers will perceive the value of GM crops as less when they are not under siege. If they are not defending it, will it seem like just another entitlement?

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - JANUARY 2010

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