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Study Criticizes Drought-Tolerant Claims for Monsanto Corn

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, and our Farm Issues page.

ST. LOUIS - When federal regulators gave the green light last year to a variety of drought-tolerant corn developed by Monsanto Co., the Creve Coeur, Mo.-based biotechnology giant became the first company to deliver on a much-touted promise to provide farmers with a crop that could withstand drought.

But a report issued last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy organization, said the genetically engineered product fails to conserve water and is only slightly more drought-tolerant than its traditionally bred counterparts in severe drought conditions.

"We think it will be of very little use to farmers," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a plant pathologist and author of the report. "At the same time there seem to be conventional products that are as good or better."

With farmers around the world facing greater - and increasingly erratic - drought, the biotechnology industry has labored to develop crops that will withstand dry conditions. Monsanto and its competitors say that achieving "more crop per drop" has been a major goal, and say they have invested heavily in research. Some industry-sponsored research has put the price tag of developing a genetically engineered crop trait at about $136 million.

The industry's insect- and herbicide-resistant crops now dominate agriculture, with nearly 90 percent of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. containing genetically engineered traits. But achieving a drought-tolerant crop has proved more difficult and complex as a greater variety of genes and conditions control a plant's responses to drought.