Biotech Corn's Positive Externalities

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I wonder which side features the non-biotech corn?

Science published yesterday a study which found that growing insect resistant biotech corn provided big economic benefits not just to the farmers that grow it, but also to farmers that grow conventional varieties. How? The abstract explains:

Transgenic maize engineered to express insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) has become widely adopted in U.S. agriculture. In 2009, Bt maize was planted on more than 22.2 million hectares, constituting 63% of the U.S. crop. Using statistical analysis of per capita growth rate estimates, we found that areawide suppression of the primary pest Ostrinia nubilalis (European corn borer) is associated with Bt maize use. Cumulative benefits over 14 years are an estimated $3.2 billion for maize growers in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, with more than $2.4 billion of this total accruing to non-Bt maize growers. Comparable estimates for Iowa and Nebraska are $3.6 billion in total, with $1.9 billion for non-Bt maize growers. These results affirm theoretical predictions of pest population suppression and highlight economic incentives for growers to maintain non-Bt maize refugia for sustainable insect resistance management.

This beneficial pest reduction effect has also been reported in cotton crops in the U.S. and China. Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.

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  1. But your pollen is interfering with my Arcadian role playing fantasy of purity!

    I will smite you with my +5 Mace of Onanism if you don’t keep your nasty modern pollen out of my medieval fantasy!

    1. Had lunch today at the Sea Salt Eatery:

      http://seasalteatery.wordpress.com/

      While there, I saw some hipster dude with a shirt that read “Forest People”. I had all I could do to keep from asking him if that was anything like The Village people and then punching him in the nuts.

    2. But your pollen is interfering with my Arcadian role playing fantasy of purity!

      HOW DARE YOU!

  2. That pest supression helps those who don’t engage in it is not a bit surprising.

    If the entire city goes to war on rats except your neighborhood, you’re still to have less of a rat problem.

    1. Not so much, rats aren’t stupid, they’ll go where there is no war on them (think sinking ship)i.e your neighborhood…better watch out for corn borers you chump.

      1. Reminds me of the story someone told me about when they were building the Pentagon. They had to drain a large swampy area, which drove out all the rats who then moved into Arlington. So there was this huge march of rats into Arlington because of the Pentagon.

  3. Say, isn’t that an externality for the neighboring farmers?

    In keeping with the general theme of our eco-buddies that externalities should be paid for, I’m looking forward to posts from the usual suspects about how these conventional farmers should have to pay a pest suppression fee to their bio-engineered neighbors.

    Right?

    1. I nominate this to replace the official Friday Funny today.

      1. Seconded. Let’s her it, Chad.

    2. No, you’re hurting their livelihood. The enviro puritans love to torture themselves with unnecessary work, you see.

    3. I worship you in all of your brilliance.

    4. Niiiicccceeee.

    5. In keeping with the general theme of our eco-buddies that externalities should be paid for, I’m looking forward to posts from the usual suspects about how these conventional farmers should have to pay a pest suppression fee to their bio-engineered neighbors.

      Would this apply to fishing also? I have been curious about the economic benefit the artificial reef of an offshore oil drilling rig produces. How many millions were made by fisherman as a result of BP offshore rigs?

  4. It doesn’t taste as good as real, organic corn!

    1. Corn is gross. No amount of biotechness can change that.

      1. yeah, but where else you gonna get HFCS? tell me that , fatso.

  5. Meh, this is all counted in $$ saved, and not the abstract goodness of *organic realness*, which is unquantifiable but which trumps all ‘data’.

    Seriously though, I don’t think any # of studies like this do anything to crack the worldview of the anti GM crowd. What would? Its ‘self sustaining’… not needing any input from the outside world at all…

  6. Those cobs on the left look like they’ve been jammed up someone’s butt. If that butt had teeth.

    1. wishing it were your butt?

      1. Are you asking if sage wishes his butt had teeth? I guess that would come in handy in prison.

  7. For those that don’t know, fresh corn is very, very nice. Once picked, it quickly begins to convert its sugars to simple carbs, diminishing the flavor.

    1. I refuse to eat sweet corn that was picked more than a day before it is to be eaten.

  8. “Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.”

    And maybe some day pigs will fly. Those organic nut jobs are so far removed from reality, that no amount of facts will change their religious views. Kind of like those who think “alternative” energy is viable.

    1. The issue lies mostly in the fact that if their seed stock crop gets contaminated with altered genetics, they can lose their organic certification.

  9. So Monsanto doesn’t sue you if your corn gets accidently GM’d?

  10. “Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.”
    This presumes that ‘organic growers’ are interested in their product rather than making a political statement. I doubt it.

    1. I think most of them are interested in making money, and as long as there are gullible people out there who will believe “organic” taste better simply because of the label and the power of persuasion, they will be “organic”.

      1. That would be the difference between “organic” farmers and “organic farmers”. The first simply being farmers that are meeting a demand, while the second is really all about the identity.

        1. I actually really suspect that the identity is probably the most important thing to most of them. It’s certainly the important thing to the vast majority of my friends & acquaintances who are true-believers of the organic “lifestyle”.

          They’re not true believers in rational though, good science or legitimate health concerns… They just like the image.

  11. “Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.”

    Mayby your not familiar with the concept property rights. If I were an organic farmer and you did something that caused my crops to be non organic we have a problem. You have destroyed my ability to sell my corn as organic (unless I want to lie about it).

    1. Also, insect resistance isn’t the only thing that comes out of GM. There’s the Terminator gene and the Roundup Ready gene.

      If Monsanto finds out that your farm has been contaminated by their patented genes, then that’s infringement on your part and that’s a suing.

      Isn’t THAT what all the fucking fuss is about?

      1. Juice: The so-called Terminator gene combination is not commercially available anywhere. BTW, that particular gene combination would prevent any “contamination” of organic or conventional crops by biotech pollen.

        With regard to RR, it’s like that using it also kill weed populations that might spill over into organic plots — thus is also possibly a positive externality.

        With regard to Monsanto suing people, could you be referring to the case of convicted seed thief Percy Schmeiser?

        1. How about Indiana farmer, Troy Roush?

    2. Heinrick: Whose property rights are being violated? May I suggest a quick read of Ronald Coase’s The Problem of Social Cost [PDF]. For a shorter analysis, see my column, Organic Law, which looks at the proper way to allocate burdens between organic and biotech farmers.

      1. Just a heads up, the PDF link doesn’t link to anything. =P

    3. They are still carbon-based, right? Then they cannot be non-organic by definition.

      … Hobbit

  12. At last, a solution to our nation’s meagre corn crops! Finally America will have enough corn.

    1. Gotta grow somethin’ in order to get that subsidy, you know.

  13. Biotech Corn’s Positive Externalities

    Science published yesterday a study which found that growing insect resistant biotech corn provided big economic benefits not just to the farmers that grow it, but also to farmers that grow conventional varieties.

    Based on how “externalities” are treated in mainstream economics books, when will the government start to ask the supposed “beneficiaries” for payment? You know, as a way to “internalize” these “benefits”?

    I can think of a case just as “compelling” and just as wrongheaded:

    There’s a positive externality that comes from people getting a good night’s sleep, because well-slept people do not crash their cars so often against one. So, the government should make people take their nighty-night time early because, clearly, not doing so would represent a cost to everybody else.

    See? “Externalities.”

  14. Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.

    That is, until the biotech companies take over the organic farmers’ property through reliance on those copyright/patent laws Brian Doherty is so fond of…

    See? “Externalities.”

  15. Ron Bailey,

    I’ve been doing something lately that really takes people by surprise. When anyone brings up externalities without specifying that they’re talking about the negative ones(and they always are), I assume they’re talking about the positive ones, which makes rational sense to assume because they’re much more common, and say something like “I know aren’t they wonderful?”. It really shocks them but it gets a good conversation going.

    It’s a wonder more people don’t write about positive externalities. Maybe their ubiquity makes them uninteresting to people or people don’t like feeling like they owe a debt of gratitude to billionaire corporations but I find it very interesting and hope to hear more cases. Thanks Bailey.

    1. Re: Fiscal Meth,

      It’s a wonder more people don’t write about positive externalities.

      They’re not sexy enough to justify the existence of the State, FM.

      1. It would be best to ban positive externalities so the state can grow up big and strong.

  16. OFF TOPIC, but I figured I’d put it here because Bailey writes so much about science and the environment:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/…..z11iqEfuN9

    (Via Drudge)

    A state environmental agency lied about (sorry, miscalculated) environmental pollution by 340% to get new regulations passed. Who’da thunk?

  17. Off topic, but Drudge is linking to a report that the CA Dept of Environment overstated diesel polution by 340% in order to get a regulation passed.

    (The server squirrels won’t let me post the link.)

  18. Yeah, I found it… Basically, they pulled an East Anglia on California…

  19. Whether positive or negative, “externalities”, strictly defined, are inherently gratuitous and uninvited. Thus, a positive one can be enjoyed gratuitously, while a negative one can be rightfully subject to a demand for compensation. Only a false symmetry would indicate that positive externalities should be compensated in an exact inverse of compensation for negative externalities.

  20. I wonder if the Taco Bell lard-butts posting their contempt for “organic food” on this thread realize that the Franken-corn at issue is basically inedible for humans and can only be used for animal feed and processed products, while organic corn is actually meant to be eaten by people as a fresh or frozen vegetable.

    1. Denny – you’re pretty dense.

      The vast majority of corn (going from memory here – something over 95%) is dent corn aka field corn – cereal corn, not sweet corn. You’re obviously confusing the two.

      Dent corn is the stuff you’d grind (like wheat) and make – oh, I don’t know, corn bread or corn tortilas out of. Because, after all, corn meal (corn flour?) is processed about as much as wheat flour. Hmmm…take dent corn kernals, 2 big stones, grind….yeah, processed.

      So yes, I DO like my processed food (stealing from an article I read recently, here perhaps) – cheese, butter, bread, dried fruits, beer, whiskey, wine…all of which process quickly spoilable fresh food, or other wise inedible food (how’s that bowl of raw wheat doing you there Danny?) and turning it into longer lasting or far better tasting and better digesting “processed” food.

    2. Danny|10.8.10 @ 6:08PM|#
      I wonder if the Taco Bell lard-butts posting their contempt for “organic food” on this thread realize that the Franken-corn at issue is basically inedible for humans and can only be used for animal feed and processed products, while organic corn is actually meant to be eaten by people as a fresh or frozen vegetable.”

      I wonder if Danny was born an ignorant, self-righteous twit, or did he have to study?

  21. But…but…but, that’s not real science, like that of AGW. And believe me, as the guardians of science, only we get to decide what real science is.

  22. It’s just like you people to spin your pollution of organic farmers crops as a benefit. Organic farmers don’t want or need your “positive” externality (mutant pollen drifting into our crops). We regard it as a negative.
    Most insects aren’t even really bad for crops, they are part of the ecological system that exists in a healthy field. Eliminating all the insects and thus killing off the natural crop field ecosystem harms the environment.

    An ideal organic field has a variety of so-called “weeds” and “pests”, most of which make the soil healthier, and which provide habitat to local wildlife.

    So what if crop yields are a bit lower. Efficiency isn’t everything.

    1. Organic Girl|10.8.10 @ 8:16PM|#
      “Organic farmers don’t want or need your “positive” externality (mutant pollen drifting into our crops). We regard it as a negative.”
      Of course you do; you’re an ignoramus.

      “Most insects aren’t even really bad for crops, they are part of the ecological system that exists in a healthy field. Eliminating all the insects and thus killing off the natural crop field ecosystem harms the environment.”
      Since no one suggested otherwise, you’ve just tackled that strawman brain-deads rely on.

      “Most insects aren’t even really bad for crops, they are part of the ecological system that exists in a healthy field. Eliminating all the insects and thus killing off the natural crop field ecosystem harms the environment.”
      Now you’ve really got a head-lock on that strawman!

      “So what if crop yields are a bit lower. Efficiency isn’t everything.”
      Of course not! Why, just clear-cut and plow that other twenty acres and claim you’re ‘green’!
      Pathetic…..

      1. It will be green, since all the acres will be habitats for wildlife and insect life. They won’t be monoculture crops, they’ll be living ecological systems, complete with all the normal aspects of a natural field.

          1. Sean,
            That won’t do it. It’s like pointing out to a bleever that there isn’t a shred of evidence for their fave sky-daddy.

            1. At least most of them recognize that it’s a faith-based choice they’re making on metaphysics.

              And they can always rightly claim I can’t prove a negative.

              In the case of folks like Organic Girl, there is a clear, demonstrable, obvious and provable set of facts in question.

          2. The “appeal to nature” isn’t a fallacy. Something that has been proven to be healthy by millions of years of evolution has been tested by time and natural selection. It’s doesn’t mean “it’s good because it’s natural”, it means “what’s natural must work, or it would have died off”.

            Sadly, humanity may be one of the things that will soon be weeded out by natural selection. Either that or the industrial corporate capitalist monstrosity.

            1. “Something that has been proven to be healthy by millions of years of evolution has been tested by time and natural selection. It’s doesn’t mean “it’s good because it’s natural”, it means “what’s natural must work, or it would have died off”.

              You’re seriously using this argument about the European corn borer’s role in American corn fields? Um, maybe you should save your sympathy for something non-invasive.

  23. Organic Girl|10.8.10 @ 9:37PM|#
    “It will be green, since all the acres will be habitats for wildlife and insect life. They won’t be monoculture crops, they’ll be living ecological systems, complete with all the normal aspects of a natural field.”

    “Natural” as determined by ignoramuses such as you?
    You wouldn’t know “natural” if it sat on your face; it’s nothing other than one more religious fantasy.
    Pathetic….

  24. The objection to GM crops derives from basically the same irrational fear that made medieval people call trees that had been grafted (manipulated contrary to nature) “imp-trees.” They believed anyone falling asleep under an imp-tree was subject to abduction by faeries. (See, for example, “Sir Orfeo.) Current fears omit the faeries but have a basis just as irrrational.

    In time, people come to terms with such “unnatural” manipulations, and eventually they stop even thinking about them. Just about every fruit you buy these days, either in the supermarket or from an “organic” orchard, comes from a grafted tree–an imp-tree that has lost its supernatural aura.

    Same thing will happen to GM crops. If precedent holds, it may take a couple of centuries, though.

    1. “If precedent holds, it may take a couple of centuries, though.”

      That’s the depressing part.

    2. 100% correct.

      Nearly all the varieties of fruits and veggies that we consume today are “FrankenFood”, forced mutations.

      Google “Luther Burbank”

      … Hobbit

    3. How can you be sure that faeries (the little people) don’t exist?

      Some people have a hard time understanding mystical realities. But in the old days before industrial civilization separated us from the natural world, communing with the spiritual world, including encounters those entities called ‘the fae’ was often heard of.

      When you live in harmony with the planet, you become more attuned to the unseen.

      1. Yeah, and Earth is full of outer space aliens too!
        I know because I am one!!

        1. I do believe it is. But I doubt they use the internet. Except maybe to study us.

  25. Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.

    Because farmers love being sued by Monsanto for everything they own all the time.

  26. Fools who put all of their eggs into one basket deserve what they get. In this case, it’s gonna be famine.

  27. “The objection to GM crops derives from basically the same irrational fear ”

    Sometimes, but the more intelligent critics point to the attempt to violate every rule and principle of sound agriculture. Incredibly limited genetics which are too weak to survive in nature with no adaption to local environments = EPIC FAIL.

  28. “Maybe some day organic growers will stop worrying about a little bit of harmless pollen drift from biotech crops and welcome the pest protection spillover benefits provided by their biotech farmer neighbors.”

    The destruction of private property is not a libertarian principle. Goes well with your fascism/statism though Mr. Ron Bailey

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