Farmer's Choice of Seeds Constrained by GM Crop Adoption

A study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe comparing farmer's seed options in Europe has found that "in the three studied non-adoption countries, farmers have more maize cultivars available to them today than they had in the 1990s despite restricting GM maize, while in Spain, the only GM adopting country [studied], overall numbers of cultivars to choose from for a farmer have declined and increasingly have become a choice among GM cultivars."

In addition, the study found that yields in non-adopting European countries seem to have stayed competitive with yields in GM adopting countries, with European maize yields having been regularly as high or higher than in the US, except in severe drought years.

The authors further note that, "it seems that also improving or protecting yield through adding other traits, such as drought tolerance, can be achieved no less effectively with improvements in breeding tools that do not require genetic engineering."

Thus, the key point made by the study is that "GM is neither the obvious way to increase yields nor is its introduction consistent with increasing agricultural biodiversity through cultivar diversity".

The authors intend to pursue further research on questions that the results of their analyses raise, for example:

- What do our findings mean for genetic diversity and germplasm preservation for meeting future needs?

- To what extent are highly restrictive intellectual private property rights granted in the form of patents driving the replacement of non-GM varieties with fewer numbers of GM-varieties?

- In turn, how does this impact monopolization of the commercial seed market?

The authors conclude that, "The diversity of cultivars also provides choices relevant to local adaptation, and as a society, we are also interested in deeper choices that have long term effects on the resilience of the agroecosystem that farmers make explicitly or unconsciously. For those choices, farmers would need to have access to as much diverse germplasm as possible without legal restrictions. Farmers knowledge would need to be included into the breeding efforts so that cultivars would be developed that serve the farmers' needs rather than the needs of seed industries."

We reproduce the abstract below. The full article is available at

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Farmer's choice of seeds in four EU countries under different levels of GM crop adoption

 Angelika Hilbeck, Tamara Lebrecht, Raphaela Vogel, Jack A Heinemann and Rosa Binimelis

Environmental Sciences Europe 2013, 25:12 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-12

Published: 20 May 2013

Abstract (provisional)


It has been hypothesised that farmers in countries that do not adopt GM crops do or will have fewer seed options. By extension, there is concern that the choices made by countries that have so far rejected GM crops have had an impact on their productivity. To estimate how much real world choice maize farmers have in countries with different degrees of GM crop adoption (Austria, Germany, Spain, Switzerland), we used surveys of seed catalogues from local and regional seed suppliers, transnational seed corporations and public national and European seed registration catalogues as an approximation for real world choices available to farmers. We further compiled and analyzed yield data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO to compare yields over the same period of time in GM-adopting and non-adopting countries.


We found no evidence that restrictions and regulations of GM crops in Europe have decreased seed choices for farmers in the non-adopting countries Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In contrast, we observed that in Spain, which has adopted GM maize, the seed market was more concentrated with fewer differentiated cultivars on offer. In Spain, overall numbers of maize cultivars declined, with an increasing number of non-GM cultivars being replaced by GM cultivars. Moreover, there was no detectable yield advantage in GM-adopting countries, even when we extended our analysis to the United States.


In the non-adopting European countries of our analysis, farmers have more maize cultivars available to them today than they had in the 1990s despite restricting GM-varieties. Along with the increasing adoption of GM cultivars in Spain, the studied GM-maize adopting country in Europe, came a decline in farmers' choices of total numbers of available maize cultivars, both among desired GM-cultivars and non-GM cultivars.