The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a prominent environmental nonprofit established in 1968 by a group of MIT researchers. Today, UCS advocates for policies to slow climate change and reduce pollution. But the group also opposes “industrial agriculture,” which it describes as “a dead end, a mistaken application to living systems of approaches better suited for making jet fighters and refrigerators.” UCS also claims that biotech companies “unduly influence federal policies in ways that serve corporate interests rather than the public interest,” and lobbies for farming practices it claims are more sustainable.
In April of 2017, UCS issued a “Call for Public Investment in Agroecological Research,” signed by more than 450 scientists and other supporters. Among other things, the statement called for “controlling pests and weeds with fewer chemical pesticides.” It made no mention of the fact that insect-resistant GMO crops have cut insecticide use by as much as 90 percent and overall chemical use has declined 22 percent with the introduction of GMO crops.
UCS’s most significant contribution to the GMO debate was a 2009 report called Failure to Yield, which concluded that transgenic crops failed to increase agricultural yields, contradicting promises from the biotech industry promised. The report was not peer reviewed and was superseded by a 2014 study which found that GMOs increased crop yields by 22 percent worldwide. Failure to yield is still prominently displayed on UCS’s website, however.
The two former UCS scientists responsible for the report, Doug Gurian-Sherman and Margaret Mellon, have since moved on to new positions with the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that “seeks to halt the approval, commercialization and/or release of any new genetically engineered crops until they have been thoroughly tested ….” Mellon also partnered with organic industry-funded agricultural economist Charles Benbrook in a 2014 debate to argue that foods made from GMO ingredients should be labeled. The organic industry group Just Label It also lists UCS as one of its many donor-partners, organizations that “…. support the fight for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.”Just Label It also relies on UCS’s Failure to Yield report to justify its claim “that [GMO] crops have never lived up to their promise of higher intrinsic yields,” despite expert criticism of the report.
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