Science in Society Archive

USDA Gift to Monsanto

The US Department of Agriculture’s give-away insurance rates for GM crops risk bankrupting the public coffers. Prof. Joe Cummins

The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) is part of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) that serves under the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), a Federal Executive Department (or Cabinet Department).The USDA-FCIC safeguards the economic stability of agriculture through a system of crop insurance and provides the means for research in devising and establishing such insurance. It is managed by a Board of Directors, subject to the general supervision of the Secretary of Agriculture.

On 12 September 2007, the FCIC Board of Directors approved a Biotech Yield Endorsement (BYE) pilot programme submitted under section 523(d) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act. The result is that farmers growing Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) maize receives crop insurance at a greatly reduced cost of between 20 and 70 percent.

The BYE programme was crafted by the Monsanto Corporation and its first beneficiary is limited to its GM maize. This insurance bonanza is intended for farmers planting Monsanto’s GM maize that has Bt genes against corn borer and root worm stacked with a gene for tolerance to Round-up herbicide. The FCIC Board of Directors, at its 14 August 2008 meeting, approved additional seed technologies for premium rate reduction for producers planting certain corn hybrid varieties; i.e., those containing Bt genes for corn borer and rootworm stacked with genes for tolerance to herbicides such as glyphosate and glufosinate. The companies benefiting from the largesse of the USDA give-away insurance include besides Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta and Pioneer Hi-Bred [1, 2].

The crop insurance policies insure producers against yield losses due to natural causes such as drought, excessive moisture, hail, wind, frost, insects, and disease [3]. It is clear that the stacked GM maize lines are protected against corn borer and rootworm, but not particularly well protected against drought, excessive moisture, hail, wind, frost and disease, nor against the numerous insect pest that are likely to take advantage of reduced competition from borer or  root worm. It may be that the stacked maize lines will benefit from a USDA give-away insurance that specifically protects against any such secondary insect pests; for they have indeed already emerged in China and India as the result of growing Bt cotton [4, 5] (see Why Prince Charles is Right, SiS 40 and Deadly gift from Monsanto to India, SiS 39)

FCIC is presuming that the stacked GM maize lines will consistently produce more than conventional or organic maize, but that has not been proven scientifically. It is based solely on an act of faith on the part of the USDA bureaucrats.

Why then do these new GM constructs deserve the gift of reduced insurance cost at the US taxpayers’ expense? Have the taxpayers been consulted before such egregious largesse has been doled out to well-heeled farmers and the corporations who licence the GM seeds?

The rest of the farming community may feel especially aggrieved at this blatant display of favouritism on the part of the FCIC. After all, insured organic farmers were not compensated for damages from epidemics of fungal disease, even though the conventional fungicides were ineffective against the fungus disease. It seems that FCAC is taking on the role of sugar daddy to the GM industry and compliant farmers. And that may go a long way towards promoting universal GM farming practices and bankrupting the public coffers.

Article first published 26/08/08


  2. Witt,T Pilot biotechnology yield endorsement Insurance Standaards Handbook  2008 and Succeeding Years,
  3. Crop Policies  Risk Management Agency Actual Production History 2008
  4. Shiva V and Ho MW. Why Prince Charles is right. We need GMO-free food and agriculture for food security. Science in Society 40 (to appear).
  5. Kalaspurkar R. Deadly gift from Monsanto to India. SIS 38 - Letters to the editor. Science in Society 38, 51, 2008.

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