Here’s a question that has always puzzled me. It’s one of the arguments the anti genetic engineering people frequently put forward as a reason we should not plant GM crops. You can read a good example of this argument from Meredith Niles of the Cool Foods Campaign, writing about Prince Charles’ recent anti-GM rant, in the blog Grist. In response to a comment from me, Niles replied (in part):
Considering that GMO seeds are yet another agricultural input that farmers must pay for year after year, rather than saving their seeds, GMO crops may be contributing to [farmers’ financial problems] significantly.
Note the wording, farmers must pay for GM seeds year after year, rather than save seeds. Must. Apparently they have no choice. Which is funny, because I didn’t think that farmers were compelled to use GM seeds. I replied, surely they only "must" pay for them if they want them, and they must only want them if the return is worth the financial investment? Why would they buy GMO seeds unless they are better off doing so?
I haven’t yet received a reply from Niles, but as it’s such a common argument used by the anti-GM crowd I thought I’d throw it open to the masses. Please tell me, why would farmers continue to pay for GM seeds if they don’t get back that monetary investment either in reduced costs (labor, herbicides) or in increased yields? Because it seems to me, unless farmers are just hopeless at basic arithmetic, they would revert to non-GM seeds the moment they realize they are losing out. But I’m willing to accept I might be missing something here, so please tell me exactly what I am missing – why would farmers continue to pay for GM seeds if doing so reduced their overall profits and/or increases their debt?