An impressively vulnerable crop

July 2015
Maize. Photo Creative Commons
The United States has ambitions for maize.

It expects, not only to maintain its global command of the supply of maize, but that the US share of the world trade in this commodity will grow to a massive 55%.

America also plans to continue to make maize indispensable to the modern life-style.

To understand the significance of this, consider that maize is now used extensively in personal care products such as deodorants, in pharmaceuticals such as aspirin and antibiotics, in adhesives, textiles and dyes, in chemicals such as solvents and acids, in agrichemicals, cardboard, fibreglass and the humble plastic carrier bag. All this is over and above its use as food and food additives (that means 25% of products in US grocery stores), as animal feed, and the 40% of the US maize crop mandated to ethanolic fuel production.

Despite such ambitions, the US agricultural system does not produce exceptional yields [1], nor is it conservative of environmental impact, nor apparently, is it sustainable. In fact, US maize in the field is "impressively vulnerable" to epidemic disease.

Paradoxically, these weaknesses in the system have come about through the very mechanisms put in place to achieve the US ambitions. Subsidies which are paid by the acre of maize grown do nothing to promote yield, less still to preserve the environment, and sustainability doesn't get a look in. The huge areas grown depend on the sort of agricultural mechanisation only possible if the crop is uniform. Uniform crops are only achievable through applications of environmentally-degrading agrichemicals and an absence of genetic variation. Lack of genetic diversity in crop plants pushed to grow uniformly with chemical fertilisers sets the scene for impressive vulnerability to disease.

GM versions of maize didn't create this situation in American agriculture, but they have shored it up admirably. Patents in particular have served to promote GM crops with uniform genetics. Public crop breeding programmes have given way to commercial, GM, crop creation and decimated diversity. All GM traits so far have been designed to simplify weed and pest control in the massive, uniform, stands of maize. Plants with a physiology disturbed by artificial DNA may well be even more impressively vulnerable to disease than their vulnerable, non-GM, cousins.

Subsidies allow the US to sell maize on the world market at only 73% of its production cost. The losers here are developing countries which can't compete, and sustainability which means our future.


This forced global dependence on a single vulnerable crop in a single area sounds like a house of cards. 

A sustainable future can only be built without dependence on maize or GM crops, and unbound by American interests. 

Let's start in Scotland with non-GM, diversified, home-grown, sustainable animal-feed. Perhaps then the rest will get a chance to start sorting itself out? 

Tell your MSP to get on with it. 



  • Jack A. Heinemann, et al., 2014, Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in theUS Midwest, International Journal of Agicultural Sustainability 12:1
  • Emily Cassidy, Claims of GMO yield increases don't hold up,, 27.03.15

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