The study found the use of genetically modified (GM) seed in North America was a major contributor to the difference between the two regions.
The team led by UC Professor Jack Heinemann analysed data on agricultural productivity in the two regions over the last 50 years.
Heinemann said Western Europe and North America are easily comparable because they are very similar in the types of crops they grow, latitude and access to biotechnology, mechanisation and educated farmers.
The findings have been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.
“Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chemicals in the process."
UC Professor Jack Heinemann
“We found that the combination of non-GM seed and management practices used by Western Europe is increasing corn yields faster than the use of the GM-led packages chosen by the US,” Heinemann said.
“Our research showed rapeseed (canola) yields increasing faster in Europe without GM than in the GM-led package chosen by Canada and decreasing chemical herbicide and even larger declines in insecticide use without sacrificing yield gains, while chemical herbicide use in the US has increased with GM seed.
“We found that US yield in non-GM wheat is also falling further behind Europe, demonstrating that American choices in biotechnology penalise both GM and non-GM crop types relative to Europe.
“Europe has learned to grow more food per hectare and use fewer chemicals in the process. The American choices in biotechnology are causing it to fall behind Europe in productivity and sustainability.
“Agriculture responds to commercial and legislative incentive systems. These take the form of subsidies, intellectual property rights instruments, tax incentives, trade promotions and regulation. The incentive systems in North America is leading to a reliance on GM seeds and management practices that are inferior to those being adopted under the incentive systems in Europe,” Heinemann said.