For the first time since the introduction of biotech crops almost two decades ago, developing countries grew biotech crops on more land than in industrialized countries in 2012, according to a report released on February 20 by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
Developing nations planted 52% of the global biotech crops in 2012, up from 50% a year earlier and higher than the 48% that industrial countries grew last year. Last year, the growth rate for biotech crops was more than three times as fast and five times as large in developing countries - 11% or 8.7 million hectares (21.5 million acres) in developing countries, versus 3% or 1.6 million hectares, (3.95 million acres) in industrial countries.
“This year’s ISAAA report adds increasing evidence that agricultural biotechnology is a key component in sustainable crop production,” said Dr. Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information. “When you look at the rising number of acres of biotech crops planted each year, it can’t be denied that biotech crops are delivering value to more and more growers around the world.”
Other highlights of the ISAAA report include:
- Last year marked an unprecedented 100-fold increase in total biotech crop hectarage to 170 million hectares, up from 1.7 million in 1996 - when biotech crops were first commercialized.
- In 2012, a record 17.3 million farmers around the world grew biotech crops. This was an increase of 600,000 from 2011. Over 90%, or over 15 million farmers, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
- China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, which together represent approximately 40% of the global population, grew 78.2 million hectares (or 46%) of global biotech crops in 2012. The United States continued to be the lead country with 69.5 million hectares, with an average of 90% adoption across all crops.
- While 28 countries planted commercialized biotech crops in 2012, an additional 31 countries totaling 59 have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import, food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996.
For more information on this year’s report, visit www.isaaa.org.
Recently, there’s been some misinformation circulating about foods that contain biotech ingredients and regulations governing food labeling. Below, get the scientific facts on biotech food safety from the international science community:
1. Biotech Foods are safe to eat
Biotech crops have been cultivated for more than 15 years, and food derived from agricultural biotechnology have been eaten by billions of people without any significant health problems. And, even before the introduction of biotech crops, nature has constantly modified crops as part of the natural balance of gene selection.
2. The Leading Scientific authorities declare biotech crops are safe
The world’s top scientific authorities - such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization the World Health Organization, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences, the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association have concluded that foods containing biotech ingredients pose no more risk to people than any other food.
3. The U.S. authorities responsible for regulating biotech products declare they are safe
The Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection will not approve biotech products until they are proven safe for human consumption and safe for the environment.
4. Biotech Foods are “indistinguishable” from foods produced through traditional methods
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations state that requiring the labeling of foods that are indistinguishable from foods produced with biotech ingredients would mislead consumers by falsely implying differences where none exist.
For more information on biotech labeling, visit: http://www.bio.org/sites/default/files/200103biotech_ag_faq_1.pdf and the FDA’s Guidance for Food Labeling
In a GreenBiz article, business and sustainability writer Marc Gunther writes that he supports agricultural biotechnology solutions to help feed the planet. He speaks with Steve Savage, an agricultural scientist with a PhD in plant science from the University of California at Davis, who draws from USDA data to point out that organic agriculture alone doesn’t produce enough food to ensure global food security since only a small percentage of total cropland is organic.
“I never have any problem with anybody farming, including organic farming,” Mr. Savage says, “just as long as people aren’t under the illusion that they’re saving the planet that way.” He adds, “A less than 1 percent solution after 30 years isn’t a big solution, and we do need a big solution.” Read more.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack
According to Western Farm Press, the USDA released data showing record agricultural exports and strong farmer income this year. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Strong exports have enabled agriculture to remain one of only a few sectors of the U.S. economy to enjoy a trade surplus. This year’s surplus is projected at $42.5 billion-a record-and next year should be $32 billion, the third-highest.” Read more.
US farmers worldwide recognize benefits of ag biotech
The American Council on Science and Health said US farmers around the world have adopted biotech and it has revolutionized farming. The article also points out scientific research supporting the safety and nutrition benefits of biotech crops. Read more.
Iowa family farmer calls for reduced regulatory barriers to biotech crops
Tim Burrack, a corn and soybean family farmer in Iowa and board member of Truth about Trade & Technology, supports Dr. Nina Fedoroff’s op-ed in the New York Times about removing costly regulatory burdens for the approval of biotech crops. In an AgWeb blog he says, “All farmers should thank Fedoroff for her advocacy-and demand that we take back our regulatory system before it deprives us of the tools we use to produce the food that the world needs.” Read more.
The Atlantic Food Summit, sponsored in part by the Council for Biotechnology Information, brought together experts on Tuesday, April 26th, for a panel discussion on the meaning of sustainable agriculture and ways to reconcile different perspectives on agricultural production to feed the world sustainably. Watch the video of the sustainable agriculture panel here (54:00 minute mark).
Nina Fedoroff, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society, pointed out the importance of using all agricultural methods available to feed the world sustainably - including organic, conventional and biotech. She explained that genetically modified crops allow farmers to decrease pesticide applications, soil tilling, water run-off and waste.
Dr. Fedoroff said two policy reforms that would promote sustainable agriculture include: 1) putting agency authority for biotech product deregulations in a central location, rather than requiring interaction with three separate agencies, to help streamline the biotech product approval process, and 2) reducing costly regulatory barriers. She emphasized that technology is essential for providing enough food to feed the world. “My view is: let’s use the most modern day methods and modern science to increase productivity.”
Molly Jahn, Professor at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also supported an inclusive agricultural policy. “Every technology that maximizes input and minimizes the environmental burden is critical.” Dr. Jahn and Sarah Alexander from the Keystone Center explained some of the efforts they are spearheading to bring diverse stakeholders to the same table to tackle these challenges, such as the Keystone Center’s Field to Market initiative.
The full panel included:
- Sarah Alexander, Director of the Environment Practice, The Keystone Center
- Nina Fedoroff, President, American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Gary Hirshberg, Chief Executive Officer, Stonyfield Farm
- Molly Jahn, Professor at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Corby Kummer, Senior Editor at The Atlantic (moderator)
Click here to watch the sustainable agriculture panel discussion and the rest of the food summit.