Some people claim that genetic modification, as it is practiced in agriculture today, produces plants that are substantially different from plants that were produced by conventional breeding. Biotech supporters say the technique is precise and limited, so the resulting plants are no different except for the targeted changes (such as insect resistance). Now a thorough review of the scientific literature shows that biotech indeed works as intended. “Suspect unintended compositional effects that could be caused by genetic modification have not materialized,” the authors say. Read more.
Africa urgently needs to improve its agriculture and produce more food, but genetically modified crops are allowed to be grown in only a few countries. A prominent African scientist says that needs to change.
“This technology can help enhance food sufficiency and food security and also help improve farmers’ income,” said Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, a plant breeding expert at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, in Nigeria.
Genetically modified plants are of immense benefit to humans as they will ensure greater yield, he said, according to news reports of a recent conference. Read more.
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.
When it comes to agricultural biotechnology, “most of what people believe is the exact opposite of the truth,” according to Dr. Nina Federoff, board chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Thirty years of research and the planting of biotech crops around the world show that there is “no evidence that modifying plants by molecular technology has any dangerous effects associated with it.”
Dr. Federoff spoke Tuesday at a panel discussion at Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C. She decried the ongoing campaign against genetically modified crops by various activists and said the major traits, such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, are “pretty innocuous” and have no effect on humans.
Rather than harming the environment, biotech can be beneficial, she said, noting that no-till farming preserves soil quality and that the reduction in insecticide spraying means there are more insects and great biodiversity in the fields.
Dr. James Murray, professor of animal science at the University of California at Davis, said genetic modification in food animals has been “overregulated to death.”
“GE livestock, poultry and fish will be necessary to feed the world in the future,” he said. “The greatest risk is that they will not be used. What benefits will we forgo for the hypothetical risks?”
“Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance and not a day for unwarranted food fears,” said Dr. Cathleen Enright, executive director at CBI. “The safety of foods made with ingredients from genetically engineered plants has been well-documented in hundreds of scientific studies and food safety reviews. There has never been a food safety concern associated with genetically engineered food. Never!”
“What can be attributed to GE food production is a reduced carbon footprint, reduced use of pesticides, and greater adoption of sustainable farming practices,” she said. “Consumers can actually feel great about genetically engineered foods because they can help save the planet we all love.”