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.
Dr. Nina Federoff, attorney William McConagha, and Dr. James Murray at RFF panel.
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?”
The Indian government would do well to relax regulations on GM crops, and encourage agricultural innovation to promote food security and reduce poverty, stressed environmental activist Mark Lynas in a recent interview with the Business Standard.
When asked how GM technology could benefit India, Lynas responded that the technology can be used to bolster the country’s food security, pointing out that “it can help farmers by reducing the need for pesticides and delivering higher yields for fewer inputs. It can also deliver drought tolerance, and help make Indian farming more resilient in the face of climate change.”
Lynas also described how the adoption of GM crops could contribute to poverty reduction in India. “Raising productivity for poor-country farmers would be the quickest route to attack poverty, and yet the campaigners seem content to see farmers in developing country stuck in an organic version of the Stone Age. GM crops can help protect against diseases, and in some case are the only option - one example is bananas, which are under attack from a new bacterial wilt in Eastern Africa, and for which resistance can only be brought by GM because bananas are sterile and propagated clonally,” he explained. READ MORE »
Mark Lynas’s recent apology for his years of anti-GMO activism and subsequent expression of support for the technology has shifted the entire debate surrounding GMOs, according to Forbes‘ Richard Levick. Levick wrote that that the environmental activist’s speech “wasn’t just an acknowledgement of error. It was the recantation of an agenda.”
Such an about-face based on scientific inquiry by a notable environmentalist strengthens the case for ag biotech, while widening the perimeters of debate. “We hope that the tremendous reaction to the speech by Mark Lynas serves as evidence that honest consideration of the science will change minds about agricultural biotechnology,” says Dr. Cathleen Enright, executive director of the Council for Biotechnology Information in Washington, D.C.
Levick concludes: “The challenge posed to the environmentalists is to rely on science everywhere or rely on it nowhere. If they opt for science, they may discover, or at least need to consider, what Lynas came to believe: that, for example, GM does not increase the use of chemicals as pest-resistant cotton and maize require less insecticide. Or that the mixing of genes between unrelated species is no more unnatural than the gene flows that have driven evolution since life began.” Read more.