Friday, February 13, 2015

New Report Confirms Biotechnology Crop Growth

By USW Policy Specialist Elizabeth Westendorf
At the end of January, The The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its 2014 report on the global status of commercialized crops with traits derived from biotechnology. The report, dedicated to the late Nobel Peace Laureate and renowned wheat breeder Norman Borlaug to honor his birth centennial, outlines global biotech production, areas of growth and the effect of biotech crops on farmers’ livelihoods.
Some of the key points from the report were: •Twenty-eight countries produced biotech crops commercially last year, involving 18 million farmers and 181 million hectares of land;
•Twenty were developing countries and 90 percent of the farmers from these countries were small, risk-averse and poor;
•Bangladesh was the newest addition, with Bt eggplant commercialized and planted in 2014;
•Repeat planting among farmers was at virtually 100 percent, indicating that farmers see economic benefits from the technology;
•Biotech food crops planted in 2014 included white maize, sugar beet, sweet corn, papaya, squash, and eggplant; U.S. regulators also approved the Innate™ potato, which is resistant to bruising and lowers the already low risk of human exposure to acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, traits that directly benefit consumers;
•Thirty-eight countries granted 3,083 regulatory approvals for 27 biotech crops and 357 biotech events since 1994, while Japan has granted the most approvals at 201 events.
The United States is still the largest producer of biotech crops, with 73.1 million hectares in production and eight different biotech crops commercialized. Last year, there was increased adoption of drought tolerant maize, which increased 5.5 fold from 2013.
Breeders are studying potential biotech traits in wheat in the United States, but also in Australia, the United Kingdom, China, Canada and other countries. A number of African countries are developing biotech varieties for staple crops that will help smallholder farmers, and field trials for drought tolerant and pest resistant wheat have taken place in Africa in the past.
The report also referenced a 2014 meta-analysis conducted by Klumper and Qaim, which analyzed 147 published studies on biotech crops over 20 years and confirmed the benefits of the technology. The study concluded that biotech crops on average reduce pesticide use by 37 percent, increase yields by 22 percent, and increase farmer profits by 68 percent. The authors estimated that the reduction in pesticide use due to biotech crops has kept 500 million kilograms of active ingredient out of the environment.
In addition to the huge successes in biotechnology, non-biotech innovation continues to show excellent results. The report highlights several types of technology developed for biotech research that researchers are applying with excellent results in non-biotech crop breeding.
The efforts by a vocal minority to create unwarranted fear of these innovations among the world’s consumers complicates the daunting task for farmers who must increase food production by 60 percent to feed a population that will top the nine billion mark by 2050. Wheat makes up 20 percent of human calories and farmers will have to produce more and better wheat, more efficiently and more sustainably in the future. We must recognize consumer choice, yet we must also consider all the options available to the people we depend on to feed us every day — and the ISAAA report reflects consistent growth in adoption of biotechnology even in the face of such opposition.