Global status of biotech/GM crops 2016
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Brief 52 documents the latest information on the subject, global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops in 2016 as well as the accumulative data since 1996 (the first year of commercialization), country situations, trends in approval of biotech crops, and future prospects of the technology in the biotech crop growing countries and the world.
In 2016, global hectarage of biotech crops increased from 179.7 million hectares to 185.1 million hectares, a 3% increase equivalent to 5.4 million hectares. Predictions made by James, C. (2015) that the slight decline in biotech crop area in 2015 due to the low global commodity price would immediately reverse once crop prices revert to higher levels were realized – this is contrary to propaganda by critics that biotech crops are failing the farmers. Fluctuations in biotech crop hectarage of this order (both increases and decreases) are influenced by several factors. In 2016, these factors were: acceptance and commercialization of new products in the USA, Brazil and Australia; increasing demand for pork and livestock feeds in Brazil; needs for livestock and poultry feeds in Vietnam; favorable weather conditions and improved market price for maize in the Philippines and Honduras; need to address corn borer infestation in Spain and Slovakia; government’s strategic plan to harness biotechnology and improve economy in Canada; the lifting of the GM ban in West Australia; and consumers demand for more of the clean and healthy brinjal in Bangladesh. Biotech crop hectarage in Myanmar and Pakistan did not change, as in some smaller countries.
A few countries had decreased biotech crop planting due to global low cotton prices such as in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, and high cotton reserve stocks particularly in China and low cotton price in India; low profitability in soybean and competition with maize in Paraguay and Uruguay; environmental stress (drought/submergence) in soybean plantings in South Africa, Argentina and Bolivia; negative biotech perception in China as well as onerous reporting requirements in Czech Republic. Lastly, onerous requirements made farmers in Romania stop planting biotech crops in 2016.
Contribution of biotech crops to food security, sustainability and climate change
Biotech crops contributed to food security, sustainability and climate change by:
- Increasing crop productivity 574 million tons valued at US$167.8 billion in 1996-2015; and 75 million tons valued at US$15.4 billion in 2015 alone.
- Conserving biodiversity in 1996 to 2015 by saving 174 million hectares, and 19.4 million hectares in 2015 alone.
- Providing a better environment
- by saving 620 million kg. active ingredient (a. i.) of pesticides in 1996-2015, and by 37.4 million kg in 2015 alone;
- by reducing pesticide applications, saving 8.1% in 1996-2015, and by 6.1% in 2015 alone;
- by reducing EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) by 19% in 1996-2015, and by 18.4% in 2015 alone
- Reducing CO2 emissions in 2015 by 26.7 billion kg, equivalent to taking 11.9 million cars off the road for one year.
- Helped alleviate poverty by helping 18 million small farmers, and their families totaling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world (Brookes and Barfoot, 2017).
Thus, biotech crops can contribute to a “sustainable intensification” strategy favored by many science academies worldwide, which allows productivity/production to be increased only on the current 1.5 billion hectares of global crop land, thereby saving forests and biodiversity. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea and adherence to good farming practices, such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.
Finally, biotech crops are here to stay and will continue benefiting the burgeoning population with new biotech crops and traits to cater to the needs of farmers and consumers alike. However, even after 21 years of successful commercialization of biotech crops, some challenges remain including:
• First, the regulatory barriers that limit scientific innovation and restricts technology development that would have benefited farmers and consumers.
• Second, the growing trade disruptions brought by asynchronous approvals and thresholds on low level presence in GM crop trading countries. Following the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, countries allow entry of only approved biotech events, and a threshold for unapproved events. Some countries have stringent or long process of approvals that cause problems if imported products contain unapproved events, especially in a stacked event. The report and analysis by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST, 2016) on the Impact of asynchronous approvals for biotech crops on agricultural sustainability, trade and innovation indicate that there are large volumes of trade worth billions of dollars at risk. A thorough research is needed to evaluate the global cost of asynchronous approvals and low level presence (LLP), the impacts of asynchrony on innovation and crop improvements, and the decision-making process of biotech developers, in both the public and private sectors. Timely research and possibly, an international dialogue on trade would inform policymaking and improve the design of policy instruments.
• Third, the need for continuous dialogue among all stakeholders for the expeditious understanding and appreciation of biotechnology, emphasizing benefits and safety. Innovative communication modalities using social media and other forms of venues should be tapped and utilized effectively and immediately.
Overcoming these challenges is a daunting task that requires a cooperative partnership among the North and the South, East and West, and public and private sector. Only through partnerships can we be assured that nutritious and sufficient food will be readily available on the table, stable supply of feed for our poultry and livestock, and accessible clothing and shelter for everyone.