GMO Crops Gaining Ground

Despite the campaigns against Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) crops, hundreds of millions of farmers, including smallholders, have placed their trust on such crops, reaping numerous benefits like not having to rely largely on chemicals to control pests.

Those who have campaigned against Bt crops contend that proteins from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis could cause harm to human health and the environment, among others.

But so far, there has been no solid evidence of crops engineered with Bt harming human health and the environment. On the contrary, using Bt crops provided positive benefits, as reduced use of chemical pesticides is definitely good for our health and the environment. And we should not fear Bt because it is a natural or organic substance used since the 1950s as a natural insect control agent. You can even find natural pesticide products for sale in the internet that has Bt as the active ingredient.

So, what is the fuss over Bt crops?

The article “One billion acres of Bt crops, zero ‘unintended’ consequences” by Justin Cramer published in allianceforscience.cornell.edu, concludes that “in the 20-plus years that Bt crops have been grown on more than one billion acres — some 247 million acres in 2017 alone — there have been ‘no unintended adverse effects’ to non-targeted species.”

“When Bt crops replace synthetic chemical insecticides for target pest control, this creates an environment supportive of the conservation of natural enemies,” the article added.

It further said that using Bt crops and reducing pesticide use have a “halo” effect “that also benefits farmers who do not use the modified crops.”

That is good news to those who have opened their minds to using biotech crops or genetically modified organism (GMO) crops.

The study came to the conclusion that Bt-transgenic crops have shown efficacy in controlling targeted pests such as stemborers for maize, bollworms for cotton, and shoot borers for eggplant.

Latest ISAAA findings

The website of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) posted in June 2018 the briefer “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017” stating there were two studies showing the environmental and social benefits of adopting biotech/GMO crops.

The studies were PG Economics’ “GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2016,” and ISAAA’s “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017,” which complement each other.

Commenting on the findings of the two studies, ISAAA Chairman of the Board Paul Teng said: “Biotech crops offer enormous benefits to the environment, health of humans and animals, and contributions to the improvement of socioeconomic conditions of farmers and the public.”

“The recent production of next generation biotech crops –— including apples and potatoes that are not likely to spoil or become damaged, anthocyanin-enriched super sweet pineapple, increased ear biomass and high amylose content maize, and soybeans with modified oil content, combined with the commercialization approval for an insect resistant sugarcane — provides more diverse offerings to consumers and food producers,” he added.

The way forward

While GMO/biotech crops have proven their worth also in increasing yields, they should be treated as one of the technology options that smallholder farmers and agribusiness enterprises can adopt. This means we still cannot treat GMO/biotechnology crops as the “Holy Grail” for agriculture.

And with the Fourth Industrial Revolution starting to influence agriculture, the technology options for farming and fisheries are now numerous like artificial intelligence, drones, geomapping and data analytics, among others. And let us not forget that traditional systems to modernize agriculture like mechanization also need to be adopted by agriculture smallholders in developing countries to ramp up their production and improve profitability.

I always emphasize improvement of profitability because farming and fisheries should always be approached with the agribusiness/agripreneurship mindset.

However, in developing countries where farming remains backwards, utilizing GMO/biotech crops should be at the top of the list of smallholders and even the marginalized.

The ISAAA briefer also showed more developing countries adopting GMO/biotech crops, including India, Pakistan, Brazil, Bolivia, Sudan, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Honduras, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Smallholder farmers in Bangladesh have been planting Bt eggplant with great success. But its adoption in the Philippines has been delayed by many factors, even if that GMO variety was developed by the Institute of Plant Breeding-University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB). Localized tests by IPB-UPLB on Bt eggplant has shown it substantially reduces insecticide use compared to using the non-GMO varieties.

When it comes to corn, Bt varieties have already been adopted by more and more Filipino farmers of the crop.

The article “GMO corn is transforming farmers’ lives in Philippines” by Nkechi Isaac that was posted in January this year also in allianceforscience.cornell.edu, stated that about 400,000 hectares of lands have adopted GMO corn from its effectiveness to deal with the dreaded corn borer.

Next in the pipeline for the Philippines is Golden Rice that would help address beta carotene deficiency. The Philippine Rice Research Institute is leading the initiative for Golden Rice in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute.

Clearly, the Philippines has already demonstrated its capabilities to develop GMO/biotech crops, which dispels the notion that big agribusiness companies are using such crops to dominate the market for farm inputs.

More funding to support research for development of GMO/biotech crops in the Philippines can also make the country the center for such crops, at least in Southeast Asia.

But let me state again, that GMO/biotech crops should not be treated as the Holy Grail for increasing food supply amid dwindling water and soil resources. Another good measure is urban farming that I would discuss next week.

 

Written by Dr. William Dar in The Manila Times. Read the original article here