Policy Brief Volume 1, No. 3: Broad Scientific Consensus on Safety of GMO Crops

Policy Brief Volume 1, No. 3: Broad Scientific Consensus on Safety of GMO Crops


pb3Despite the long enunciated national policy on safe, responsible use of modern biotechnology, a few local government units in the Philippines have unilaterally passed resolutions and ordinances banning genetically modified (GM) crops in their respective jurisdictions. Across the globe, particularly in Europe, there are still many skeptics who refuse to recognize the potential value to mankind of GMO technology in crops to enhance farmers’ income, raise yields, improve adaptation to drought and other environment stresses, as well as to increase their nutritive value.

In the third Policy Brief, Dr. Emil Q. Javier, a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and Chair of the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP), puts a spotlight on the scientific consensus in favor of GMO technology based on published statements of the world’s leading academies of science and responsible agencies.

These statements essentially validate the potential of GMO technology to increase and improve the efficiency of production of main food staples, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers. The scientific community also concurred that GMO technology is safe and that no effects on human health have been shown as a result of consumption of GM foods.

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New GM technology paves the way for northern Australia’s cotton dreams

A new variety of genetically modified cotton is shaping up to be a game-changer for those looking to grow cotton in northern Australia.

Monsanto’s new Bollgard 3 is currently being trialled on a farm in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme in far north Western Australia.

It was planted in early February during the wet season and is showing positive signs of being resistant to insects, especially when compared to the Bollgard 2 and conventional cotton varieties that have also been planted in the trial.

CSIRO researcher Stephen Yeates said the cotton industry may have finally found a plant that could withstand the insect pressures of northern Australia’s wet season.

“The Bollgard 3 has an additional gene, which will control a key wet season pest called spodoptera,” he told ABC Rural.

“The additional gene is the only difference [to Bollgard 2]. They’re identical in every other way.

“So one of the reasons we’ve put both varieties in this trial, is to confirm there are no differences in the agronomic traits, confirm the similarities, and it’s only that [extra] insect control which is different.”

Dr Yeates said the Bollgard 3 plants at this stage were growing the same as Bollgard 2, but the increased resistance to insects was noticeable.

The Ord trial is expected to be harvested in June.

Still a lot of work ahead for northern cotton

It is not just the Ord Valley showing an interest in cotton, with farmers in the Burdekin and Gulf regions of Queensland also looking into cotton opportunities.

Dr Yeates said the introduction of Bollgard 3 gave farmers in northern Australia the opportunity to plant during the wet season, which had a number of advantages.

“The idea is to plant later in the wet season, from late January onwards, so that the early growth of the cotton is during the wet weather, and then you get the boll filling during that critical stage where you need reliable sunlight, in that April, May period if you plant early,” he said.

“So you plant in the second half of the wet, you probably don’t need to irrigate [initially], then finish the crop with irrigation and harvest in June.

“If you can get a crop off in June, you could then grow a second crop after cotton and in terms of returns, two crops would be a really big bonus.”

However, Mr Yeates said planting in the wet season also presented challenges, and accessing paddocks would be difficult in some years.

The current plan in the Ord Valley, being driven mostly by the company Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI), is to develop more of the region’s sandier, well-draining soils, which would improve the chances of being able to access land during the wet season to plant cotton.

KAI general manager Jim Engelke said the company was willing to invest in a cotton processing plant, but it would need about 10,000 hectares of cotton a year to make it viable.

Bollgard 3 growing commercially in the eastern states

Cotton growers in southern Queensland and New South Wales are growing Bollgard 3 commercially for the first time this year.

Andrew Sevil, from Whyenbah near St George, said despite a bad run of weather in his region, the cotton had performed well.

“From my perspective it hasn’t been too different, but I guess we won’t know until we get the cotton into the gin to see what the end result is,” he said.

“Talking to our agronomist, he’s reasonably optimistic and thinks it’s fared fairly well under difficult conditions.”

Mr Sevil said the new cotton had shown good resistance to the pest heliothis, and he was hopeful of getting 12 bales a hectare.

On its website, Monsanto describes Bollgard 3 as a “major milestone for innovation in cotton”.

“Having three proteins (genes) will increase the longevity of the technology as each protein has a different mode of action, which means each protein kills larvae in a different way,” it said.

-Written by Matt Brann in ABC News. See original article link here.

Borlaug’s dream is being realized

Dr. Norman Borlaug, whose scientific research sparked a “green revolution” in agriculture that saved millions of lives, was prescient.

Groundbreaking research that he envisioned nearly 50 years ago is finally coming to fruition as scientists announce new advances in their efforts to develop plants that can create their own sources of fertilizer.

Borlaug alluded to this work in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was awarded in 1970 in recognition of a life dedicated to feeding the world’s hungry population:

In my dream I see green, vigorous, high-yielding fields of wheat, rice, maize, sorghums, and millets, which are obtaining, free of expense, 100 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare from nodule-forming, nitrogen-fixing bacteria. These mutant strains of Rhizobium cerealis were developed in 1990 by a massive mutation breeding program with strains of Rhizobium sp. obtained from roots of legumes and other nodule-bearing plants. This scientific discovery has revolutionized agricultural production for the hundreds of millions of humble farmers throughout the world; for they now receive much of the needed fertilizer for their crops directly from these little wondrous microbes that are taking nitrogen from the air and fixing it without cost in the roots of cereals, from which it is transformed into grain…

Then I wake up and become disillusioned to find that mutation genetics programs are still engaged mostly in such minutiae as putting beards on wheat plants and taking off the hairs.

If we are to capitalize fully on the past biological accomplishments and realize the prospective accomplishments, as exemplified in my dream, there must be far greater investments in research and education in the future than in the past.

Investments have been made into that type of research in recent years, and the results are very promising.

In this video by Robert Hazen of the Alliance for Science, scientists from the Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) project discuss how they are using genetic engineering to transfer the nitrogen-fixing capabilities of legumes (peas and beans) into cereal crops. Their work could help small-holder farmers in Africa and elsewhere realize higher yields, without the use of expensive fertilizers. It could also reduce the world’s overall use of chemical nitrogen fertilizers, which contribute substantially to both carbon emissions and environmental pollution.

Harvard University researcher Daniel Nocera is taking a different approach. He and his team presented their work on “a ‘bionic’ leaf that uses bacteria, sunlight, water and air to make fertilizer in the very soil where crops are grown” at an April 3 session of the 253rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), according to an ACS press release.

As the release noted:

For this application, Nocera’s team has designed a system in which Xanthobacter bacteria fix hydrogen from the artificial leaf and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make a bioplastic that the bacteria store inside themselves as fuel.

“I can then put the bug in the soil because it has already used the sunlight to make the bioplastic,” Nocera says. “Then the bug pulls nitrogen from the air and uses the bioplastic, which is basically stored hydrogen, to drive the fixation cycle to make ammonia for fertilizing crops.”

Nocera’s lab has analyzed the amount of ammonia the system produces. But the real proof is in the radishes. The researchers have used their approach to grow five crop cycles. The vegetables receiving the bionic-leaf-derived fertilizer weigh 150 percent more than the control crops. The next step, Nocera says, is to boost throughput so that one day, farmers in India or sub-Saharan Africa can produce their own fertilizer.

Nocera also shared his work at a press conference that can be viewed here.

Research by ENSA scientists and Nocera is helping to make Borlaug’s dream a reality. Yet advancements in agricultural science continue to meet resistance from groups that oppose the use of modern technology to address food production challenges, just as they did in Borlaug’s time.

Borlaug addressed this dynamic in his acceptance speech, and his words remain true today: 

Some critics have said that the green revolution has created more problems than it has solved. This I cannot accept, for I believe it is far better for mankind to be struggling with new problems caused by abundance rather than with the old problem of famine. 

For the underprivileged billions in the forgotten world, hunger has been a constant companion, and starvation has all too often lurked in the nearby shadows. To millions of these unfortunates, who have long lived in despair, the green revolution seems like a miracle that has generated new hope for the future.

I want to reiterate emphatically that there now are available materials and techniques of great potential value for expanding the green revolution into additional fields of agriculture. But to convert these potential values into actual values requires scientific and organizational leadership. Where are those leaders? Where are the leaders who have the necessary scientific competence, the vision, the common sense, the social consciousness, the qualities of leadership, and the persistent determination to convert the potential benefactions into real benefactions for mankind in general and for the hungry in particular? There are not enough of them now; therefore we must try to identify and develop them in our educational systems and we must utilize them in our campaigns for food production. 

The green revolution is a change in the right direction, but it has not transformed the world into Utopia. None are more keenly aware of its limitations than those who started it and fought for its success. But there has been solid accomplishment, as I have already shown by concrete examples. I have also tried to indicate the various opportunities for capitalizing more fully on the new materials that were produced and the new methods that were devised. And, above all, I cannot emphasize too strongly the fact that further progress depends on intelligent, integrated, and persistent effort by government leaders, statesmen, tradesmen, scientists, educators, and communication agencies, including the press, radio, and television.

-Written by Joan Conrow and published in Cornell University Alliance for Science Global Network website.  See original article link here.

PPPs: Planting the seeds of prosperity for Bangladeshi farmers

Local consumer buying eggplants at a market in Mohishaban, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

The eggplant, known in Asia as brinjal, is one of the most inexpensive and popular vegetable crops grown in Bangladesh, ranked only below the potato and onion in terms of total production. It is a major source of income for around 8 million smallholder farmers, and a mainstay in the diet of the nation’s 160 million people. However, the crop is constantly under threat from the fruit and shoot borer — a moth species whose larvae burrow into the eggplant, destroying it from within. If not controlled, the pest can damage up to 100 percent of a field of eggplants and threaten the smallholder farms that depend on it.

On his farm in northern Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman Sheikh told us that he has been growing brinjal for 10 years. While it’s not a difficult crop to grow, he said the impact of the fruit and shoot borer can be disastrous for eggplant farmers.

“Two years ago, 50 percent of my crop was lost to the borer,” he recounted. “I lost a lot of money and seriously considered giving up the crop altogether.”

Anisur Rahman Sheikh in his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Given the social and nutritional importance of the eggplant, public and private sector scientists and farmers have pooled their expertise to find both economically sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to tackle the pest.

Rahman Sheikh recently planted biotech eggplant for the first time. The biotech variety (Bt eggplant) repels or kills the fruit and shoot borer, and Rahman Sheikh is confident that it will make a difference for him and his family.

“Already, the plants look stronger and healthier,” he said. “I won’t know until the harvest, but the plants look good. I am expecting a good harvest with no losses.”

In fact, the Bt eggplant has shown close to 100 percent effectiveness in controlling pests. Not only have farmers’ incomes risen through increased yields, but the crop requires far fewer insecticide applications to reduce pests that threaten it.

Anisur Rahman Sheikh ploughing his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Rahman Sheikh explained that a good harvest will have a significant impact on his life.

“You see, my house is still not complete,” he said. “So if I get more crops, I get more profit and I can repair my house and I can contribute to my kids’ education, their health, and their safety.”

We visited plant scientist Hasan Tanbir from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the country’s public research body that helped bring the Bt eggplant to Bangladesh. BARI has been distributing saplings to farmers, and providing training on good stewardship and best practices. In a country where agriculture is so important to the economy, he said the adoption of new technology is vital.

Scientific Officer Hasan Tanbir at the On-Farm research Institute of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Bogra, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

“Over 90 percent of Bangladeshi people work in agriculture, and food security is very important to our country,” said Tanbir. “Farmers were becoming afraid to grow brinjal. But with the Bt gene inserted to fight the borer, farmers can be successful with an important crop. It is essential for these farmers.”

Read more from Croplife

The sorghum plant that could tackle blindness

Scientists in Kenya have taken a staple crop, sorghum, and enhanced its Vitamin A content to help fight chronic nutritional deficiencies that cause hundreds of thousands of children to go blind every year.

The insect-resistant Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was facilitated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Cornell University in very close collaboration with BARI. The project’s goal is to commercialize biotech crops to complement conventional agricultural approaches to help alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and boost food and nutrition security. The Bt eggplant was commercialized in Bangladesh in 2013.

Initially developed in the private sector, the Cry1-Ac protein produced in the Bt eggplant — and which repels the borer — is similar in structure to that found in nature, and is used commercially in the form of Bt-based biopesticides, often used by organic growers. Through a creative partnership and licensing agreement between private and public actors, the Bt eggplant is available to farmers who can most benefit, with no additional technology fees or royalties payable. In addition, farmers will not only be permitted, but actively encouraged, to save their seeds.

Just like the biotech sorghum plant that can tackle blindness, the Bt eggplant is another compelling example of how public and private sector expertise can pull together to meet huge global challenges such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. By harnessing our collective strengths, including research and development, manpower, resources and facilities, huge progress can be made.

-Written by Deb Carstoiu in devex,com.  See original article link here.

Filipino scientists, regulators look into GMO perceptions

GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) have been controversial, with a number of people around the world saying they have negative impacts to the environment, can cause “genetic pollution” and are not good for human consumption.

Yet, as of June 30, more than 110 Nobel laureates and over 3,500 scientists all over the world have signed a letter addressing and urging Greenpeace International “to reexamine the experience of farmers and consumers worldwide with crops and foods improved through biotechnology; recognize the findings of authoritative scientific bodies and regulatory agencies; and abandon their campaign against GMOs, in general, and Golden Rice, in particular.”

According to the World Food Program (WFP), about one out of nine people in the world do not have enough food to live a healthy life. This amounts to 795 million people in the world who are hungry, most of who come from developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the total population lack food to eat.

Furthermore, vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a public-health problem. A World Health Organization (WHO) data say an estimated 250 million preschool children suffer from VAD together with pregnant women, with 5 percent of this number leads to death every year for children within 12 months of losing their sight.

In the case of the Philippines, it has the highest poverty incidence among its Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers. With a national poverty of 25.8 percent, according to World Bank data, the Philippines has a lot of work to do to alleviate poverty and address issues of public health, such as VAD.

This is where GMO, such as the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt talong (eggplant) and Golden Rice, enters as a solution to relieve and, eventually, end the battle against VAD and hunger; and give the farmers a chance to provide food while farming sustainably and efficiently without the threat of having shortage or attacks of insects that kill their crops, GMO experts and advocates say.

GMO issue
“The real debate is safety,” said Benigno Peczon, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines Inc. in an interview with the BusinessMirror. “We already have overwhelming evidence for 20 years’ use that they are safe,” he emphasized.

In his presentation at the forum on GM Crops: Public Perception and Trade Regulation Practices held at the University of the Philippines Law Center in Quezon City, Peczon discussed how the applications of modern biotechnology in the agriculture area has benefited farmers.

Bt corn has been planted in the Philippines for more than 14 years now, or since 2002, in more than 800,000 hectares by farmers.

“In traditional plant breeding, related plants are interbred until the desired trait emerges,” Peczon said, noting that it costs time and effort to do this kind of technique, where they shuffle and crossbreed recurrent parent plant with desirable characteristics, such as high yield and adaptation.

For Peczon, one of the main objectives in agriculture is to ensure that only the desired plant grows. He added, “as far as the farmers are concerned, anything that competes with the crop of choice is undesirable, getting rid of weeds is not easy and can be costly.”

Bt corn in the Philippines
Leonardo Gonzales, founding president and chairman of Sikpa/Strive Inc., said at the same forum in his lecture, entitled “Socioeconomic Impact Assessment: The Bt Corn Experience,” Bt is “a naturally occurring soil-borne bacterium where it produces crystal like proteins that selectively kill specific groups of insects.”

The Bt corn is a GMO which, through genetic engineering, the Bt gene was incorporated in the corn plant’s DNA to enhance its resistance against insect attacks, such as the Asiatic corn borer. This method helped many farmers produce corn resistant to insects and saved them money from using pesticides.

“Bt corn required 54-percent less pesticides than ordinary hybrid [OH] corn in order to produce the same amount of corn grain from 2003 to 2011,”Gonzales said.

For Gonzales, Bt corn has had other empirical findings. One of which is on fertilizer use.

He said, “Bt corn adopters, on the average, were 9-percent more efficient in the use of fertilizer than ordinary hybrid corn-seed users.” This, after more than 10 years of planting the GMO plant, has indicated positive environmental impacts among corn producers.

Another finding, according to Gonzales, was that the average yield advantage of Bt corn over OH corn, was 19 percent and a cost advantage of 10 percent compared to OH corn, with a 42 percent higher return on investment from 2003 to 2011.

Last, Bt corn consistently outperformed OH corn by 29 percent in meeting food and poverty thresholds in the same timeframe.

“Technological innovations, like the GM products, are sustainable if they provide socioeconomic impacts to society. They are either compliant with the basic requirements of the natural resources, and if it does not comply with that, it will die a natural death,” Gonzales said.

He added, “We believe in the hypothesis that in the long term, the role of new technology is to lower your cost so that you will become efficient in the production of that commodity.” To be concluded

-Written by Stephanie Tumampos, BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

ISAAA Brief 51-2015: Executive Summary


This Brief focuses on the 20th Anniversary of the global commercialization of biotech crops (1996 to 2015) and biotech crop highlights in 2015. The author of this Brief, Dr. Clive James, has dedicated this Brief to his mentor and colleague, the late Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, who was the founding patron of ISAAA. Borlaug was also the greatest advocate for biotechnology/GM crops, credited with saving 1 billion poor people from hunger during the 1960s green revolution that he created and pioneered.

20th anniversary (1996-2015) of the commercialization of biotech crops

2015 marked the 20th anniversary (1996-2015) of the commercialization of biotech crops, also known as genetically modified (GM) or transgenic crops, now more often called “biotech crops”, as referred to in this Brief. An unprecedented cumulative hectarage of 2 billion hectares of biotech crops, equivalent to twice the total land mass of China (956 million hectares) or the United States (937 million hectares), were successfully cultivated globally in the 20-year period 1996 to 2015; farmer benefits for the period 1996 to 2015 were estimated at over US$150 billion. The 2.0 billion accumulated hectares comprise 1.0 billion hectares of biotech soybean, 0.6 billion hectares of biotech maize, 0.3 billion hectares of biotech cotton and 0.1 billion hectares of biotech canola.

The experience of the first 20 years of commercialization, 1996 to 2015, has confirmed that the early promise of crop biotechnology has been fulfilled. Biotech crops have delivered substantial agronomic, environmental, economic, health and social benefits to farmers and, increasingly, to society at large. The rapid adoption of biotech crops, during the initial 20 years of commercialization, 1996 to 2015, reflects the substantial multiple benefits realized by both large and small farmers in industrial and developing countries, which have grown biotech crops commercially.

Global Status of biotech crops in 2015

In general, the status of biotech crops in 2015 was variable with several countries, led by Brazil with increasing hectarage, others led by the US with decreasing hectarage, and the balance of countries registering no or negligible year-to-year change, which was relatively low in 2015 and detailed in Table 1 and Figure 1.

Progress with adoption of biotech crops during the first 20 years

Following a remarkable run of 19 years of consecutive yearly growth from 1996 to 2014, the annual global hectarage of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million in 2014, (see graph on cover page) compared with 179.7 million hectares in 2015; this change is equivalent to a net marginal year-to-year change of minus 1% between 2014 and 2015. Annual fluctuations in biotech crop hectarage (both increases and decreases) are influenced by several factors. In 2015, a principal factor leading to decreased biotech hectarage in some countries was decreased total crop plantings; for example, for maize it was minus 4% and for cotton minus 5%, driven by low prices, with some farmers switching from maize, cotton and canola to a more easily managed crop such as biotech soybean, and also to other less demanding crops like pulses, sunflower, and sorghum. Year-to-year biotech crop hectarage decreases, driven by low prices in 2015, are likely to reverse when crop prices revert to higher levels in the future.

Biotech crops are the fastest adopted crop technology in the world.

The global hectarage of biotech crops has increased 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015 by up to 17 to 18 million farmers – this makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. This impressive adoption rate speaks for itself, in terms of its sustainability, resilience and the significant benefits it delivers to both small and large farmers as well as consumers.

Major developments in the US in 2015

Overall, significant progress was made on many fronts in the US in 2015 ranging from: new approvals; new commercialized biotech crops: first time approval of a GM animal food product for human consumption; widespread use of breakthrough new and powerful genome editing technology, named CRISPR; and some success on labeling.

For GM crop products, Innate™ generation 1, an improved multi-trait potato, developed by Simplot, was first commercialized on 160 hectares in 2015; an improved version, Innate™ 2 was approved in 2015, and has added resistance to the fungal disease, potato late blight, the cause of the Irish famine of 1845, when 1 million people died of hunger. Remarkably, it is still the most important disease of potatoes 150 years after the famine, with annual global losses of US$7.5 billion. Another global first was the commercialization of the first non-transgenic genome-edited crop, SU Canola™, developed by Cibus and grown on 4,000 hectares. Two varieties of Arctic® apples, with less bruising and less browning when sliced were approved for planting in the USA and Canada, with 6 hectares planted in the USA alone in 2015. The first delivery to consumers is planned for next year. The company that developed Arctic® apple, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, from Canada, is applying the same technology to other perishable fruits including peaches, pears and cherries. Okanagan Specialty Fruits was acquired by Intrexon, a US-based synthetic biology company, in 2015. A low lignin alfalfa event, KK179 (HarvXtra™) with higher digestibility and yield (alfalfa is #1 forage crop in the world) was already approved in November 2014 and is a candidate for commercialization in the US in 2016. Hectarage of biotech DroughtGard™ tolerant maize, first planted in the US in 2013, soared more than 15-fold from 50,000 hectares in 2013 to 275,000 hectares in 2014 and 810,000 hectares in 2015 reflecting high farmer acceptance. In December 2015, Dow and DuPont agreed to merge to form DowDuPont, with a view to splitting the new company into three companies focusing on Agriculture, Materials and Specialty Products.

For GM animals, after 20 years of review, in a landmark decision in November 2015, the FDA approved the first GM animal for commercial food production and human consumption – a faster growing GM salmon, which is expected to enter the food chain in the US before 2018; Atlantic salmon normally takes three years to harvest in fish farms, compared with only 18 months, or half the time, for GM salmon. The GM AquAdvantage salmon was developed by AquaBounty Technologies, which was acquired by the US company Intrexon in 2015. FDA approved a new GM chicken whose eggs will be used to treat a rare but fatal human disease called lysosomal acid lipase deficiency.

The award-winning CRISPR genome editing technology was selected by Science magazine as the breakthrough technology of 2015. It is being used in many laboratories to develop improved crops and animals. For example, improved soybeans and maize are already being evaluated in greenhouses and, subject to regulation, approval could be commercialized as early as five years from now. Pigs are being developed that are resistant to a deadly viral disease which costs the US pork industry US$600 million a year.

On labeling, whereas a herculean costly effort has been made by both proponents and opponents of GM crops, with mixed results, significant success was achieved by proponents in 2015. Ballots that would require state level labeling in Oregon and Colorado failed in 2014 and similarly ballots in 2015 in California and Washington failed. Perhaps, more importantly, a bill was passed in the House of Representatives in July 2015 that would pre-empt state and local non-GM laws; a similar bill is slated for an imminent hearing in the Senate. In November 2015, FDA rejected a “citizen petition” to require mandatory labelling of GM products. Finally, the food company Chipotle, after announcing that it would eliminate GM products from its menu, and focus solely on non-GM vegetable products sourced locally, is now re-centralizing its vegetable supply after up to 300 people in the US claim they have suffered sickness after consuming Chipotle non-GM locally sourced vegetables.

The top 5 countries planting biotech crops

The US continued to be the lead country with 70.9 million hectares (39% of global) with over 90% adoption for the principal crops of maize (92% adoption), soybean (94%), and cotton (94%).

Brazil, the second largest grower globally with 44.2 million hectares (reached 25% of global, for the first time in 2015), resumed its important role as the engine of biotech crop growth globally with 2 million hectares more in 2015 than 2014; this compares to minus 2.2 million hectares for the US. This decrease in the US is mainly due to a temporary reduction in total plantings of maize, cotton and canola which are expected to recover when prices of these crops strengthen and total hectarage increases. Notably, Brazil planted the stacked HT/IR soybean on a record 11.9 million hectares (up from 5.2 in 2014) in its third year after the launch. Argentina with 24.5 million hectares retained third place, and was up modestly from 24.3 million hectares in 2014. India ranked fourth, had 11.6 million hectares of Bt cotton (same as 2014), and a resilient 95% adoption rate. Canada was fifth at 11.0 million hectares, with 0.4 million hectares less total canola grown in 2015, but with a continued high rate of biotech adoption at 93%. In 2015, each of the top 5 countries planted more than 10 million hectares providing a broad, solid foundation for future sustained growth.

Up to 28 countries/annum grew biotech crops, in the period 1996 to 2015; Vietnam grew a biotech crop for the first time in 2015.

A global total of 17 to 18 million farmers, ~90% of which were small farmers, planted biotech crops in 28 countries in 2015 (Table 1 and Figure 1), 20 were developing and only 8 were industrial countries. The 28 countries include Vietnam which commercialized stacked biotech maize in 2015 for the first time. Cuba, which has planted biotech maize for the last two years will resume planting of biotech maize in two years’ time when their improved maize hybrids are ready for deployment.

Of the top ten biotech crop countries, listed by hectarage, 8 were developing.

Each of the top 10 countries, of which 8 were developing, grew more than 1 million hectares providing a broad-based worldwide foundation for continued and diversified growth in the future. More than half the world’s population, ~60% or ~4 billion people, live in the 28 countries which planted biotech crops in 2015.

Bangladesh, one of the smaller and poorest countries in the world, is an exemplary model of the importance of political will in the adoption of biotech crops.

Bangladesh, a small poor country with 150 million people, doubled the commercial hectarage of the prized vegetable Bt brinjal/eggplant; it was grown by 250 small farmers on 25 hectares in 2015 compared with 120 farmers on 12 hectares in 2014. Importantly, seed is now being multiplied to meet the growing needs of substantially more farmers in 2016. Success with Bt brinjal has led Bangladesh to prioritize the field testing of a new late blight resistant potato (an important crop occupying ~0.5 million hectares in Bangladesh) which could be approved as early as 2017; potato is the fourth most important food staple globally and can contribute to food security in countries like China (6 million hectares of potato), India (2 million) and the EU (~2 million). Given the importance of the large cotton/textile industry in Bangladesh, Bt cotton is being evaluated in field trials as well as Golden Rice, which could address the prevalent Vitamin A deficiency in the country. This feat of promoting home-grown biotech crops through public/private partnerships, PPP, is very effective but could not have been achieved without strong Government support and political will, particularly from the Minister of Agriculture, the Honorable Matia Chowdhury – the experience of Bangladesh is exemplary for small poor countries.

Up to ~18 million farmers benefit from biotech crops in the 20 year period 1996 to 2015 – ~90% were small resource-poor farmers.

In the period 1996 to 2015, up to approximately 18 million farmers, grew biotech crops annually – remarkably, about 90%, or 16.5 million, were risk-averse small, poor farmers in developing countries. The latest economic data available for the period 1996 to 2014 indicates that farmers in China gained US$17.5 billion and in India US$18.3 billion. In addition to economic gains, farmers benefited enormously from at least a 50% reduction in the number of insecticide applications, thereby reducing farmer exposure to insecticides, and importantly contributed to a more sustainable environment and better quality of life.

For the fourth consecutive year, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries in 2015.

In 2015, Latin American, Asian and African farmers collectively grew 97.1 million hectares or 54% of the global 179.7 million biotech hectares (versus 53% in 2014) compared with industrial countries at 82.6 million hectares or 46% (versus 47% in 2014), equivalent to a gap of 14.5 million hectares in favor of developing countries. The higher hectarage in developing countries is contrary to the prediction of critics who, prior to the commercialization of the technology in 1996, prematurely declared that biotech crops were only for industrial countries and would never be accepted and adopted by developing countries, particularly small poor farmers.

During the period 1996-2014, total cumulative economic benefits were US$150 billion: industrial countries at US$74.1 billion compared to US$76.2 billion generated by developing countries. In 2014, developing countries had 46.5% equivalent to US$8.3 billion of the total US$17.8 billion gain, with industrial countries at US$9.5 billion (Brookes and Barfoot, 2016).

Increased adoption of biotech drought tolerant maize in the US

Biotech DroughtGard™ tolerant maize, first planted in the US in 2013, increased more than 15-fold from 50,000 hectares in 2013 to 275,000 hectares in 2014 and 810,000 hectares in 2015, reflecting high farmer acceptance at 3-fold year-to-year between 2014 and 2015. The same event, MON 87460, was donated by Monsanto to the public-private partnership, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) aimed at delivering biotech drought tolerant maize to selected countries in Africa by 2017. Biotech drought tolerance is an extremely important goal given that droughts will likely become more severe and more frequent, as climate change impacts crop productivity, agriculture and society. Notably, the conventional drought tolerant maize has been distributed in South Africa in 2014 which is hoped to facilitate acceptance of the biotech drought tolerant maize DroughtGard™ (MON 87460) which was approved for commercialization in June 2015, and expected to be available to farmers in 2017.

A selection of “new” biotech crops, several home-grown, were approved in 2015 and planned for commercialization in 2016 and beyond, in countries other than the US, which is covered earlier in this Executive Summary.

In Argentina, two home-grown products were approved – a drought tolerant soybean and a virus-resistant potato. In Brazil, approval was gained for cultivation of a 20% higher yielding home-grown eucalyptus, developed by FuturaGene/Suzano, plus commercialization of two home-grown crop products in 2016 – a virus resistant bean and a new herbicide tolerant soybean. In Myanmar, a new Bt cotton variety Ngwe-chi-9 was commercialized in 2015. In Canada, there was approval of a higher quality non-browning apple. Note, the important shift towards more food crops – current biotech food crops include white maize in South Africa, sugar beet and sweet corn in the US and Canada; papaya, squash, potato and apple in the US; papaya in China; and Bt eggplant in Bangladesh.

Stacked traits occupied 33% of the global 179.7 million hectares, up from 28% in 2014.

Stacked traits are favored by farmers in all countries for all crops. Stacked traits increased from 51.4 million hectares in 2014 to 58.5 million hectares in 2015 – an increase of 7.1 million hectares equivalent to a 14% increase. The substantial shift to stacked traits was largely due to an increase in Bt/HT soybean with 12.9 million hectares principally planted in Brazil, and to a lesser extent by its neighbors, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Stacked traits continued to be an important and growing feature of biotech crops – 14 countries planted biotech crops with two or more traits in 2015, of which 11 were developing countries. Vietnam planted a stacked biotech Bt/HT maize as its first biotech crop in 2015.

The 5 lead biotech developing countries in the three continents of the South: Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, India and China in Asia, and South Africa on the continent of Africa, grew almost half (48%) of global biotech crops and represent ~41% of world population.

The five lead developing countries in biotech crops in the three continents of the South are India and China in Asia, Brazil and Argentina in Latin America, and South Africa on the continent of Africa. They collectively grew 86.3 million hectares (48% of global) and together represent ~41% of the global population of 7.3 billion, which could reach ~11.0 billion, or more, by the turn of the century in 2100. Remarkably, the population in Africa alone could escalate from ~1.2 billion today (~16% of global) to a possible high of 4.4 billion (~39% of global) by the end of this century in 2100. On a hectarage basis, of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops in 2015, 87% of the hectarage was in the Americas, 11% in Asia, 2% in Africa and <1% in Europe.

Ten Latin American countries benefit from biotech crops.

It is noteworthy, that there are now 10 countries in Latin America which benefit from the extensive adoption of biotech crops. Listed in descending order of hectarage, they are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Chile, and Costa Rica, with Cuba planning to resume planting in two years pending availability of their home-grown maize hybrids.

Brazil, the global engine of growth for biotech crops is second only to the US in biotech crop hectarage.

In 2015, Brazil ranked second only to the USA in biotech crop hectarage in the world with 44.2 million hectares (up from 42.2 million in 2014); the increase in 2015 was 2 million hectares equivalent to a growth rate of 5%. For the last six years, Brazil was the engine of growth globally. In 2015, Brazil grew 25% (2% more than in 2014) of the global hectarage of 179.7 million hectares. In the long term, Brazil is expected to close the gap with the US which has an efficient and science-based approval system that facilitates fast adoption. In 2015, Brazil commercially planted, for the third year, the stacked soybean with insect resistance and herbicide tolerance on 11.9 million hectares, up substantially (five-fold increase) from 2.3 million hectares in 2013 and 5.2 million hectares in 2014. In Brazil, approval was gained by FuturaGene /Suzano for cultivation of a 20% higher-yielding home-grown biotech eucalyptus, plus commercialization of two home-grown crop products in 2016 – a virus resistant bean and a new herbicide tolerant soybean.

Canada decreased hectarage of biotech canola, whereas biotech national hectares in Australia increased due to biotech canola.

Canada retained its fifth place in world ranking of biotech crops with biotech crop hectarage of 11.0 million hectares compared with 11.6 million hectares in 2014 ‒ a ~5% decrease, largely due to a decrease in hectarage of total canola and driven by low canola prices. The decrease in canola hectares in 2015 is expected to reverse when prices of canola increase, and become more competitive versus other crops. Australia grew 658,000 hectares of biotech crops in 2015 compared to 542,000 hectares in 2014, a 21% increase. This comprises 214,000 hectares cotton, a 7% increase from 200,000 hectares in 2014; and 444,000 hectares biotech canola, a 30% increase from 342,000 hectares in 2014. Notably, biotech cotton adoption remains at ~100% of all cotton grown in Australia and ~99% of it featured the stacked traits (insect resistance and herbicide tolerance). Australia is providing global leadership in deployment of biotech cotton and insect resistance management with Bollgard® lll already field-tested in 2015 on ~30,000 hectares.

India sustains its biotech cotton hectarage and becomes #1 cotton producer in the world.

In a landmark development, India became the #1 cotton producer in the world, with much of the success attributed to Bt cotton. India continued to be the largest biotech cotton country in the world with 11.6 million hectares planted by 7.7 million small farmers with an adoption rate of 95%, similar to 2014. Brookes and Barfoot’s latest estimate indicated that India had enhanced farm income from Bt cotton by US$18.3 billion in the twelve-year period 2002 to 2014 and US$1.6 billion in 2014 alone.

Status of Bt cotton and virus resistant papaya in China

In 2015, China successfully planted ~3.7 million hectares of biotech cotton at an adoption rate of 96%, (up from 93% in 2014) of its 3.8 million total cotton hectarage. In addition, ~7,000 hectares of virus resistant papaya were planted in Guangdong, Hunan Island and Guangxi; plus ~543 hectares of Bt poplar. Despite China’s decreased total cotton hectarage, from 4.2 million hectares in 2014 to 3.8 million hectares, mainly due to lower prices and high stockpiles of cotton in China, biotech cotton adoption rate has increased from 93% in 2014 to 96% in 2015, and planted by an estimated ~6.6 million or more farmers. Virus resistant papaya plantings decreased from 8,475 hectares in 2014 to 7,000 hectares in 2015, due to over supply in 2014, but the adoption rate remained high at ~90%. In addition to farmers benefiting directly from biotech Bt cotton, there may be an additional 10 million secondary beneficiary farmers cultivating 22 million hectares of crops which are alternate hosts for cotton bollworm and benefit from decreased pest infestation due to the planting of Bt cotton. Thus, the actual total number of beneficiary farmers of biotech Bt cotton in China alone may well exceed 17 million. Economic gains at the farmer level from Bt cotton for the period 1997 to 2014 was US$17.5 billion and US$1.3 billion for 2014 alone.

Bt maize and Bt rice, offer significant potential benefits and have enormous implications for China, Asia, and the rest of the world in the near, mid and long term, because rice is the most important food crop and maize the most important feed crop in the world. China’s research and commercialization of Bt maize, herbicide tolerant maize and phytase maize as well as Bt rice, will be very important potential contributions to China and the global food and feed needs. Whereas, President Xi Jinping has endorsed the GM technology that is used in biotech soybean and maize imported by China in very large quantities (77 million tons of soybean and 3.3 million tons of maize in 2015), domestic production of these biotech crops has not been implemented to-date. It is noteworthy that at the same time that the US approved biotech potato in 2015, China, the largest producer of potatoes in the world (6 million hectares), announced its intention to double its potato hectarage and designated potato as its fourth food staple following rice, maize, and wheat.

The Chinese government has disbursed at least US$3 billion to research institutes and domestic companies to develop home-grown biotech seeds and discussions are underway to expedite approvals of pending biotech crops for cultivation. Domestic production of biotech maize would increase productivity and reduce China’s dependency on imports of increasing quantities of maize, most of which (more than 90%) are biotech. China consumes one-third of global soybean production and imports 65% of global soybean imports, over 90% of which is biotech. Some observers speculate that home-grown biotech maize (Bt or phytase maize) will be commercialized in the next three years, opening up an enormous potential market of 35 million hectares of maize. Thus, biotech crops could help China become less dependent on increasing imports of soybean and maize, over 90% of which are biotech. Bloomberg (November 2015) reported that President Xi Jinping has been urging China to support “strong research and innovation” on GM crops. His urging is consistent with the US$43 billion bid from ChemChina for Syngenta, which could have high potential impact on the timely adoption of biotech maize on up to 35 million hectares in China in the near-term. A successful bid would provide ChemChina with immediate access to a large portfolio of ready-made safety-tested commercial GM crop products that have been grown globally for many years.

Status in Africa

Despite some significant challenges, the African continent continued to make general progress on several fronts. A devastating drought in South Africa resulted in the country decreasing its intended biotech crop hectarage in 2015 by approximately 700,000 hectares from 3 million hectares to 2.3 million hectares – a massive 23% decrease. This underscores yet again the critical nature, and potentially life-threatening importance of drought in Africa and the impending new drought challenges exacerbated by climate change. Importantly, the drought tolerant maize (DroughtGard®) under the WEMA project has been approved for general release in South Africa, while the (DT) maize with insect control (Bt) will be launched as scheduled in 2017. Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by 30% to 120,000 hectares whilst political transition changes and fiber quality precluded a potentially higher hectarage than ~0.4 million hectares in Burkina Faso. An additional eight countries (Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Swaziland and Uganda) conducted field trials on priority African crops, the penultimate step prior to approval. The on-going trials focus on traits of high relevance to challenges facing Africa, including drought, nitrogen use efficiency, salt tolerance, nutritional enhancement, as well as resistance to tropical pests and diseases. Slow implementation of science-based and cost/time-effective regulatory systems is the major constraint to adoption. Responsible, rigorous but not onerous regulation is urgently needed to suit the needs of both public and private sector technology developers in ensuring smooth delivery of the much needed tool into the hands of African famers. Ultimately, sustained political goodwill and intense engagement with all sector players will be keys in unlocking the regulatory stalemate.

Five EU countries planted 116,870 hectares of biotech Bt maize. Spain was by far the largest adopter, planting 92% of the total Bt maize hectarage in the EU.

The same five EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Czechia, Slovakia and Romania) continued to plant 116,870 hectares of Bt maize, down 18% from the 143,016 hectares planted in 2014. Spain, which grew 92% of all biotech maize, led the EU with 107,749 hectares of Bt maize, down 18% from the 131,538 in 2014, with a 28% adoption rate compared with a 31% adoption in 2014. Bt maize hectarage decreased in all five EU countries. The decreases in Bt maize were associated with several factors, including less total hectares of maize planted in 2015, but also due to significant disincentives for farmers confronted with bureaucratic and onerous reporting of intended plantings of Bt maize. In October 2015, 19 of the 28 EU countries voted to opt out of growing biotech crops but importantly all five countries currently growing Bt maize voted to continue planting so that they can benefit from the significant advantages that biotech crops offer.

Status of approved events for biotech crops

As of November 15, 2015, a total of 40 countries (39 + EU – 28) have granted regulatory approvals to genetically modified crops for use as food and/or feed use or for environmental release since 1994. From these countries, 3,418 regulatory approvals have been issued by regulatory authorities across 26 GM crops (not including carnation, rose and petunia) and 363 GM events. The top five countries with the most number of regulatory approvals include Japan (214 approvals), U.S.A. (187 not including stacked events), Canada (161), Mexico (158), and South Korea (136). Maize still has the most number of approved events (142 in 29 countries), followed by cotton (56 events in 22 countries), potato (44 events in 11 countries), canola (32 events in 13 countries), and soybean (31 events in 28 countries). The herbicide-tolerant maize event NK603 (54 approvals in 26 countries + EU-28) has the most number of approvals followed by the herbicide-tolerant soybean event GTS 40-3-2 (52 approvals in 26 countries + EU-28), the insect-resistant maize MON810 (50 approvals in 25 countries + EU-28), and the insect-resistant maize Bt11 (50 approvals in 24 countries + EU-28). In December 8, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Philippines decided that the conduct of Bt eggplant field testing is permanently enjoined; the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 08, series of 2002 is declared null and void; and, consequently, any application of contained use, field testing, propagation, and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms is temporarily enjoined until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with the law.

Global value of biotech seed alone was ~US$15.3 billion in 2015

In 2015, the global market value of biotech crops, estimated by Cropnosis, was US$15.3 billion, (down marginally from US$15.7 billion in 2014); this represents 20% of the US$76.2 billion global crop protection market in 2014, and 34% of the ~US$45 billion global commercial seed market. The estimated global farm-gate revenues of the harvested commercial “end product” (the biotech grain and other harvested products) are more than ten times greater than the value of the biotech seed alone. A 2011 study estimated that the cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new biotech crop/trait was ~US$135 million. A report by Transparency Market Research for the period 2013-2019 indicated that, global agricultural biotechnology which was worth US$15.3 billion in 2012 is expected to be worth US$28.7 billion by 2019. The value is estimated to expand at a rate of 9.5% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2013 to 2019 due to the rising demand for higher crop yield, combined with diminishing amounts of arable land that will drive the transgenic application segment of the market.


The enormous challenge of feeding 9.7 billion in 2050

Feeding 9.7 billion people in 2050, and ~11.0 billion in 2100, is one of, if not THE most daunting challenges facing mankind during the remaining years of this century. Global population, which was only 1.7 billion at the turn of the century in 1900, is now 7.3 billion (July 2015) – the world has added approximately 1 billion people in the span of the last 12 years. It is expected to climb to 9.7 billion by 2050, and to 11 billion at the end of this century in 2100. Globally, 870 million people are currently chronically hungry and 2 billion are malnourished. The world may consume more grain than it produced in 2015. Rates of growth in crop productivity have declined subsequent to the significant contribution of the green revolutions of the 1960s for wheat and rice. It is now evident that conventional crop technology alone will not allow us to feed over 9 billion in 2050 and neither is biotechnology a panacea. An option being proposed by the global scientific community is a balanced, safe and sustainable approach, using the best of conventional crop technology (well adapted germplasm) and the best of biotechnology (appropriate GM and /non-GM traits) to achieve sustainable intensification of crop productivity on the 1.5 billion hectares of cropland globally. The returns on investments in agriculture are high and furthermore they directly impact on poverty alleviation, particularly on small resource-poor farmers and the rural landless dependent on agriculture, who represent the majority of the world’s poorest people.

Climate Change: Papal Encyclical and COP 21 in Paris

Pope Francis in his 2015 papal encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’, underscored the importance for everyone, in a coordinated effort, to implement the necessary strategies to address climate change and environmental destruction which will affect everyone, especially the vulnerable members of global society – the poor and the hungry. Efforts in the past by rich countries to help poor countries were determined not to be sufficient, hence there is an urgent global need to double and unify efforts.

The Pope’s concern was also appropriately addressed in a clarion call for action (not promises) during the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Paris, France in December 2015. Importantly, for the first time ever, a legally binding agreement was signed by 195 countries to limit global warming to below 2oC, above which, global crop production will decline substantially, particularly the developing countries, which can least afford the losses due to abiotic-stresses (higher temperatures and droughts) and biotic-stresses (pests, weeds and diseases). It is very important to acknowledge that GM/biotech crops are already making a contribution to reduce the effects of increased stresses associated with climate change, as detailed in the next paragraph. Moreover, the potential of GM and the new biotech applications, such as CRISPR, is enormous for the future, when global population will reach 11 billion in 2100. The challenge for society is to adopt harmonized, science-based, appropriate and proportionate regulation, which is practical and not overly onerous, that will ensure timely deployment to farmers of improved crops that can increase productivity, and double food production.

Biotech crops contribution to Food Security, Sustainability, the Environment and Climate Change

The latest data for 1996 to 2014 showed that biotech crops contributed to Food Security, Sustainability and Climate Change by: increasing crop production valued at US$150 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 583.5 million kg a.i. of pesticides in 1996-2014; in 2014 alone reducing CO2 emissions by 27 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road for one year; conserving biodiversity in the period 1996-2014 by saving 152 million hectares of land (Brookes and Barfoot, 2016); and helped alleviate poverty by helping up to 16.5 million small farmers, and their families totaling >65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. Biotech crops can increase productivity and income significantly and hence, can serve as an engine of rural economic growth that can contribute to the alleviation of poverty for the world’s small and resource-poor farmers. Biotech crops can contribute to a “sustainable intensification” strategy favored by many Academies of Science 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 for insects, pathogens and weeds, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.

Regulation of biotech crops

Onerous regulation for transgenic biotech crops remains the principal constraint to adoption, which is particularly important for many developing countries, denied the opportunity of using biotech crops to address food, feed and fiber security. Unlike the onerous regulation that currently applies to transgenics, genome-edited products logically lend themselves for science-based, fit-for-purpose, proportionate and appropriate regulation. Opponents of GM crops and the new genome editing technologies such as CRISPR are opposed to science/evidence-based regulation and are demanding onerous regulation that is denying poor farmers in the developing countries, as well as Europe’s access to the technologies. By using these technologies, small poor farmers will be able to survive and contribute to the doubling of food production to meet the needs of a growing population which will reach 11 billion in 2100. Moreover, the opponents of GM crops and the biotech applications such as CRISPR are estimated to have a massive global budget which doubled from an estimated US$10 billion in 2011 to US$20 billion in 2014.

The encouraging outlook is that technology, in conjunction with conducive policies can double food production. However, the doubling of food production cannot be realized by society unless it ensures that regulation of GM and genome-edited derived crops is science/evidence-based, fit-for-purpose, and to the extent possible harmonized globally. Failure by global society to ensure timely and appropriate regulation on food production will have dire consequences. On the one hand the world will suffer because of inadequate food supplies, whilst on the other hand the power of science and technology to produce a safe, adequate and assured supply of food for all of mankind will be rejected because of the dominant ideological voices of the opponents of the new biotech technologies.

Global meta-analysis, confirms significant and multiple benefits

The meta-analysis conducted by Klumper and Qaim (2014) on 147 published biotech crop studies during the last 20 years, concluded that “on average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.” These findings corroborate the findings of the annual global impact study by Brookes and Barfoot of PG Economics, annually referenced in the Annual ISAAA Briefs. Qaim (2015) presented a more thorough description of the impacts of current and possible future GM crop applications, and their substantial contribution to sustainable agricultural development and food security, in his recent book, Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development. He concluded that continued opposition to technologies that were shown to be beneficial and safe entails unnecessary human suffering and environmental degradation.

Status of Golden Rice

WHO concluded that 190 to 250 million preschool children worldwide are affected by VAD annually. Golden Rice could prevent 1.3 to 2.5 million child deaths annually. At IRRI, the Golden Rice trait event E, has been bred into mega varieties, and confined field tests are in progress in the Philippines and a field trial has been approved in Bangladesh. The important mission of the Golden Rice project is to contribute to improving the health of millions of people suffering from micronutrient deficiency. Rice is the staple of 4 billion people in the South who collectively consume only 2,006,869 calories per day. This consumption is broken down by region, per day in: South Asia (1,130,648 calories), Southeast Asia (660,979 calories), Africa (125,124), Latin America (75,238), and Central Asia (14,880) for a total of 2,006,869 calories per day (HarvestPlus, Personal Communications). These are the regions where most Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and associated illnesses occur – these can be reduced if people are provided with Golden Rice, a biotech rice with beta carotene. Around 100 to 150 grams per day of the improved Golden Rice will provide more than half the needs of people suffering from vitamin A deficiency.

New Breeding Technologies (NBT): The critical role of utilizing evolving and promising new biotechnology applications, such as CRISPR, in crop improvement

Twenty years after the commercialization of biotech/GM crops developed through the use of Agrobacterium or particle bombardment, the scientific global community are again enthusiastic about the potential of a new crop biotechnology called “genome or gene editing”. There are different types of genome editing technologies, the most recent named CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) is judged to be promising by many stakeholders. These new technologies allow the cutting of the DNA at a pre-determined location and the precise insertion of the mutation, or single nucleotide changes at an optimal location in the genome for maximum expression. Readers are referred to two essays on new breeding technologies and genome-edited applications in the collection of invitational essays in the companion document to the Brief on the ISAAA website. Experts in the field believe that potentially the “real power” of these new technologies is their ability to “edit” and modify single or multiple native plant genes (non-GM), coding for important traits such as drought and, generating useful improved crops that are not transgenic. Products already under development include all the major food and feed crops: canola (herbicide tolerance), maize (drought tolerance), wheat (disease resistance and hybrid technology), soybean (oil quality), rice (disease resistance), potato (improved storage qualities), tomato (fruit ripening), and peanuts (allergen-free). More complex traits, coded by multiple genes, like improved photosynthesis, are planned for the future, which may be closer than some people think. CRISPR earned Science’s 2015 “Breakthrough of the Year Laurels”. A runner-up in 2012 and 2013, the technology now revolutionizing genetic research and gene therapy “broke away from the pack, revealing its true power in a series of spectacular achievements,” opined Science correspondent John Travis in the December 18 issue.

Acknowledging that no technology, including genome editing, is a panacea or a silver bullet, many well-informed observers in the scientific community (gene therapy in medicine, where the technology was first developed, and crop improvement in agriculture) are of the view that genome editing offers a timely and unique set of significant comparative advantages over conventional and GM crops in four domains: precision – due to its ability to precisely control single or multiple genes resulting in products that do not differ from natural mutations; regulation – unlike the onerous regulation that currently applies to transgenics, genome-edited products logically lend themselves for science-based, fit-for-purpose, and proportionate regulation; speed – some products, for example, genome-edited derived potato, have been developed in only one year, compared with up to 10 years using conventional or GM technology; and cost – higher speed in improving crops and reduced regulation translates into significant overall savings. The average cost for developing a GM crop is US$135 million of which US$35 million is onerous regulation costs. The hope is that regulatory bodies worldwide will not require stringent regulation for genome edited crops and to the extent possible facilitate harmonization of regulations internationally. This augers well for the new genome-edited technologies which will allow more affordable, superior, state-of-the-art crops to be offered to producers and consumers.

To ISAAA’s knowledge, the first non-GM, genome-edited product, to be approved and commercialized is SU Canola™ developed by Cibus and grown on 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) in the USA in 2015. Canada has also approved SU Canola™ for planting. Similar non-GM products are under development in many laboratories globally with a view to commercialization by farmers as early as five years from now in 2020. For example, DuPont has indicated that it already has CRISPR-derived maize and wheat plants growing in the greenhouse and is hoping to conduct the first field tests in 2016. Several countries − USA, Canada, Sweden and Argentina, have already considered regulation of simply mutated products through CRISPR and similar technologies, and concluded that they do not require to be deregulated under their respective national GM regulations. Dr. Jansson from Sweden has opined that “the decision of the Swedish Board of Agriculture is the only logical one” for their particular genome-edited products. Importantly, the determination of the need to regulate should be focused on the specific product and not the process.

Leading scientists from the global scientific community are of the view that international harmonization of science-based regulation of genome-edited crops is absolutely critical for plant breeding programs. This is because these programs are required to urgently increase global crop productivity, in order to achieve food security for 11 billion people in 2100, as well as mitigating the additional and formidable challenges, such as more frequent and more severe droughts posed by climate change. The EU and many other countries are expected to report their findings, positions and decisions on regulation of genome-edited technologies in the near term – these will be critical game-changing decisions with global implications for the role of science in food security, climate change, and the alleviation of hunger and poverty for almost one billion people in the developing countries.

To summarize, the unusual degree of interest and enthusiasm in genome editing is that, relative to other conventional and GM technologies, it is simple, swift, precise and affordable – features that make it a universally attractive development for most stakeholders. Genome editing can help solve the misery of the ~850 million poor people who are suffering from food insecurity in the developing countries, where one thousand people an hour die from hunger and malnutrition – a situation that is unacceptable in a just society. Norman Borlaug opined that you cannot build peace on empty stomachs, and that technology can contribute to food security and a better quality of life for millions of poor people – he was right – the right to adequate food is imperative, and biotechnology can help make it happen.


There are three domains that merit considerations:

Firstly, the high rates of adoption (90% to 100%) of current major biotech crops leave little room for expansion in mature markets in principal biotech crop countries. However, there is a significant potential for selected products such as biotech maize. For example, in Asia, there are about 60 million hectares of potential biotech maize, with 35 million hectares in China alone; there is a similar potential in Africa for up to 35 million hectares of biotech maize and for biotech cotton, in up to 10 African countries growing 100,000 hectares, or more, of cotton.

Secondly, the pipeline is full of new biotech crop products which could (subject to regulatory approval for planting and import) be available during the next 5 years or so ‒ a portfolio of over 85 potential products are listed in the full Brief. They include, the WEMA-derived biotech drought tolerant maize expected to be released in Africa in 2017, a broad range of new crops and traits including products with multiple modes of resistance to pests/diseases and tolerance to herbicides, as well as resistance to nematodes. Golden Rice is progressing with field testing in Asia. Crops for the poor, particularly in Africa, such as fortified bananas and pest resistant cowpea, look promising and institutionally, public-private partnerships (PPP) have been relatively successful in developing and delivering approved products to farmers ‒ four PPP case studies, featuring a broad range of different biotech crops and traits in all three continents of the South, are presented in the Appendix of the full Brief.

Thirdly, the advent of genome-edited crops may be, by far, the most important development identified by today’s scientific community. A recent and promising application is the powerful technology named CRISPR. Many well-informed observers in the scientific community are of the view that genome editing offers a timely and powerful unique set of significant advantages over conventional and GM crops in four domains: precision, speed, cost and regulation – unlike the onerous regulation that currently applies to transgenics; genome-edited products logically lend themselves for science-based, fit-for-purpose, and proportionate regulation. Progress with the latter would be an enormous advantage. For more details the reader is referred to two essays in the companion document to Brief 51 on the ISAAA website (to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the commercialization of biotech crops) which describe the evolution of crop improvement technology, particularly the role of the new breeding technologies (NBT). It includes a proposed forward-looking strategy of using the troika of transgenes, genome editing and microbes (the use of plant microbiomes as a new source of additional genes to modify plant traits) to increase crop productivity which in turn can contribute to the noble goal of food security and the alleviation of hunger and poverty.


The Way Forward

The way forward is to work together – collaboration – between the North and the South, East and West, Public and Private Partnerships (PPP), using both conventional (well-adapted germplasm) and biotechnology applications (enhanced beneficial traits). In reviewing crop technology transfer projects over the last two decades, the progress and promise of public-private sector partnerships (PPP) is striking. PPP projects offer flexibility and have been successful under a very broad range of circumstances. Importantly, PPP offer advantages that increase the probability of delivering an approved biotech crop product at the farmer level within a reasonable time frame. Four PPP case studies/projects, selected and reviewed by ISAAA illustrate the range of diversity in the four model PPP projects: Bt brinjal (eggplant) in Bangladesh, herbicide tolerant soybean in Brazil, drought tolerant sugarcane in Indonesia, and the WEMA project for drought tolerance in maize in selected countries in Africa. For the convenience of readers, short updated descriptions of each of the four case studies, are summarized in the Appendix of Brief 51-2015.

Norman Borlaug’s Legacy and Advocacy of Crop Biotechnology

It is fitting and timely to close this celebratory 20th Anniversary ISAAA Brief for 2015, by chronicling the counsel of the late 1970 Nobel Peace Laureate, Norman Borlaug, on biotechnology including GM crops. Norman Borlaug, who saved a billion people from hunger, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the impact of his semi-dwarf wheat technology on the alleviation of hunger and poverty. Norman Borlaug was also the founding patron of ISAAA, and the greatest advocate for biotechnology and biotech/GM crops worldwide.

Below is a memorable Norman Borlaug quote, in which he calls for courage from our leaders, (both scientific and political) to support crop biotechnology which can contribute to global food security and a more peaceful world. It is noteworthy that the quote is from the man who knew more than anyone about feeding the world because he had “done it” during the green revolution of the 1960s and understood the essence of the proverb – reading is learning, seeing is believing, but doing is knowing – knowledge. This Brief seeks to share knowledge freely about all aspects of biotech crops whilst respecting the rights of readers to make their own informed-decisions about crop biotechnology.

Norman Borlaug Quote:

“What we need is courage by the leaders of those countries where farmers still have no choice but to use older and less effective methods. The Green Revolution and now plant biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food production, while preserving our environment for future generations” (ISAAA, 2009).

New circular binds five agencies for renewed GMO testing push

DAVAO CITY—Five government agencies will pool their expertise together to address the technical pitfalls that led to the recall of all field testing of genetically modified eggplant in the country, which stalled its commercial production.

A joint department circular this year bundled the expertise of the departments of Health (DOH), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Interior and Local Government (DILG) to provide additional support to the effort of the departments of Agriculture and Science and Technology to push through with the tests.

The latter two agencies have mounted field tests on GMO (genetically modified organism) eggplant and rice, and as early as 2012, their tests on Bacillus thuringiensis eggplant, as the genetically modified variety is called, were met with stiff legal opposition from environmentalists, who filed a case with the Supreme Court to stop the field tests. By 2014 the Court ordered a freeze on all tests.

The circular this year was an attempt to address the legal and technical loopholes that guided the implementation of the field tests. After a series of consultations with the five agencies, along with farmers, academicians and crop and science experts, the circular binding the five agencies was formalized in March, and officially recognized as an interagency arrangement to handle permits and licensing to proceed anew with the development of the GMO testing in the country.

The circular mandated the interagency arrangement to set up the rules and regulations for research and development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of genetically modified plant and plant products, derived from use of the modern technology.

Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, director of the Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Program Office, said the DOH would address issues on human health on the testing and commercial production of genetically modified food organisms, while the DENR would ensure the well-being of the physical environment around the testing sites.

The DILG would ensure local government support to the program and protection to biotechnology activities being undertaken, including field testing.

He was unsure, though, if the circular would rule on allowing proponents of the field tests to proceed with commercial production, even though only a few areas have generated initial results of the field tests.

“But this circular has mandated these agencies to ensure proper compliance of the requirements in conducting the field tests or commercial production.”

“They would take charge of the permitting and licenses related to the scientific testing in the farms,” Mamaril said.

Mamaril spoke during the seminar on “Enhancing Agricultural Production Through BioTechnology” at the Apo View Hotel on Tuesday, where he answered a query from participants about the centralized one-stop shop permitting process to be handled by the DA.

“All the required permitting from the five agencies would be coursed through the DA,” he said.

Mamaril clarified, though, that the circular would not likely satisfy the opposition put up by environmentalists, “but the five agencies would be expected to be involved now in explaining to the public the issues raised on various issues about GMO.”

He said the interagency arrangement would not be temporary nor would it be dissolved after all field tests were already sufficiently established to warrant commercial production. “It’s just a circular bringing in these agencies that could provide their expertise and mandates to the development of the biotechnology and production of GMOs.”

–Written by Manuel Cayon, BusinessMirror.  See article link here.


Crop biotechnology has immensely benefited farmers globally, says report

PG Economic, UK has released the global socio-economic and environmental impact of genetically modified (GM) crops from 1996-2014

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According to the paper authored by Mr Graham Brooks and Mr Peter Barfoot, the global economic benefits of GM crops reach $150 billion. It mentions that the insect resistant (IR) technology used in cotton and corn has consistently delivered yield gains from reduced pest damage. The average yield gains over the 1996-2014 period across all users of this technology has been +13.1% for insect resistant corn and +17.3% for insect resistant cotton relative to conventional production systems.

The herbicide tolerant (HT) technology used has also contributed to increased production; improving weed control and providing higher yields in some countries and helping farmers in Argentina grow ‘second crop’ soybeans after wheat in the same growing season, says the research paper released in May 2016.

Few important highlights of the report are:

  • Crop biotechnology helps farmers earn more secure incomes due mainly to improved control of pests and weeds. The net farm level economic benefit in 2014 was $17.7 billion, equal to an average increase in income of $101/hectare. For the 19 years (1996-2014), the global farm income gain has been $150.3 billion.
  • The total farm income benefit of $150.3 billion was divided almost equally between farmers in developing (51%) and developed countries (49%).
  • By facilitating the adoption of no tillage production systems this effectively shortens the time between planting and harvest of a crop. The highest yield gains continue to be for farmers in developing countries, many of which are resource-poor and farm small plots of land.
  • Crop biotechnology continues to be a good investment for millions of farmers. The cost farmers paid for accessing crop biotechnology in 2014 ($6.9 billion34 payable to the seed supply chain) was equal to 28% of the total gains (a total of $24.6 billion). Globally, farmers received an average of $3.59 for each dollar invested in GM crop seeds.
  • Farmers in developing countries received $4.42 for each dollar invested in GM crop seeds in 2014 (the cost is equal to 23% of total technology gains), while farmers in developed countries received $3.14 for each dollar invested in GM crop seed (the cost is equal to 32% of the total technology gains).
  • The higher level of technology gains realised by farmers in developing countries relative to farmers in developed countries reflects weaker provision of intellectual property rights coupled with higher average levels of benefits in developing countries.
  • Between 1996 and 2014, crop biotechnology was responsible for additional global production of 158.4 million tonnes of soybeans and 321.8 million tonnes of corn. The technology has also contributed an extra 24.7 million tonnes of cotton lint and 9.2 million tonnes of canola.
  • GM crops are allowing farmers to grow more without using additional land. If crop biotechnology had not been available to the (18 million) farmers using the technology in 2014, maintaining global production levels at the 2014 levels would have required additional plantings of 7.5 million ha of soybeans, 8.9 million ha of corn, 3.7 million ha of cotton and 0.6 million ha of canola. This total area requirement is equivalent to 12% of the arable land in the US, or 33% of the arable land in Brazil or 14% of the cropping area in China.
  • Crop biotechnology has contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This results from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage with GM crops. In 2014, this was equivalent to removing 22.4 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 10 million cars from the road for one year.