Agricultural Biotechnology Continues to Increase Crop Yield and Farmer Income Worldwide While Supporting the Environment
"The reason for such impressive worldwide adoption rates is simple — agricultural biotechnology delivers significant and tangible benefits, all the way from farm to fork,” said Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). “Helping to provide for more sustainable agricultural production, the benefits include a reduction in the environmental impacts of agriculture, increased production on the same amount of acreage, improved food quality, and increased farmer incomes. More than 12 million farmers around the world have chosen biotech crops because of the significant socioeconomic, environmental, and agricultural benefit they provide.”
Notably, the developing world continues to enjoy the benefits of biotech crops most aggressively. ISAAA reports that 11 million small, resource-poor farmers in 12 countries grew biotech crops in 2007, an 18 percent increase from 2006. While there is no easy and singular solution to starvation, many world organizations, such as the World Health Organization’s Food Safety Department and the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization have noted that biotechnology can play an important role in expanding and enhancing the global food supply and improving the economics of poor rural communities.
This past year also showed record domestic acceptance of biotech crops according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), with biotech crop acreage in the United States increasing in 2007 by 5.5 percent over 2006, for a total of 142.5 million acres. In 2007, 91 percent of U.S. acres of soybeans grown were biotech varieties, equivalent to 58.3 million acres. Acres of biotech corn grown in the United States increased by 12 percent in 2007 over 2006, for a total of 67.8 million acres of biotech corn, or 73 percent of all U.S. corn grown. Last year, 87 percent of cotton grown in the United States was biotech varieties — a four percent increase over 2006.
The continued global acceptance of agricultural biotechnology demonstrates the benefits farmers recognize from choosing biotech crops. Agricultural biotechnology has helped enable large shifts in agronomic practices that have led to significant and widespread environmental benefits. No-till agriculture, in limited use prior to 1996, has been widely adopted due to the superior weed control from biotech crops that are able to tolerate the newer class of lower-impact herbicides. In addition, a reduction in plowing has also enabled farmers to significantly reduce the consumption of fuel and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. No-till farming also leads to better conservation of soil and water and a decrease in soil erosion and soil compaction. A 2007 study by the University of Washington showed that no-plow farming methods reduce erosion to almost natural, geologic rates. Plow-less farms lost an average of 0.02 mm of soil each year, an erosion rate close to the natural geologic rates of 0.03 mm per year. In contrast, annual soil loss on plow-based farms average 1.5 mm of erosion. The study also found that on average, conventional farms lost soil about 90 times faster than new soil is produced.
Biotechnology has also made possible pest control measures that are more precisely targeted at specific problem pests while dramatically reducing impacts on non-target species. Biotech varieties have dramatically reduced farmers’ reliance on pesticide applications. Globally it is estimated that pesticide applications decreased six percent in the interval from 1996-2004, eliminating 379 million pounds of pesticide applications.
2007 also saw the introduction of several important regulations for plant biotechnology domestically and internationally that support smooth trade transactions, as well as support continued research into new biotech plant varieties.
Most significantly, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a draft programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), an important first step in the review and revision of agricultural biotechnology regulations in the United States, commonly known as APHIS Part 340 regulations. The revision of agricultural biotechnology regulations is essential to maintaining strong oversight as technology progresses and provides newer and more beneficial products.
In March and May, the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) respectively announced their interim policy and final guidance for low level presence (or adventitious presence), which is the unintentional and incidental commingling of trace amounts of one type of seed, grain, or food product with another. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) previously announced its early food safety assessment for low level presence in 2006. The United States’ science-based policies on low level presence have provided a model for the Codex Alimnetarius Commission, the international food standards body. In September, the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology reached consensus on and progressed an annex to the Codex Plant Guidelines that addresses safety assessments in situations of low level presence. Adoption of the annex is expected in 2008, signifying the first international standard for low level presence.
BIO continued to encourage the responsible management of plant biotechnology by introducing Excellence Through StewardshipSM, the first industry-coordinated stewardship program. Excellence Through Stewardship is an industry quality management program designed to enhance pant product integrity and stewardship. This is the first program that meets today’s product stewardship challenges and provides a strong quality management program (QMP) for the full life cycle of biotech plants into the future.
Also in 2007, USDA announced a complimentary Biotechnology Quality Management System (BQMS) program, intended to focus on improving compliance with field trials, using a quality management approach audited by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The BQMS program centers around USDA providing compliance assistance through guidelines to entities on how to implement a quality management system for purposes of compliance with confined field trials.
Continued Global Acceptance of Agricultural Biotechnology
In 2007, according to ISAAA, a record 23 countries planted biotech crops, with an additional 29 countries allowing imports of biotech food and animal feed. Argentina grew the second largest amount of biotech crops, after the United States, with nearly 47 million acres. India also became the fifth largest producer of biotech crops worldwide, surpassing biotech crop acreage in China. ISAAA reports that biotech crop yields in India and China increased by up to 50 percent and 10 percent, respectively and reduced insecticide applications in both countries by up to 50 percent or more. This past year also saw the introduction of new crops; China also reported planting 250,000 biotech insect-resistant poplar trees in an effort to contribute to reforestation efforts.
Biotech crop acreage is expected to increase in 2008 as two Australian states, New South Wales and Victoria, announced they will lift their bans on biotech crop plantings this year. Additionally, in 2007, Brazil approved, for the first time, seed sales of biotech corn varieties. In 2007 and early 2008, the European Union continued to work towards the acceptance of biotech crops; last year, the European Court of Justice rejected an Austrian ban on biotech crops, and in early 2008, the European Commission referred Poland and its ban on biotech crops to the European Court of Justice.
This past year also saw increasing approvals worldwide for field trials or new biotech varieties:
· Brazilian researchers began field trials for three varieties of biotech sugarcane with increased levels of sucrose.
· In 2007, Uganda began field trials for biotech sweet banana plants that are resistant to bacterial wilt and Black Sigatoka fungal disease. The biotech varieties are expected to save up to 50 percent of yields which are typically destroyed by pests and diseases. In early 2008, Uganda also approved field trials for biotech cotton.
· New Zealand approved field trials of biotech brassica vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale, that are resistant to caterpillar pests such as cabbage white butterfly and diamond-back moth.
· Australia officials approved field trials for a drought-tolerant biotech wheat.
· India approved the first large-scale field trial of a biotech food crop — a biotech variety of the brinjal vegetable. The biotech variety is expected to have increased yield as well as decrease the need for pesticide applications.
· Swiss officials approved three biotech wheat trials for varieties resistant to fungal diseases.
· Japanese researchers began field trials for biotech blue roses.
.Research and development into new biotech varieties with increased farmer and consumer benefits also took place worldwide:
· U.S. researchers last year developed a biotech tomato that expresses 25 times more folate than conventional tomatoes. Other U.S. scientists announced the development of a biotech tobacco plant that produces insulin, and has demonstrated promising results in diabetic mice. American scientists also developed biotech plants capable of surviving extreme drought, and which thrive on far less water. The researchers were able to enhance the drought-tolerance of the plants by delaying the cell death phase plants’ leave go through during a drought.
· Italian researchers announced the development of a new potato variety with enriched beta-carotene; the pro-vitamin A content of the new biotech potato increased 3.6-fold over conventional varieties.
· South African researchers developed a biotech corn variety that is resistant to maize streak virus (MSV), a virus endemic to Africa that stunts the growth of maize and leads to abnormal corn development.
· Taiwanese researchers announced the development of a biotech eucalyptus tree that ingests up to three times more carbon dioxide than conventional varieties. Scientists believe the new biotech variety could have the potential to help reduce greenhouse gasses and global warming. The biotech eucalyptus also produces less lignin and more cellulose.
· In 2008, New Zealand researchers announced the development of a tear-free onion through gene-silencing technology.
· In 2008, American researchers announced the development of a biotech carrot with 41 percent more calcium than conventional carrots.
While plant biotechnology continued to impart benefits to farmers and consumer worldwide in 2007, research and regulatory advances in animal biotechnology also continued. Most significantly, Codex advanced a guideline for food safety risk assessments of genetically engineered animals, the first international standard of its kind. Final adoption of this guideline is expected in 2008. Domestically, in early 2008, the FDA published is final risk assessment on the safety of meat and milk products from animal clones and their offspring; the European Food Safety Authority published similar health safety conclusions in early 2008 as well.,
As part of the biotechnology industry’s commitment to responsible management of agricultural biotechnology, in December 2007, the major animal cloning technology providers announced the formation of a tracking program using a supply chain management system that will allow food companies to identify animal clones. The program was developed to facilitate marketing claims and works through the use of a national registry. This system will help ensure a smooth transition of meat and milk products from the offspring of animal clones into the U.S. food supply.
Numerous research advances in animal biotechnology continued to 2007:
· U.S. researchers announced the production of genetically engineered cattle that cannot develop prion proteins, which can result in the degenerative disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). This research has positive implications in benefits for consumers both for human health and food safety.
· Cloning technology continued to advance worldwide in 2007: Korean researchers cloned the world’s first poodle; Chine cloned its first Boer goat, a specie from southern Africa that grows extremely fast and yields more meat than other goats or sheep; and Australian researchers cloned their first beef cow, a Brahman cow.
· The International Horse Genome Sequencing Project published the first draft of the horse genome sequence for use by biomedical and veterinary researchers. The project sequenced 2.7 billion DNA base pairs of a Thoroughbred mare.
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BIO represents more than 1,150 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology technologies. BIO also produces the annual BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the biotechnology industry, along with industry-leading investor and partnering meetings held around the world.