Fact File on GM crops
2.REPORT: GM Crops Only a Fraction of Primary Global Crop Production
FACT FILE ON GM CROPS
*GM plantings make up a mere 2.4% of global agricultural crop land (item 1)
*nearly 80% of the global area planted to GM crops was in just three countries - the US, Argentina and Brazil (item 1)
*the US alone plants over 50% of the world's GM crops (item 1)
*less than 3% of cropland in India and China is planted with GM crops, almost exclusively 1 crop - GM cotton (item 1)
*in the 27 countries of the European Union, GM crop cultivation represents a mere 0.21% of agricultural land
*the number of hectares of GM crops actually fell last year in Europe (item 1)
*it has fallen in Europe every year since 2005 (item 1)
*most investment has gone into a small number of crops and traits targeted toward large-scale commercial farming (item 2)
*only four crops - soya, maize, cotton and canola - comprise virtually 100% of GM agriculture (item 1)
*GM rice, wheat, tomatoes, sweetcorn, potatoes and popcorn have all been rejected as unacceptable in the global marketplace (item 1)
*there are no commercially available GM crops designed for biofuels (item 2)
*GM papaya cultivation in Hawaii has been declining over several years (item 2)
*none of the GM crops on the market are modified for increased yield potential (item 1)
*some studies show GM crops reduce yield (item 2)
*disease tolerant GM crops are practically non-existent (item 1)
*the GM industry has not marketed a single GM crop with enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance or any of the other 'beneficial' traits long-promised by the industry (item 1)
*almost all GM crops involve just 2 traits, mainly just one trait - herbicide tolerance (item 1)
*herbicide tolerance is found in over 80% of all GM crops planted worldwide (item 1)
*GM crops have contributed substantially to increased pesticide use (item 1)
*most new GM crop varieties are also pesticide-promoting (item 1)
*GM crops have caused an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds (item 1)
*this is encouraging the use of more toxic petsicides, including ones banned in some European countries (item 1)
*the real beneficiaries of GM are the GM companies which profit from patents, expensive GM seeds, and increased pesticide sales (item 1)
*Monsanto is the world's largest seed firm (item 1)
*Monsanto holds a near monopoly in the biotech "traits" incorporated in GM seeds (item 1)
*Monsanto markets Roundup, the world's biggest selling pesticide (item 1)
1.WHO BENEFITS FROM GM CROPS?
Friends of the Earth, February 2009
The real beneficiaries of the GM system are biotech companies which profit from patents, expensive GM seeds, and increased pesticide sales. Poor farmers in contrast are squeezed by escalating costs.
After more than a decade of commercialisation, GM crops continue to occupy just a small share of the total crop area harvested in the world.
The ISAAA ranks some 13 countries as "biotech mega-countries", each of which plants at least 50,000 ha. Although the designation "mega" implies these countries sow vast tracts of land with GM crops, in fact the 50,000 ha threshold is so low that GM plantings make up a mere 2.4% of global agricultural crop land.
Nearly 90% of the area planted to GM crops in 2007 was found in just six countries in North & South America, with 80% in the US, Argentina and Brazil. One country alone, the United States, plants over 50% of the world’s GM crops. Less than 3% of cropland in India and China is planted with GM crops, almost exclusively GM cotton. In the 27 countries of the European Union, GM crop cultivation represents a mere 0.21% of agricultural land.
Only four countries plant GM crops on more than 30% of their arable land: the US, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The area of arable land in Paraguay and Uruguay is so small that even these high percentages amount to comparatively little GM crop.
There has also been a decade-long stagnation in the diversity of GM crops. As in the mid to late 1990s, only four crops - soya, maize, cotton and canola - comprise virtually 100% of biotech agriculture, as even ISAAA is forced to concede. Biotech versions of rice, wheat, tomatoes, sweetcorn, potatoes and popcorn have been rejected as unacceptable in the world marketplace (Center for Food Safety, August 2006). The initial approval of GM alfalfa in the US was reversed in 2006 by a federal judge, who castigated the US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to conduct a serious assessment of its environmental impacts (FoEI, 2008).
Perhaps most surprising is the stagnation of GM traits. Despite more than a decade of hype and failed promises, the biotechnology industry has not introduced a single GM crop with increased yield, enhanced nutrition, drought-tolerance or salt-tolerance. Disease tolerant GM crops are practically non-existent. In fact, biotech companies have made a commercial success of GM crops with just two traits - herbicide tolerance and insect resistance - which offer no advantages to consumers or the environment. In fact, GM crops in the world today are best characterised by the overwhelming penetration of just one trait - herbicide tolerance - which is found in over 80% of all GM crops planted worldwide...
More than a decade of experience in the United States demonstrates that GM crops have contributed substantially to increased pesticide use and an epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds. Resistant weeds have prompted biotechnology firms to develop new GM crops that promote pesticide use still more. The use of mechanical tillage to control resistant weeds is also increasing, contributing to greater soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions.
The biotech industry continues to develop pesticide-promoting, herbicide-tolerant gm crops.
Pesticides are chemicals that target weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides) or other pests. Pesticide-promoting, herbicide tolerant crops continue to dominate agricultural biotechnology. Four out of every five hectares of biotech crops worldwide were engineered for heavy applications of chemical herbicides. Agricultural biotechnology is essentially pesticide promoting technology.
The biotechnology industry has continued to focus its development efforts on new pesticide-promoting crop varieties. Of the four new biotech crops approved by the USDA from November 2006 to December 2007, two were herbicide-tolerant (soybeans and rice). One insect-resistant corn and one virus-resistant plum variety were also approved (APHIS, 5 October 2007).
The most significant developments in biotech agriculture are new GM crops that tolerate heavier applications of chemicals, and that tolerate two herbicides rather than just one. As discussed further below, this is the biotechnology industry's short-sighted "solution" to the epidemic of herbicide-resistant weeds that are plaguing American (and world) agriculture.
None of the GM crops on the market are modified for increased yield potential. Corporations' research and product pipelines continue to focus on new pesticide promoting varieties that tolerate the application of one or more herbicides. For instance, of the 14 GM crops awaiting USDA commercial approval, nearly half (6) are herbicide-tolerant: corn, soybeans, cotton (2), alfalfa and creeping bentgrass (for golf courses). None of the others represent beneficial new traits. Corn and cotton with insect-resistance are minor variations on existing IR crops. Virus resistant papaya and soybeans with altered oil content are already approved, though not grown to any significant extent. Carnations engineered for altered colour are a trivial application of biotechnology. One GM corn is engineered for sterile pollen, while another engineered to contain a novel enzyme for "self-processing" into ethanol presents potential risks to human health.
The longer-term future of biotech agriculture is also dominated by pesticide-promoting crops. Field trial permit figures are the best predictor of trends in GM crop development. Over one-third (36.3%) of active field trial permits for GM crops in the US involve one or more herbicide tolerant (HT) traits. These 352 active permits for field trials of HT crops encompass 18 different plant species and tolerance to more than eight different herbicides. Glyphosate-tolerance is by far the most common HT trait in field tests, though others, especially crops tolerant to dicamba herbicide, are also being extensively tested.
Independent studies have demonstrated not only that these pesticide reduction claims are unfounded, but that GM crops have substantially increased pesticide use, particularly since 1999. Dr. Benbrook conducted an exhaustive analysis of USDA data on pesticide use in agriculture from 1996 to 2004. His conclusion was that over this nine-year period, the adoption of GM soy, corn, and cotton has led to the use of 122 million more lbs of pesticides than would have been applied if these GM crops had not been introduced. A small decrease in insecticide use attributable to insect-resistant corn and cotton (-16 million lbs) has been swamped by a much larger increase in herbicide use on herbicide-tolerant crops (+138 million lbs) (Benbrook, C. 2004).
Much of this increasing herbicide use is attributable to a dramatic rise in application of glyphosate (Roundup) on Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) crops. In 1994, the year before the first Roundup Ready crop (RR soy) was introduced, 7,933 million lbs of Roundup were used on soybeans, corn and cotton. By 2005, glyphosate use on these three crops had increased 15-fold, to 119,071 million lbs (Table 9). Over the same period, Roundup Ready crop acreage45 in the U.S. increased from 0 acres (1994) to 102 million acres (2005), an area larger than the state of California. In 2006, Roundup Ready crop acreage rose 14% more, to 116 million acres. Initially, the rising use of glyphosate on Roundup Ready crops was more than offset by reductions in the use of other pesticides. Beginning in 1999, however, weeds that could no longer be controlled with the normal dose of glyphosate began to emerge, driving farmers to apply more of it (see Section 3.4).
Thus, the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready crops combined with the emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds has driven a more than 15-fold increase in the use of glyphosate on major field crops from 1994 to 2005. The trend continues. In 2006, the last year for which data are available, glyphosate use on soybeans jumped a substantial 28%, from 75,743 million lbs in 2005 to 96,725,000 million lbs in 2006 (See Table 9).
Herbicide-resistant weeds and pesticide use
- glyphosate-resistant weeds
Monsanto first introduced glyphosate in the US in 1976 (Monsanto, 2007b), and for two decades there were no reports of glyphosate-resistant weeds. By 1998, only rigid ryegrass had developed resistance to the chemical in California. Extensive weed resistance first developed only several years after the introduction of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans in 1995, Roundup Ready cotton and canola in 1997, and Roundup Ready corn in 1998 (Monsanto, 2007b). Scientists who first identified glyphosate-resistant horseweed in Delaware in 2000 attributed their evolution to the continuous planting of Roundup Ready crops...
When forced to admit that herbicide-tolerant crops increase overall pesticide use, biotech industry apologists quickly fall back on a second claim: the increasing use of glyphosate has reduced the use of more toxic herbicides, and so benefits the environment. While this was true in the first few years of Roundup Ready crops, a look at recent trends in herbicide use undermines this claim.
More and more, farmers are being told to combat glyphosate resistant weeds by applying other chemicals, often in combination with higher rates of glyphosate. As early as 2002, Ohio State University agricultural advisers recommended using 2,4-D plus metribuzin plus paraquat as pre-emergence chemicals to control glyphosate-resistant marestail in Roundup Ready soy (Loux, and Stachler, 2002). In September 2005, reports of glyphosate resistant Palmer amaranth in Georgia cotton fields prompted Monsanto to recommend that farmers use several additional herbicides with Roundup, including Prowl (pendimethalin), metolachlor, diuron and others. The company also suggested that farmers planting any RR crops use pre-emergence residual herbicides in addition to Roundup (Monsanto, September 13, 2005). In the same year, weed scientists in Tennessee noted that Palmer amaranth in the state survived applications of up to 44 ounces per acre of Roundup, and so recommended that farmers use additional
herbicides such as Clarity, 2,4-D, Gramoxone Max or Ignite (Farm Progress, September 23, 2005).
Monsanto is the world's largest seed firm, holds a near monopoly in the biotech "traits" incorporated in GM seeds, and markets Roundup, the world's biggest selling pesticide.
2.Genetically Modified Crops Only a Fraction of Primary Global Crop Production
by Alice McKeown
WorldWatch Institute, December 4 2008
In 2007, farmers planted an additional 12.3 million hectares of genetically modified (GM) crops, bringing the total global area up 12 percent to 114.3 million hectares.1 (See Figure 1.) Genetically modified crops (also called biotech crops) have been intentionally altered through genetic engineering””the elimination, alteration, or introduction of new genetic elements, including from one unrelated species to another. Although they have been on the market for a decade, they currently account for a modest 9 percent of total land used for global primary crops.2 (See Figure 2.) Four cash crops continue to account for virtually all GM production: soybean (51 percent), corn (31 percent), cotton (13 percent), and canola (5 percent).3
Twenty-three countries were growing GM crops in 2007, including 17 high-income and upper-middle-income countries and 6 lower-middle-income countries.4 The global leader by far continues to be the United States, which accounts for half of all GM crop area.5 In 2007, GM crops were growing on 57.7 million hectares of U.S. land, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year.6 Beyond the four standard GM crops, farmers there also grew small amounts of GM papaya in Hawaii, although that has been declining over the past few years, and GM alfalfa, which court rulings have suspended until further environmental review.7
The second and third largest countries for GM crop area are Argentina, with 19.1 million hectares in 2007, and Brazil, with 15.0 million hectares.8 Other primary South American growers include Paraguay with 2.6 million hectares and Uruguay with 500,000 hectares.9 The main GM crop grown in this region is soybeans, followed by corn and cotton.10
India is now ranked fifth in total GM crop area, with 6.2 million hectares in 2007 devoted to cotton.11 This includes 2.4 million hectares that were planted between 2006 and 2007, about the same amount of new area as added the previous year. Although China was the first country to grow a commercial genetically modified crop””transgenic tobacco in 1992””added crop area rates there have significantly trailed those of India.12 In 2007 China had 3.8 million hectares in GM crops, including 300,000 new hectares, about one eighth as much as India's new crop area for the same year.13 The main GM crop in China is cotton.14
Two GM crop traits continue to dominate worldwide: herbicide tolerance (63 percent) and insect resistance (18 percent), with a combination of the two traits (called “stacked”) accounting for the rest.15 (See Figure 3.) For herbicides, most crops have been altered to tolerate direct application of glyphosate, commonly known by the trade name Roundup.16 While GM crops adopted during the initial years of commercialization were mostly single-trait crops, the recent trend has been for stacked traits that are a combination of herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.17 This trend has been most prevalent over the last four years, as stacked crops grew from 9 percent to 19 percent of traits.18
In the United States, GM crop production actually increased pesticide use by more than 4 percent between 1996 and 2004, despite early signs that GM use might be tied to an overall decline.19 Reports of glyphosate-resistant weeds, or "super weeds," have been on the rise since GM crops started gaining momentum, and these weeds now total 15 species””up from 2 in the 1990s””that cover hundreds of thousands of hectares in the United States alone.20 In response, farmers have been encouraged to diversify herbicide applications or increase glyphosate applications.21
Claims of potential benefits from GM crops include increased yields and nutritional value, although to date no commercially available crops have been modified for these purposes.22 Some studies have shown that GM crops reduce yield performance, including a 5- to 10-percent yield drag in GM soybeans.23 Media reports have linked the widespread collapse of GM cotton crops and reduced yields in India to increased suicides among poor farmers.24 And although nutrition-related traits have been promised over the last decade, they are still at least five years away from market.25
Several concerns surround GM crops, including the transfer of food allergens across crop species, the unintentional spread and gene flow of GM crops, contamination of organic and other non-GM crops, the development of weed and pest resistance, and toxicity to animals that may feed on or near the crops.26 One social concern is the use of genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs), which can prevent the appearance of a GM trait or cause the seeds to be sterile in order to keep GM crops from being replicated or saved and replanted by farmers for the next crop.27 Sometimes called “terminator seeds,” GURTs pose environmental risks and have been restricted, although research into new varieties continues.28
The potential social benefits of GM crops for small farmers and consumers in developing countries have not yet been realized in part because large profit-driven agribusinesses have dominated research and development and hold intellectual property protections that make public research costly and time-consuming.29 In addition, most investment has been into a small number of crops and traits targeted toward large-scale commercial farming.30
The Food and Agriculture Organization has warned of a growing “molecular divide” between industrial and developing countries, advocating a new direction that would address the needs of the poor, including research into so-called orphan crops””sorghum, millet, and pigeon pea, among others””that have received little or no attention.31
Other critics maintain that GM research threatens local agricultural knowledge and experimentation, two important components of a sustainable agricultural system.32 These concerns raise questions about portraying GM crops as a second Green Revolution: whereas in the Green Revolution research was driven by public centers and focused on providing free technology and access to those most in need, the “Gene Revolution” is largely being driven by commercial profits.33
Monsanto exemplifies the growing influence of GM agribusinesses and seed companies: its GM crop traits are found in more than 85 percent of global GM crop hectares, and the company controls 23 percent of the global proprietary seed market.34 Monsanto has been a leading proponent of prohibiting farmers from saving seeds to plant as future crops, increasing the dependence of farmers on seed companies.35 The company has collected tens of millions of dollars from farmers charged with illegally saving GM seed, even in cases where accidental contamination was the likely culprit.36
Rising food prices worldwide have led to increased media attention on GM crops. In early 2008, GM proponents like Monsanto began promoting their technology as part of the global solution to an impending food crisis, even though there are no GM crops available to increase yields.37 Livestock producers and feed makers joined the media fray, urging faster approval of GM crops and more widespread use of the technology.38 Yet a groundbreaking report by more than 400 scientists published in April 2008 and approved by more than 50 countries casts serious doubts about the role of GM crops in addressing food security and points to the existence of more-effective alternatives and solutions.39
Another area that is gaining attention is the overlap of GM crops and climate change. Some proponents have highlighted the use of GM crops in biofuels production, including 7 million hectares of corn used in ethanol and just over 4 million hectares of soybeans used in biodiesel.40 But there are no commercially available GM crops designed for biofuels, which are made equally well from conventional crops. Moreover, biofuels may result in higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum fuels.41
Also receiving attention are crops that may be able to adapt to changing climate conditions like drought and extreme temperatures””sometimes called “climate-ready.”42 Several large agribusinesses have announced significant research investments into these crops, including one partnership with nonprofit and research groups, called Water Efficient Maize for Africa, to develop drought-tolerant corn.43 However, there are many substantial technical obstacles to successful development of these traits through genetic modification.44 Like earlier promises of higher nutrition, most of the “climate-ready” GM crops are not expected to be widely available for 5 10 years even if they turn out to be viable.45
Even as these developments advance, tension is growing over the future of GM crops. The European Union is expected to offer new guidance on these crops by the end of 2008, a process that has already proved controversial, with allegations of secret meetings to sway the decision.46 France announced earlier this year that it was suspending GM crop production, but two other countries are expected to join the mix by the end of 2008: Egypt and Burkina Faso.47 New crops are also in development, including rice””one of the most important food staples for a majority of the world’s poor.48 Yet a new scientific study funded by the Austrian government suggests that a popular variety of GM corn reduces fertility in mice, raising questions about GM safety.49 And with high-level critics like the Prince of Wales speaking out, GM crops are likely to remain controversial.50