Publications: ISAAA Briefs
No. 1 - 1996
Chair, ISAAA Board of Directors
Transgenic Crop Field Trials in Developing Countries
America and the Caribbean (LAC)
Commercialization of Transgenic Crops
The international scientific and development community now recognizes that doubling or tripling of world food, feed and fiber production by the year 2050 to meet the needs of an 11 billion global population cannot be achieved without biotechnology. Genetic engineering of crops has been a controversial subject since 1971 when the first genetically modified organisms were developed. Concern about biosafety has led to Government regulation of transgenic crops in contained and field experiments to assess potential risk before the genetically engineered crops are approved for commercialization. The first field trials of transgenic crops featured herbicide resistance, used as a marker gene in tobacco in the USA and France in 1986. In the interim period, more than 3,500 field trials of transgenic crops have been conducted on more than 15,000 individual sites, in 34 countries with at least 56 crops, mostly in North America and the European Union. 91% of the trials have been conducted in industrialized countries, 1% in Eastern Europe and Russia and the balance of 8% in the developing countries with most in Latin America and the Caribbean, only 2% in the developing countries of Asia, almost exclusively in China, and very few in Africa, almost all in South Africa. The majority of the trials have been conducted in the USA, Canada, France, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, followed by Belgium, Argentina, Italy, China, Germany, Australia, Chile and Mexico.
China was the first country to commercialize transgenics in the early 1990s with the introduction of virus resistant tobacco, and later a virus resistant tomato. The first approval for commercial sale of a genetically modified product for food use in an industrialized country was in the USA in May 1994 when Calgene marketed its FlavrSavr™ delayed ripening tomato. By year-end 1995, 35 applications or petitions had been granted to commercially grow 9 transgenic crops, involving 8 traits in 6 countries plus the European Union, with most approvals in the USA (20) and Canada (8) which together account for 80% of the number of approvals worldwide. An additional 11 limited approvals by 3 countries have been granted for use of a product from a transgenic crop for food and/or feed use or for breeding or import. Another 28 applications are pending in 4 countries, seeking approval to either grow transgenic crops or use products derived from them. It is estimated that over 3 million acres of genetically engineered crops have been planted in the USA in 1996 for seed multiplication or as commercial crops. The major transgenic crops approved for commercial production in the USA in 1996 are: tomato with delayed ripening qualities (also approved in Mexico); cotton with insect resistance conferred by the Bt gene, and herbicide resistance; soybean with herbicide resistance (also approved in Argentina); corn/maize with insect or herbicide resistance or male sterility; canola/rapeseed with modified oil quality; an insect resistant potato; and squash with virus resistance. Canada is commercializing transgenic canola with herbicide resistance or modified oil, corn with insect resistance or herbicide resistance and potatoes with insect resistance in 1996. Countries of the European Union have approved commercial production of only transgenic tobacco, with limited approval for food and/or feed use of imported products of herbicide resistant canola, and cotton oil as well as delayed ripening tomatoes. Applications for commercial production of additional transgenic crops are pending in several industrialized countries and are expected to be approved in the imminent future.
It is noteworthy that with the exception of China, which is reported to be growing more than 2.5 million acres of transgenic tobacco and tomato, all the approvals to-date in the industrialized countries have been granted to private sector corporations which have the majority of the investments in biotechnology. Public sector institutions in various countries are conducting field trials with transgenics, however they represent a small percentage of the total; an exception is Australia where the majority of applications in 1995 were from the public sector.
The impact and the constraints to increased adoption of transgenic crops as well as the future outlook for products from crop biotechnology is discussed. The projected value of the global market in transgenic crops is estimated at between $2 billion and $3 billion dollars for the year 2000 increasing to $6 billion in 2005.
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