Science Speaks - Blog by ISAAA

Research Proves that Crop Biotechnology Continues to Make a Significant Contribution to Feeding the World

By Clement Dionglay
October 20, 2022

In 2019, 72 countries adopted genetically modified (GM) crops by either planting or importing for food, feed, or processing. Twenty-nine (29) countries planted GM crops, and 43 additional countries imported for food, feed, or processing. Ten countries in Latin America, nine in Asia and the Pacific, six in Africa, two in North America, and two in the European Union planted 190.4 million GM crops in 2019.

New research released on October 5, 2022, authored by economist Graham Brookes of PG Economics, found that since 1996, GM crops have increased global food, feed, and fiber production by nearly 1 billion tonnes (1996-2020) while helping farmers who grow these crops to reduce the environmental footprint associated with their crop protection practices by over 17 percent. It has also reduced carbon emissions by 39.1 billion kilograms, arising from reduced fuel use of 14.7 billion liters, equivalent to removing 25.9 million cars off the road for a year.

The research is the 15th annual report on GM crops' global economic and environmental impact. It provides insights into why more than 17 million farmers around the world have adopted crop biotechnology and continue to use it in their production systems since the technology first became available on a commercial basis in 1996. The report presents research findings into GM crops' global socio-economic and environmental impact in the 25 years since they were first commercially planted in a significant area. It focuses on farm-level economic effects, production effects, environmental impact from changes in the use of insecticides and herbicides, and their contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Crop biotechnology contributes to global food security and reduces the pressure to use new land for agriculture.

  • Biotechnology helped increase crop yields through improved control of pests, diseases, and weeds. Between 1996 and 2020, insect resistant (IR) technology helped increase yields by an average of 17.7 percent for IR maize and 14.5 percent for IR cotton relative to conventional production systems. In South America, farmers who grow IR soybeans have seen an average 9.3 percent increase in yields since 2013. Aside from cotton and maize, IR technology is also used in other commercial GM crops, including cowpea, eggplant, and sugarcane.
  • In over 25 years of widespread use, crop biotechnology has been responsible for the additional global production of 330 million tonnes of soybeans, 595 million tonnes of maize, 37 million tonnes of cotton lint, 15.8 million tonnes of canola, and 1.9 million tonnes of sugar beets.
  • Farmers planting GM crops grow more without needing to use additional land. For example, if crop biotechnology had not been available to farmers in 2020, maintaining global production levels that year would have required planting an additional 11.6 million hectares of soybeans, 8.5 million hectares of maize, and 2.8 million hectares of cotton, and 0.5 million hectares of canola. This total area of 23.4 million hectares is equivalent to the combined agricultural regions in the Philippines and Vietnam.

Crop biotechnology helps reduce agriculture’s environmental impact.
  • Crop biotechnology has significantly reduced agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by helping farmers adopt more sustainable practices such as reduced tillage, which decreases the burning of fossil fuels and retains more carbon in the soil. If GM crops had not been grown in 2020, for example, an additional 23.6 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide would have been emitted into the atmosphere, equivalent to adding 15.6 million cars to the roads.
  • From 1996 to 2020, crop biotechnology reduced the application of crop protection products by 748.6 million kilograms, a global reduction of 7.2 percent in the area planted to GM crops. This is equal to 1.5 times China’s total annual crop protection product use. As a result, farmers who grow GM crops have reduced the environmental impact associated with their crop protection practices by 17.3 percent.

Crop biotechnology delivers an excellent return on investment for farmers.

  • From 1996 to 2020, farmers in developing countries received US$5.22 as extra income for each dollar invested in GM crop seeds. In contrast, farmers in developed countries received US$3 as additional income for each extra dollar invested in GM crop seeds. The average return across all GM crop growers represents US$3.76 in extra revenue for each extra dollar invested over the same period.
  • The net farm-level economic benefit was just under US$18.8 billion in 2020, equal to an average increase in income of US$103/hectare. From 1996 to 2020, the net global farm income benefit was US$261.3 billion, equal to an average increase in revenue of US$112/hectare.

The three peer-reviewed open-access papers covering economic and environmental impacts are now available in the latest edition of the journal GM Crops and Food

For more information on GM crops and where they are planted, visit the ISAAA Brief 55 page. To read more about this study, download the full report on the PG Economics website.

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