– The anti-GM pressure groups are for ever asserting that biotechnology
crops provide no benefits even though ever more farmers are growing them on
an area increasing globally by up to 20% a year.
Now a new and comprehensive analysis by PG Economics Ltd provides economic chapter and verse for just how those benefits are derived .
After nine years of commercialisation, biotech crops have made a significant, positive impact on the global economy and environment, decreasing pesticide spraying and reducing the environmental footprint associated with pesticide use by 14%.
Since 1996, adoption of biotech crops has contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and decreased pesticide spraying. While greatly enhancing the way farmers in 18 countries produce food, feed and fibre, biotech crops have reduced the environmental footprint associated with agricultural practices. This study offers the first quantifiable global look at the impact of biotech crop production.”
In 1996–2004, biotech crops contributed to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. This reduction resulted from a decrease of about 1.8 billion litres in the use of fuel use plus additional soil carbon sequestration because of reduced ploughing or improved conservation tillage associated with biotech crops. In 2004, this reduction was equivalent to eliminating more than 10 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or removing 5 million cars – one-fifth of the total registered in the UK – from the road for one year.
Biotech crops have reduced the volume of pesticide spraying globally by 6% since 1996, equivalent to a decrease of 172.5 million kg. or 1,514 railway wagon-loads of pesticide active ingredient. The largest environmental gains from changes in pesticide spraying have been from biotech soybeans and cotton, which have reduced the associated environmental footprint by 19% and 17%, respectively. The global pesticide usage savings in 2004 were equivalent to about one-third of total pesticide active ingredient used on European arable crops.
The United States and Canada as industrialised nations, as well as China, South Africa and Argentina as developing countries, have together experienced the greatest reductions in the environmental impact of crop production.
“As the world is increasingly focused on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is
clear biotech crops are already making an important positive contribution to achieving this goal,” said Graham Brookes, one of the authors of the study.
As well as environmental gains from biotech crops, substantial net economic benefits at the farm level have been realised. Since 1996, global farm income has increased by a cumulative total of $27 billion derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains. This increase is equivalent to adding 3-4% to the value of global production of the four main biotech crops. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans have generated the greatest gains at more than $17 billion in increased income, while biotech cotton farmers improved their income by $6.5 billion in the past nine years.
Growers in the United States and Argentina have reaped the greatest rewards, each country gaining approximately $10 billion since 1996. Farmers in China have experienced a $4 billion income increase from planting biotech cotton.
In addition to the significant measurable benefits, valuable indirect advantages that are more difficult to quantify can be credited to biotech crop adoption. These include increased management flexibility, facilitating reduced tillage practices, reduced production risk and improved crop quality.
Over 8.25 million farmers in more than 18 countries have adopted biotech crops; 90% of them are resource-poor producers in developing countries.
Graham Brookes & Peter Barfoot (October 2005). GM crops: the global socioeconomic
and environmental impact – the first nine years 1996-2004. PG Economics Ltd, UK