GM food production increasing
The future in feeding the projected more than 9 billion world population by 2050 will require doubling the world’s food production, according to the most accepted projections.
Increased yield per acre/hectare in crop production is definitely necessary because farmland is limited and even shrinking.
What continues to be the most controversial question is whether farmers and ranchers can double food production without the world embracing genetically modified (GM) food production. Even though it has been about 20 years since the introduction of GM crops, expansion of biotech foods has been slow.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of AgriBiotech Application (ISAAA), as of 2011, there were still only a few direct consumption GM foods being grown. But GM crops have started to increase more rapidly in the last five years as more research is being initiated or completed and governments are coming to grips with how to register GM crops.
As of the end of 2011, direct consumption food crops grown commercially or in research trials included papaya, squash, tomatoes, sweet peppers, eggplants, sweet corn, potatoes, starch bananas and rice. The remainder of crops being grown and in research that are normally processed as ingredients for food and feed or non-consumption products, included field corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, canola, wheat and poplar trees.
In 29 countries, an estimated total of 160 million hectares of biotech crops were grown in 2011, which was 12 million hectares more than in 2010, reported the ISAAA. Two-thirds of the increased hectares occurred in developing countries and that is a positive development because those countries are where the greatest population increases will occur heading to 2050.
Of course, the United States continues to overpower any other country’s biotech crop production; its nearest competition in GM crop production is Brazil—69 million hectares compared to 30.3 million hectares in 2011.
GMO AND ADVANCED BREEDING
There can be some confusion about biotechnology crops and GM crops because the GM descriptor means “plants are developed by introducing and incorporating a specific trait (gene) from one species of plant or organism into the genome of another plant to enhance or protect the crop.” That is the definition of a “transgenic” or GM crop, as explained by Syngenta in its biotechnology overview brochure.
Also, some say there is biotechnology involved in “advanced breeding” because “it is now possible to know the entire genomic sequence of an organism in a few days,” Syngenta also explained. “This new genome-wide perspective allows for gene discovery and association of gene(s) to desirable traits. As a result, thousands of genes have been identified and mapped to a location on specific chromosomes for many organisms.” The result is “marker-assisted” traditional breeding. “Marker-assisted breeding allows desirable traits such as higher yield, increased nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency, better water use or improved quality to be directly bred for in the field.”
With upwards of 90 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. being glyphosate resistant, this shows the U.S. acceptance of GM crops for processing into food and feed ingredients. Reports related to biotech crops has to be limited to GM crops and not advanced bred crops because advanced breeding is being used with almost every plant under cultivation around the world today. Advanced breeding for things such as the recent Nigerian government approval of commercialization of Vitamin A enhanced corn cannot be confused with GM engineering. It wasn’t developed by GM engineering.
Africa is a country with land for dramatically expanding crop production, but the continent only had three countries growing GM crops as of 2011—Burkina Faso, Egypt and South Africa. At 2.3 million hectares, South Africa by far led the way. It was ninth worldwide in GM crop production. There is enough GM production that mandatory GMO food labeling was to take effect this year, and there has been considerable squabbling over definitions and interpretations, according to a recent Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA/FAS) report.
WHEAT AN EMPHASIS
The Australian government has a national food strategy that recognizes that without adoption of GM crop production it will not be possible to meet the challenge of growing twice as much food by 2050, but as of 2011, Australia had less than 1 million acres of GM crop production—only cotton and canola. The interesting aspect is that Australia is a leader in GM wheat research today.
It should also be noted that the United Kingdom has GM wheat research underway even though it has no commercial GM approved crop production in the country. The UK averages a very high nine tons per hectare wheat yield today (world average is 3 tons per hectare), and wheat researchers think they can double their high UK yields within 20 years, according to a Bloomberg news agency report.
There has been considerable discussion about China’s involvement in GM crop production, but through 2011 there were only 3.9 million hectares under production, sixth largest in the world, with the widest variety of crops outside the U.S. Three vegetables were recognized in production—papaya, tomatoes and sweet peppers.
Another USDA/FAS report outlined by SeedQuest, noted that even China with problems feeding its people, an increasing population and foreign investment in biotechnology research centers, such as the Syngenta Biotechnology China Co. Ltd. in Beijing that opened in 2008, has hesitancy by its population to fully accept GM food production.
“Chinese government public outreach efforts and other media are explaining the benefits and development of agricultural biotechnology products. Despite these efforts, consumer opinion appears somewhat mixed as some prefer to believe rumors spread by scholars, non-government organizations, and others who may not be very supportive of agricultural biotechnology,” the report contended.
The other country currently needing much more food than it can produce is India. The country only has 4 percent of the world’s arable land but has to feed 18 percent of the global population, and it isn’t going to do anything but get worse. The debate in India about GM food crops has to be about food security. India currently only grows GM cotton, according to ISAAA, and it totaled 10.6 million hectares in 2011. Getting additional GM crops registered has been road blocked as the approval process has lost its transparency, more than one publication has noted.
EUROPEANS’ UNFOUNDED CLAIMS
Much of the same lack of confidence of biotech foods exists in India and throughout the world because of the European Union spreading its unfounded concerns about biotech foods and a fringe U.S. scientific community spreading negative quasi science.
Direct consumption of GM foods such as tomatoes are very limited in production in a small number of countries today. It is also easy for crackpots in undeveloped countries to spread rumors that cast doubt on GM food production to uneducated populations. An example is a Honduran activist who has been quoted as claiming GM crops can cause people to contract AIDS, and that is just one example of the completely outrageous claims that are being put forward to dissuade undeveloped nations’ people and governments from accepting GM foods.
Even with crazy talk against GM crops in Central and South America, the Americas as a whole is by far the leader in GM food and feed production with 12 countries growing GM crops and six of those countries are in the top 10 for 2011 production. In million hectares, the hectares are U.S., 69; Brazil, 30.3; Argentina, 23.7; Canada, 10.4; Paraguay, 2.8; and Uruguay, 1.3.
Brazil probably has the most rapidly expanding GM crop production. The projections are that Brazil will increase its biotech crops by 15 percent for 2012-2013 cropping (Oct. 2012 to Sept. 2013). Much of that anticipated increase is because of new biotech corn approvals, according to the USDA/FAS.
Science doesn’t support limiting GM crop production, and Europe needs to join the 21st century as the European Commission’s chief scientific advisor is quoted as suggesting. “There is no substantial case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food,” said Commissioner Anne Glover as published by EurActiv.com.
What seems to scare governments is that once a country allows GM food production it is a no-return path to follow. New GM crops are not going to stop being developed, and what would be the rationale for approving one GM crop and not the next? That is the big question even today as countries approve one crop and refuse registration for another crop with similar registration documentation, data packages?