The World’s Embrace of Biotechnology

On the eve Valentines Day 2009, it’s appropriate to examine the world’s budding romance with biotechnology.  Ag biotech helps farmers grow heartier, healthier crops in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly manner.  Is it any wonder that we’re seeing the world embrace this science for the promises it holds?

The anxiously awaited ISAAA report for 2008 was released this week and its findings show another year of strong growth for agricultural biotechnology around the world. 

  • In 2008, global biotech acreage grew to 309 million acres versus 282 million acres in 2007. This is an increase of 9.4 percent.
  • In 2008, biotech crops were grown by 13.3 million farmers, up from 12 million in 2007.  90 percent (12.3 million) are resource-poor farmers in 15 developing countries.
  • In 2008, biotech crops were grown in 25 countries. New countries growing biotech crops in 2008 include the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso, where the need for sustainable agriculture is greatest.
  • In the United States, more than 154 million acres of biotech crops were planted in 2008, up from 143 million acres in 2007.  The primary biotech crops grown in the United States are corn, cotton, canola and soybeans, but also squash, papaya, alfalfa, and sugarbeet.
  • More than 2 billion acres of biotech crops have been planted globally since 1996. It took 10 years for biotech to reach its first billion acres, but only three years to reach the second billion acres.

Some anti-biotech activist groups are not in love with biotech and they are calling these trends “hype” and “propaganda.” Groups released statements this week saying the industry is “exploiting the food crisis” and “distracting attention from real solutions for small farmers.”

Well, I ask:  “What ARE the real solutions for small farmers?”  Aren’t farmers looking for crop varieties that resist insects and plant diseases?  Don’t farmers want seeds that yield more per acre with less demand on the land and water?  Wouldn’t farmers want to grow a crop that grows heartily and healthfully despite weather challenges?  Doesn’t the modern world deserve agricultural practices that don’t require gas-consuming equipment to till soil or additional chemicals to prevent weeds?  And don’t consumers want foods that are naturally more nutrient or healthful?

As the world embraces science to help grow more food and fuel sources for a growing number of people, my question is:  “Why aren’t you?”

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2008 and accompanying materials are posted at

Senator Suggests Biotech to Help Combat Hunger, Climate Change

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) made a science-based plea this week for the international community to embrace agricultural biotechnology as one weapon in the warn against world hunger and climate change. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Senator Lugar is ranking member, held a hearing on January 28th where strategies for addressing global climate change were discussed.  The hearing’s key witness was Former Vice President and climate change expert Al Gore.  Gore’s testimony focused on our “dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels.”

But in his opening statement, Lugar said “the United States should recognize that steps to address climate change involve economic opportunities, not just constraints.”  Opportunities such as these exist in the dynamic science of agricultural biotechnology.

Lugar said:  “Genetically modified (GM) crops have the potential to improve agriculture production in the poorest regions of the world and help poor farmers contend with increased drought, new pests, and other consequences of a changing climate. Yet many developing countries, especially in Africa, worry that if they adopt GM crops, they will not be able to export to markets in Europe. They also are deeply influenced by the direct advocacy of European government agencies and NGOs that are hostile to biotechnology.  The ironic result has been that African nations have developed stifling, European-inspired regulations on GM technology, even as they continue to struggle to ensure adequate food supplies and they rightly worry about the coming impact of climate change on their agricultural productivity.

“Opposition to safe GM technology contributes to hunger in Africa in the short run and virtually ensures that these poor countries will lack the tools in the long run to adapt their agriculture to changing climatic conditions that could create chaos. As a wealthy continent with a relatively secure food supply, Europe has the luxury to reject the benefits of GM technology without fear that its domestic populations will suffer intensifying hunger. But most African countries have no such luxury…We must not allow an aversion to modern agricultural technology to doom a part of the world’s population to chronic hunger and poverty.”