Worldwide, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), biotech crops were grown on more than 167 million acres in 2003 by 7 million farmers in 18 countries. A total of 85 percent of growers using biotech crops are small farmers in developing countries, which represents nearly one-third of the global biotech crop area. While the United States grew more than 105 million acres of biotech crops in 2003, Argentina and China each grew more than 10 million acres of biotech crops that same year; China and Brazil each grew more than 5 million acres of biotech crops in 2003.
Adoption throughout the rest of the world has been slower. The United States is fortunate in that it had a science-based regulatory policy in place to accommodate the production and use of new biotechnology varieties. As acceptance of biotechnology grows worldwide, new varieties of important staple crops, such as rice, will be readily adopted overseas.
To learn more about adoption of biotech plants by farmers, click here.
Does biotechnology benefit America's agricultural economy?
Yes. Farmers have adopted biotechnology products because they deliver value by reducing operating and input expenses.
Biotechnology-derived varieties of pest-protected corn, cotton, and potatoes and herbicide-tolerant soybean have significantly reduced pesticide and herbicide use, boosted yields, and saved growers tens of millions of dollars. A recent study by the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy (NCFAP) found that six biotech crops – canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybean and squash – increased grower incomes by an additional $1.9 billion, boosted crop yields by 5.3 billion pounds and reduced pesticide use by 46.4 million pounds in 2003. These savings came from reduced inputs including time, labor, and wear and tear on farm equipment.
A study by University of Minnesota professor C. Ford Runge found that four commercial biotech crops – corn, soybeans, cotton and canola – represented $20 billion in value in the United States in 2002, half of the total $40 billion value of the four crops. The study also found that the economic impact of plant biotechnology extends beyond the farm gate and in individual states active in biotech research and development. At least 41 of the 50 states had some type of biotech initiatives in 2001, and those that have readily adopted and invested in biotechnology are reaping the greatest economic rewards. Corn Belt states with higher adoption levels of biotech crops have a greater number of agriculture and food science jobs than those with lower levels of adoption. Additionally, the study found that these new jobs typically pay 1.5 to 2 times the average wage of workers in these states, mostly because these types of jobs require at least a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, and sometimes a doctoral degree. Crop biotech also demands a variety of other high-tech, high-paying jobs, such as food scientists, microbiologists, biochemists and biophysicists.
To learn more about the benefits of biotechnology to farmers, click here.
Does pest-protected Bt corn harm monarch butterflies?
No. Bt crops incorporate genes from the common soil microbe Bacillus thuringiensis, which allows them to produce proteins (endotoxins) that protect them from certain insect pests. The protein expressed in Bt corn has long been known to be toxic to the caterpillars of butterflies, including the monarch. Laboratory studies confirming this led some outside the scientific community to claim that Bt corn posed a severe threat to the monarch.
Subsequent field studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrate that the threat to monarch populations from Bt corn is negligible. Indeed, some of the evidence suggests that Bt corn could greatly benefit monarch butterfly survival by reducing pesticide use. Scientific evidence gathered by the EPA also demonstrates that Bt corn does not harm monarch butterfly populations. Given this scientific consensus, in October 2000 EPA agreed to renew the registration for Bt crops for an additional seven years.
To learn more about Bt corn and the monarch butterfly, click here.
Has gene flow occurred between Bt corn and landraces in Mexico, and does this threaten natural biodiversity?
A November 2001 article in the journal Nature claimed that genetic material from Bt corn had found its way into traditional landraces in Mexico. In 1998, Mexico instituted a ban on growing corn enhanced through biotechnology.
Critiques of this study identified flawed methodology and interpretation, unprecedented assertions, and a failure to confirm results. As a result, the editors of Nature published an editorial note, saying, "In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." A review by the editors of Transgenic Research also concluded that "no credible scientific is presented in the paper to support claims made by the authors that gene flow between transgenic maize and traditional maize landraces has taken place."