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CONVENTION UPDATE: Agricultural Biotechnology – Providing Economic and Environmental Benefits

May 21, 2009
By Michael J. Phillips
Further evidence was provided at BIO 2009 on the many benefits of agricultural biotechnology.  Graham Brookes, Director of PG Economics (UK) released key findings from its Global Impact Study that showed that farmers around the world are growing more biotech crops with significant global economic and environmental benefits. Key highlights of the report include:    

  • Biotech crops contribute significantly to reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices – mainly from less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage.  In 2007, the reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by biotech crops was equivalent to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year;

  • Biotech crops reduced pesticide use (1996-2007) by  359 million kg (-8.8 percent), and as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 17.2 percent;

  • Herbicide tolerant biotech crops have facilitated the adoption of no/reduced tillage production regions – especially South America;

  • There have been substantial net economic benefits to farmers amounting to $10.1 billion in 2007, and $44.1 billion since 1996.  Of the $44.1 billion, 46.5 percent ($20.5 billion) was due to increased yields and the rest to reductions in the cost of production. 

The report countered a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that attempted to make the case that biotech crops have not significantly increased yields since their introduction 1996.  However, the UCS report suffers from a very flawed, superficial and inconsistent analysis.  

The UCS report is very selective in the data it chose to use and does not account for variation in yield, country and region. The UCS report does – in fact – state that Bt corn has increased yields in the United States, but states just the opposite in its executive summary. In addition, the report did not take into consideration the significant decrease in costs of production from biotech crops that are just as important to farmers as yield.  And, the report did not include canola and cotton that have had significant yield increases over the past decade. 

In contrast, the PG Economics report is global in its analyses, uses the same rigorous methodology that has been peer reviewed in previous reports, and the results have been published in peer-reviewed journals.  The conclusions reached in the report are very solid and will stand up to a rigorous review.  They show very conclusively that agricultural biotechnology contributes to both environmental and economic sustainability.  Without a doubt, agricultural productivity and environmental protection can be and - in fact - are very compatible. 

*Note:  The Pg Economics report, “GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2007” is posted online at   

Michael J. Phillips, Ph.D. was BIO’s Vice-President for Food and Agriculture until he retired in 2007.  He is currently President, MJ Phillips and Associates LLC, an agricultural consulting firm – specializing in biotechnology.