Genetically Modified Crops and Agro-Economy

By biogeny 27-Oct-2017

Photo: Genetically modified crops

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  • Genetically modified crops (GMCs, GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide), or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. Examples in non-food crops include production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels, and other industrially useful goods, as well as for bioremediation.

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Genetically modified crops (GMCs, GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide), or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. Examples in non-food crops include production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels, and other industrially useful goods, as well as for bioremediation.

Farmers have widely adopted GM technology. Between 1996 and 2015, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100, from 17,000 km2 (4.2 million acres) to 1,797,000 km2 (444 million acres). 10% of the world's arable land was planted with GM crops in 2010. In the US, by 2014, 94% of the planted area of soybeans, 96% of cotton and 93% of corn were genetically modified varieties. Use of GM crops expanded rapidly in developing countries, with about 18 million farmers growing 54% of worldwide GM crops by 2013. A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that GM technology adoption had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. This reduction in pesticide use has been ecologically beneficial, but benefits may be reduced by overuse. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.

However, opponents have objected to GM crops on several grounds, including environmental concerns, whether food produced from GM crops is safe, whether GM crops are needed to address the world's food needs, whether the foods are readily accessible to poor farmers in developing countries, and concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law.

 

Gene transfer in nature and traditional agriculture

DNA transfers naturally between organisms. Several natural mechanisms allow gene flow across species. These occur in nature on a large scale – for example, it is one mechanism for the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This is facilitated by transposons, retrotransposons, proviruses and other mobile genetic elements that naturally translocate DNA to new loci in a genome. Movement occurs over an evolutionary time scale.

The introduction of foreign germplasm into crops has been achieved by traditional crop breeders by overcoming species barriers. A hybrid cereal grain was created in 1875, by crossing wheat and rye. Since then important traits including dwarfing genes and rust resistance have been introduced. Plant tissue culture and deliberate mutations have enabled humans to alter the makeup of plant genomes.

 

History of genetic engineering

The first genetically modified crop plant was produced in 1982, an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant. The first field trials occurred in France and the USA in 1986, when tobacco plants were engineered for herbicide resistance. In 1987, Plant Genetic Systems (Ghent, Belgium), founded by Marc Van Montagu and Jeff Schell, was the first company to genetically engineer insect-resistant (tobacco) plants by incorporating genes that produced insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

The People's Republic of China was the first country to allow commercialized transgenic plants, introducing a virus-resistant tobacco in 1992, which was withdrawn in 1997. The first genetically modified crop approved for sale in the U.S., in 1994, was the FlavrSavr tomato. It had a longer shelf life, because it took longer to soften after ripening. In 1994, the European Union approved tobacco engineered to be resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil, making it the first commercially genetically engineered crop marketed in Europe.

In 1995, Bt Potato was approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency, making it the country's first pesticide producing crop. In 1995 canola with modified oil composition (Calgene), Bt maize (Ciba-Geigy), bromoxynil-resistant cotton (Calgene), Bt cotton (Monsanto), glyphosate-resistant soybeans (Monsanto), virus-resistant squash (Asgrow), and additional delayed ripening tomatoes (DNAP, Zeneca/Peto, and Monsanto) were approved. As of mid-1996, a total of 35 approvals had been granted to commercially grow 8 transgenic crops and one flower crop (carnation), with 8 different traits in 6 countries plus the EU. In 2000, Vitamin A-enriched golden rice was developed, though as of 2016 it was not yet in commercial production. In 2013 the leaders of the three research teams that first applied genetic engineering to crops, Robert Fraley, Marc Van Montagu and Mary-Dell Chilton were awarded the World Food Prize for improving the "quality, quantity or availability" of food in the world.

 

Economics

GM food's economic value to farmers is one of its major benefits, including in developing nations. A 2010 study found that Bt corn provided economic benefits of $6.9 billion over the previous 14 years in five Midwestern states. The majority ($4.3 billion) accrued to farmers producing non-Bt corn. This was attributed to European corn borer populations reduced by exposure to Bt corn, leaving fewer to attack conventional corn nearby. Agriculture economists calculated that "world surplus [increased by] $240.3 million for 1996. Of this total, the largest share (59%) went to U.S. farmers. Seed company Monsanto received the next largest share (21%), followed by US consumers (9%), the rest of the world (6%), and the germplasm supplier, Delta & Pine Land Company of Mississippi (5%)."

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2014 approximately 18 million farmers grew biotech crops in 28 countries; about 94% of the farmers were resource-poor in developing countries. 53% of the global biotech crop area of 181.5 million hectares was grown in 20 developing countries. PG Economics comprehensive 2012 study concluded that GM crops increased farm incomes worldwide by $14 billion in 2010, with over half this total going to farmers in developing countries.

Critics challenged the claimed benefits to farmers over the prevalence of biased observers and by the absence of randomized controlled trials.[citation needed] The main Bt crop grown by small farmers in developing countries is cotton. A 2006 review of Bt cotton findings by agricultural economists concluded, "the overall balance sheet, though promising, is mixed. Economic returns are highly variable over years, farm type, and geographical location".

In 2013 the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) asked the EU to allow the development of agricultural GM technologies to enable more sustainable agriculture, by employing fewer land, water, and nutrient resources. EASAC also criticizes the EU's "time-consuming and expensive regulatory framework" and said that the EU had fallen behind in the adoption of GM technologies.

Participants in agriculture business markets include seed companies, agrochemical companies, distributors, farmers, grain elevators and universities that develop new crops/traits and whose agricultural extensions advise farmers on best practices. According to a 2012 review based on data from the late 1990s and early 2000s, much of the GM crop grown each year is used for livestock feed and increased demand for meat leads to increased demand for GM feed crops. Feed grain usage as a percentage of total crop production is 70% for corn and more than 90% of oil seed meals such as soybeans. About 65 million metric tons of GM corn grains and about 70 million metric tons of soybean meals derived from GM soybean become feed.

In 2014 the global value of biotech seed was US$15.7 billion; US$11.3 billion (72%) was in industrial countries and US$4.4 billion (28%) was in the developing countries. In 2009, Monsanto had $7.3 billion in sales of seeds and from licensing its technology; DuPont, through its Pioneer subsidiary, was the next biggest company in that market. As of 2009, the overall Roundup line of products including the GM seeds represented about 50% of Monsanto's business.

Some patents on GM traits have expired, allowing the legal development of generic strains that include these traits. For example, generic glyphosate-tolerant GM soybean is now available. Another impact is that traits developed by one vendor can be added to another vendor's proprietary strains, potentially increasing product choice and competition. The patent on the first type of Roundup Ready crop that Monsanto produced (soybeans) expired in 2014 and the first harvest of off-patent soybeans occurs in the spring of 2015. Monsanto has broadly licensed the patent to other seed companies that include the glyphosate resistance trait in their seed products. About 150 companies have licensed the technology, including Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer.

By biogeny 27-Oct-2017

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1 Comments

  1. Biogeny 2017-11-14 05:26:36 PM

    nice article