Farmers 'universally' adopt bioengineered seed

by Ron Sterk
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WASHINGTON — U.S. farmers “have nearly universally adopted genetically engineered seeds” despite their higher costs, the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said. The United States accounts for nearly 40% of bioengineered crops planted globally.

Herbicide-tolerant crops are bioengineered to survive the application of specific herbicides (typically glyphosate sold under the brand name Roundup) that previously would have destroyed the crop and targeted weeds, providing farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control, the U.S.D.A. said. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to specific insects. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits and account for a large majority of bioengineered corn and cotton seeds.

Bioengineered seed accounted for 94% of U.S. soybean acreage, 93% of cotton acreage and 92% of corn acreage, the U.S.D.A. said. Bioengineered corn acreage was made up of 3% insect-resistant only, 13% herbicide-tolerant only and 76% “stacked” traits. Cotton acreage included 4% insect-resistant, 9% herbicide-tolerant and 80% “stacked” traits. Soybean acreage was herbicide-tolerant only. There are numerous other bioengineered crops planted in the United States, including sugar beets (estimated at more than 95% of total acreage), canola, alfalfa, papaya, squash and potatoes, but the U.S.D.A. reports annual acreage data only for corn, soybeans and cotton. There is no bioengineered wheat planted in the United States or globally.

Planting of the three major bioengineered crops in the United States has plateaued above 90% since 2013, according to U.S.D.A. data going back to 2000. Bioengineered soybean area first topped 90% of total soybean acreage in 2007, cotton area in 2010 and corn area in 2013. In 2000, bioengineered seeds were planted on 54% of the total soybean area, 61% of total cotton area and 25% of total corn area.

The United States has more hectares planted to bioengineered crops than any other country, accounting for 39% of the global total, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (I.S.A.A.A.). In 2015 there were 179.7 million hectares planted to bioengineered crops. The top five countries were the United States with 70.9 million hectares, Brazil with 44.2 million, Argentina with 24.5 million, India with 11.6 million and Canada with 11 million. Of the 23 other countries planting bioengineered crops, none had more than 4 million hectares in 2015, the I.S.A.A.A. said. Bioengineered crops are grown in only five countries in the European Union, including Spain, Portugal, Czechia, Slovakia and Romania, with Spain accounting for 92% of the bioengineered corn in the E.U.

As of Nov. 15, 2015, some 40 countries have granted regulatory approvals to bioengineered crops for use as food and/or feed since 1994, the I.S.A.A.A. said. The countries with the most approvals include Japan (214), the United States (187), Canada (161), Mexico (158) and South Korea (136). Corn has the most approvals (142 in 29 countries), followed by cotton (56 in 22 countries), potatoes (44 in 11 countries), canola (32 in 13 countries) and soybeans (31 in 28 countries), the I.S.A.A.A. said.  

“Onerous regulation for transgenic biotech crops remains the principal constraint to adoption, which is particularly important for many developing countries,” the I.S.A.A.A. said in its annual report.

High rates of adoption of current major bioengineered crops “leave little room for expansion in mature markets in principal biotech countries,” the I.S.A.A.A. said, but added there was significant potential for selected products in specific countries. The organization noted that “the pipeline is full of new biotech crop products which could (subject to regulatory approval for planting and import) be available during the next five years or so.” Finally, the I.S.A.A.A. said, “The advent of genome-edited crops may be, by far, the most important development identified by today’s scientific community.” 
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