It’s been two decades since farmers planted the first commercially approved biotech crops, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. And although plant biotechnology continues to stir heated debate on both sides of the issue, it has seen some fairly compelling achievements in the last 20 years that benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment.
These technologies help save more than 35 million acres of forest, native grass, and wetlands and protect our biodiversity. Without them, we would need to farm almost 50 per cent more land to grow the same amount of food — that’s more than the total land area of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island combined.
Globally, 18 million farmers in 28 countries are growing biotech crops, of which 90 per cent are smallholder farmers. By growing these crops, farmers have increased yields by 22 per cent in the last 20 years, and biotechnology has added $133.5 billion US to global farm incomes.
In Canada specifically, plant biotechnology and crop protection mean Canadians pay less for food – about 55 per cent or $4,400 per family less per year than if all food was produced organically. Economically, the plant science industry contributes almost $10 billion to Canada’s GDP every year.
In India, biotech cotton has increased farmer incomes by 50 per cent and turned the country into the world’s second-largest cotton producer. Overall, the technology has helped 16.5 million farmers worldwide escape from poverty.
From an environmental perspective, biotech crops have led to a 28 billion kilogram reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of taking all the cars in London, England off the road for five years. And by using biotech crops, farmers have saved 132 million hectares of land from being cultivated for farming.
Looking to the future as the climate changes, the population grows, and resources become scarcer, biotechnology has the potential to positively impact the health and welfare of millions of people around the world. Drought-tolerant corn varieties can feed 300 million people in Africa during times of water scarcity, for example, and a new variety of rice has the potential to keep 500,000 children from going blind. – NC