Friday, July 05, 2013

ISAAA's GM Approval Database: A One-Stop-Shop for Biotech Crop Information

In 2012, 170.3 million hectares of commercialized biotech crops were planted by more than 17 million farmers in 28 developing and industrial countries worldwide. These numbers are clear indications that many farmers from different agricultural conditions choose biotech crops because of the benefits they offer.

Unknown to many people, biotech crops pass through rigorous, science-based evaluation for a number of years before they reach farmers’ fields to assure the public that these crops are safe to consumers' health and the environment. In the United States, there are nine steps in the regulatory process which usually takes around seven to ten years to complete, a far more thorough procedure than what any conventional crop goes through. All such processes are documented and pertinent regulatory information are made available through the approving countries' Biotechnology Clearing Houses and their websites.

In an effort to put together such information, ISAAA created the GM Approval Database, an easy to use online atlas of biotech crops approved for cultivation, trade and/or consumption. The database features the basic information on different crop genetic modifications (GM) called events, and the summary of regulatory approvals granted for these events in different countries.

GM Approval Database page from ISAAA's website.

Led by Drs. Rhodora R. Aldemita and Renando O. Solis, ISAAA intended this database to be of general use, and its developers sought to simplify its contents and maximize the convenience of navigating through the information that the database can provide according to its users' preferences. Dr. Solis said that while the database provides only basic and summarized information for each of the hundreds of events currently in the atlas, users can be directed to other online sources for additional information.

The database does provide the latest information on approved GM events, which adds to its increasing functionality. So far, most of the feedbacks have come from users who are involved in seed business or seed regulation, and some get to contribute to update the current data. The synchrony of international approvals for biotech crops would have an impact on international seed and food trade, and this is the reason why ISAAA is constantly on the watch to track these approvals through the pre-commercial pipeline of every country. Researchers and biotech advocates have also sent feedback, and their suggestions open avenues for further improvement.

ISAAA’s GM Approval Database currently holds information for 329 unique events representing 26 biotech crops with regulatory approval in at least one country for food/feed use or commercial cultivation. Links to more than 2,000 regulatory documents and related information are also provided.

For more information about ISAAA and the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, visit our website at: and To subscribe to the weekly Crop Biotech Update, click here:

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Bt Toxin: A Story of the Pen and its Cap

Explaining the Bt technology to a layman might be hard because you would need to define a lot of terms and explain a number of concepts. However, plant biotechnologist Dr. K.C. Bansal, made it easy using a pen and its cap.

The protein produced by Bt crops is generally called a Bt protoxin which can be represented by a pen without a cap. So once the pest consumes a part of a Bt plant, the Bt protoxin (pen) meets with a receptor inside the insect's gut which is represented by the cap of the pen. When the protoxin (pen) and the receptor (cap) bind together in alkaline gut condition, they become an activated toxin, ready to poison the gut of the pest such as cotton bollworm, the eggplant fruit and shoot borer, and the Asian and European corn borers.

When non-target organisms (like humans and animals) ingest a part of a Bt plant, the toxin will not be activated because the receptor (cap) is only present in the gut of target organisms. Thus, the Bt protoxin will not take its action and become a toxin. Bt plants therefore are as safe as its conventional counterparts for food and feed. It has been proven safe by international food safety agencies since Bt corn were introduced in 1996.

For more information about Bt technology, read ISAAA Pocket K No. 6 at

Artwork by Rene Aranda, Philippine Star.

For more information about ISAAA and the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, visit our website at: and To subscribe to the weekly Crop Biotech Update, click here:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The 2012 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops

In 2012, more farmers around the world planted biotech crops.

This infographic and other materials on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2012 are available for download at the ISAAA website, with the following link:

For more information about ISAAA and the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, visit our website at: and To subscribe to the weekly Crop Biotech Update, click here:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Top Ten Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2012

A new overview of biotech crops in 2012

Fact 1.
2012 was the 17th year of successful commercialization of biotech crops.

Biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996, and planting increased every single year between 1996 to 2012 with 12 years of double digit growth rates, reflecting the confidence and trust of millions of risk-averse farmers from both developing and industrial countries around the world.

Fact 2.
Biotech crop hectares increased by unprecedented 100-fold from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 170 million hectares in 2012.

This makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The reason – they deliver benefits. In 2012, hectarage of biotech crops grew at an annual growth rate of 6%, up 10.3 million from 160 million hectares in 2011. Millions of farmers in almost 30 countries worldwide have made more than 100 million independent decisions to plant an accumulated hectarage of almost 1.5 billion hectares, equivalent to 50% more than the total land mass of the United States or China. This growth reflects the fact that biotech crops deliver sustainable and substantial socioeconomic and environmental benefits.

Fact 3.
For the first time in 2012, developing countries planted more biotech crops than industrial countries.

Notably, developing countries grew more, 52%, of global biotech crops in 2012 than industrial countries at 48%. In 2012, growth rate for biotech crops was at least three times as fast, and five times as large in developing countries, at 11% or 8.7 million hectares, versus 3% or 1.6 million hectares in industrial countries.

Fact 4.
Number of countries growing biotech crops.

Of the 28 countries which planted biotech crops in 2012, 20 were developing and 8 were industrial countries; two new countries, Sudan (Bt cotton) and Cuba (Bt maize) planted biotech crops for the first time in 2012. Germany and Sweden could not plant the biotech potato "Amflora" because it ceased to be marketed. Stacked traits are an important feature – 13 countries planted biotech crops with two or more traits in 2012, and notably, 10 of the 13 were developing countries – 43.7 million hectares, or more than a quarter, of the 170 million hectares were stacked in 2012.

Fact 5.
Number of farmers growing biotech crops.

In 2012, a record 17.3 million farmers, up 0.6 million from 2011, grew biotech crops – remarkably over 90%, or over 15 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Farmers are the masters of risk-aversion and in 2012, a record 7.2 million small farmers in China and another 7.2 million in India, elected to plant almost 15 million hectares of Bt cotton, because of the significant benefits it offers. In 2012 over one-third of a million small farmers in the Philippines benefited from biotech maize.

Bt cotton farmer in India.
Workers in cotton processing facility in China.
Biotech corn harvest in northern Philippines.
Fact 6.
The top 5 countries planting biotech crops.

The US continued to be the lead country with 69.5 million hectares, with an average ~ 90% adoption across all crops. Brazil was ranked second, and for the fourth consecutive year, was the engine of growth globally, increasing its hectarage of biotech crops more than any other country – an impressive record increase of 6.3 million hectares, up 21% from 2011, reaching 36.6 million hectares. Argentina retained its third place with 23.9 million hectares. Canada was fourth at 11.8 million hectares with 8.4 million hectares of canola at a record 97.5% adoption. India was fifth, growing a record 10.8 million hectares of Bt cotton with an adoption rate of 93%, In 2012, each of the top 10 countries planted more than 1 million hectares providing a broad foundation for future growth.

Fact 7.
Status of biotech crops in Africa.

The continent continued to make progress with South Africa increasing its biotech area by a record 0.6 million hectares to reach 2.9 million hectares; Sudan joined South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, to bring the total number of African biotech countries commercializing biotech crops to four. Five countries, Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda conducted field trials of biotech crops, the penultimate step prior to approval for commercialization. The lack of appropriate, science-based and cost/time-effective regulatory systems continue to be the major constraint to adoption. Responsible, rigorous but not onerous, regulation is needed, particularly for small and poor developing countries.

Fact 8.
Status of biotech crops in EU.

Five EU countries planted a record 129,071 hectares of biotech Bt maize, up 13% from 2011. Spain led the EU with 116,307 hectares of Bt maize, up 20% from 2011 with a record 30% adoption rate in 2012.

Fact 9.
Benefits offered by biotech crops.

From 1996 to 2011, biotech crops contributed to Food Security, Sustainability and the Environment/Climate Change by: increasing crop production valued at US$98.2 billion; providing a better environment, by saving 473 million kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2011 alone reducing CO2 emissions by 23.1 billion kg, equivalent to taking 10.2 million cars off the road for one year; conserving biodiversity by saving 108.7 million hectares of land; and helped alleviate poverty for >15.0 million small farmers and their families totaling >50 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea and adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance management, are a must for biotech crops as they are for conventional crops.

Fact 10.
Future prospects.

Cautiously optimistic with more modest annual gains likely due to the already high rates of adoption in the principal biotech crops in mature markets in both developing and industrial countries.

For more information about ISAAA, the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops Briefs, and other information resources, visit the ISAAA website at

Monday, March 04, 2013

Developing Countries Dominate Global Production of Biotech Crops

The world is different today than how it was 17 years ago. Seventeen years ago, there were only 5.8 billion people in the world (The World Bank). Today, the world’s population has grown to more than 7 billion (Population Reference Bureau), and is estimated to be at a staggering 8 billion by 2030, or 17 years from now. Today, the world has more to feed, clothe, and shelter. Doing this on limited and decreasing resources and inputs is an insurmountable task – a challenge that has been met with a variety of options, including biotech crop technology.

The recently released 2012 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, authored by Clive James, ISAAA Board Chair, reports that an unprecedented 100-fold increase in global biotech crop plantings was recorded last year, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 170.3 million hectares in 2012, making biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history.

Seventeen years after the first biotech crop was commercialized, or almost two decades ago, developing countries, for the first time, have grown more biotech crops than industrial countries, producing 52 percent of the total global production in 2012. Of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops last year, 20 were developing, while only 8 industrial countries planted biotech crops, compared with 19 developing and 10 industrial countries in 2011.

From 1996 to 2012, millions of farmers in almost 30 countries worldwide made the decision to plant and replant biotech crops at an accumulated hectarage of more than 1.5 billion hectares. In 2012 alone, 17.3 million farmers grew biotech crops, up by 0.6 million from 2011, of which more than 90% or over 15 million are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

Two new countries, both developing, planted biotech crops for the first time last year. Sudan planted Bt cotton, while Cuba grew Bt maize. Sudan is the fourth country in Africa to plant a biotech crop after South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt. About 10,000 farmers were the initial beneficiaries of the technology who have an average of 1-2.5 hectares of land. In a similar development in Latin America, Cuba became the 11th Latin American country to plant biotech crops. For the first time, Cuban farmers grew 3,000 hectares of hybrid Bt maize commercially.

Despite the enormous leap in biotech crop production of developing countries, the USA remained and continued its leadership in producing biotech crops in 2012 with 69.5 million hectares, an average adoption rate of ~90% across all biotech crops. Since 2006, the USA has planted eight biotech crops, namely: maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugarbeet, alfalfa, papaya, and squash. 

Second to the USA, but emerging as a global leader in biotech crop production is Brazil, which produced 36.6 million hectares of biotech crops in 2012, a total of 6.3 million hectares more than its hectarage in 2011. For the fourth consecutive year, Brazil increased biotech crop plantings more than any other country in the world.

According to Clive James, the growth seen in global production of biotech crops is “contrary to the prediction of critics, who prior to the commercialization of the technology in 1996 prematurely declared that biotech crops were only for industrial countries, and would never be accepted and adopted by developing countries.” He added that risk-averse farmers put their trust and confidence in biotechnology because biotech crops deliver substantial, sustainable, socio-economic and environmental benefits. 

Biotech crops adoption from 1996 to 2011 has contributed to food security, sustainability and climate by increasing crop production valued at US$98.2 billion; providing a better environment by saving 473 million kg a.i. of pesticides; in 2011 alone, reducing CO2 emissions by 23 billion kg, equivalent to taking 10.2 million cars off the road; conserving biodiversity by saving 108.7 million hectares of land; and helping poverty alleviation by helping more than 15 million small, resource-poor farmers and their families, totaling more than 50 million people who are some of the poorest in the world.

Farmers in India planted a record 10.8 million hectares of Bt cotton in 2012 with an adoption rate of 93%.

The near-term looks encouraging with new improved crops such as the first biotech drought tolerant maize approved for planting in the USA in 2013 and also the first planting of the stacked soybean in Brazil and neighboring countries in South America in 2013. Vitamin A enhanced Golden rice could be released in the Philippines by 2013/2014, subject to regulatory approval. Going forward, global growth of biotech crop hectares is likely to be more modest due to the already high rate of adoption in all the principal crops in mature markets in both developing and industrial countries, the author said.

For more information about ISAAA, the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops Briefs, and other information resources, visit the ISAAA website at