Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The trial of Bt talong field trials

The Philippine government issued a policy statement in July 2001 promoting the judicious use of modern biotechnology and its products for food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development.  In April 2002, rules and regulations on the importation and release into the environment of biotech plants and products were issued.  Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DA AO8), series of 2002 served as the regulatory guidelines in assessing health and environmental safety of biotech crops.

Soon after the approval of the government on the planting of the first biotech crop in December 2002, the agricultural landscape in the Philippines changed significantly, particularly in the corn sector.  From the initial plantings in 2003 of biotech corn in about 20,000 hectares, commercial plantings now cover an area of about 800 thousand hectares, planted by more than 350 thousand farmers. Because of the fast and wide adoption of biotech corn, the country has achieved sufficiency in the supply of yellow corn starting in 2012.

Early traits of biotech corn provide solution to infestation of Asiatic corn borer and problem in maintaining crop stand with the application of herbicides.  Biotech corn available now in the market has the combination of both traits. Biotech corn products in the pipeline have traits that can address other pests and diseases, improving nutritional value, and can withstand harsh climate conditions such as drought.

Bt talong research and development

With the success in the adoption of biotech corn in the country, the Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (IPB-UPLB) spearheaded the development of a biotech eggplant that provides resistance to its chronic pest, the fruit and shoot borer.  Eggplant production provides an important source of cash income for small and resource-poor farmers in the country, and accounts for more than 30% of the volume of vegetable production. 

The eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) is a lepidopterous insect whose larva consumes the inner part of the eggplant fruit.  Damage caused by the EFSB normally results to nearly 80% of yield loss especially during high incidence of infestation.  The pest’s gut, similar to that of the corn borer, is affected by the toxin produced by the cry1a gene. Hence, similar to the first commercialized biotech corn, Bt talong use the gene from the soil borne bacteria Bacillus thuringensis to control EFSB. 

Research started in 2003 in the laboratory and contained experiment was from 2007 to 2009 under the supervision of the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines (NCBP).  Field trials in Laguna, Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, and North Cotabato were conducted from 2010 to 2012.  Bt talong varieties developed by IPB-UPLB contained a transformation event developed by Mahyco in India and introgressed into local open-pollinated varieties through backcrossing.  The biotech eggplant is the first public-sector initiated research and the first biotech food crop developed in the Philippines.

As with other biotech crops developed in the Philippines and elsewhere, Bt talong followed a rigorous regulatory guidelines and review throughout its research and development process. Research activities on Bt talong followed the strict regulatory requirements stipulated in the Philippine Biosafety Guidelines and the DA AO8 designed to minimize and manage the risks to both human health and to the environment of biotech products produced through modern biotechnology.

Bt talong court trial

The development of Bt talong has never been without any challenges.  For instance, field trial at UP Mindanao in Davao City had to be prematurely terminated in December 2010 because of the anti-biotech stance of the city government and its officials.  At the height of the field trial being conducted at the experimental farm of UPLB, members of Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines) vandalized and uprooted eggplants in February 2011.

In April 2012, Greenpeace Southeast Asia (Philippines), Magsasaka at Syentipiko sa Pagpapaunlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), and other personalities filed a writ of kalikasan and writ of continuing mandamus in the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the field trials of Bt talong.  The writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy under Philippine law that provides for the protection of one’s rights to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”. Petitioners argued that the field trials of Bt talong violated the constitutional rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology pointing out the inherent and potential risks on human and animal health and the environment through “field trial contamination”.

Respondents to the case were Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), UP Los Baños Foundation, Inc. (UPLBFI) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

The Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan on May 2, 2012 directing the respondents to answer the petition of the anti-biotech entities.  The case was subsequently remanded by the SC to the Court of Appeals (CA) on July 10, 2012 for hearings, reception of evidence, and rendition of judgment.  On October 12, 2012, the appellate court issued a resolution acknowledging the legal standing of the petitioners, non-mootness of the case, and presence of justiciable controversies in relation to non-compliance with environmental and local government laws.  Petitioners maintained that the conduct of Bt talong field trials should be covered by the environmental impact statement (EIS) system and that there were no genuine public consultations conducted in communities within the trial sites prior to the approval of the field trials.

Respondents maintained that since the field trials had already been terminated, petition for writ of kalikasan should be dismissed for being moot and academic.  Moreover, Bt talong field trials do not cause environmental damage and do not prejudice the life, health and property of individuals.

In a span of nearly seven months, hearings on the scientific and factual questions involved were conducted, with both local and foreign experts presenting their arguments and evidence on the case at bar.  The CA adopted the “hot-tub” method in hearing the testimonies and arguments of expert witnesses from both parties.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 17, 2013, the appellate court ruled that “the field trials of genetically modified organisms Bt talong could not be declared as safe to human health and to our ecology with full scientific certainty, being an alteration of an otherwise natural state of affairs in our ecology”.  The court maintained that there is still no full scientific certainty on the effects of the Bt talong to the environment and to the health of the people.  The CA further stressed that the “overall safety guarantee of Bt talong remains unknown”.  This is where the premise of precautionary principle was applied. 

The court also claimed that the existing biosafety regulations issued by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are insufficient to guarantee the safety of the environment and health of the people.  The appellate court ordered to permanently cease and desist from further conducting Bt talong field trials and protect, preserve, rehabilitate and restore the environment in accordance with the judgment.

Greenpeace and Masipag were quick to commend the decision of the CA and claimed the ruling as “victory to the Filipino people”.  However, farmers felt otherwise.  In a series of public dialogues conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC) on Bt talong participated in by key agriculture stakeholders from Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon provinces, farmers lamented the undue ruling against Bt talong field trials as a major setback to adopting a much needed technology that is economically beneficial and safe to their health and the environment.  Farmers even signed a manifesto supporting commercial use of biotech crops in the country and asked for the early release of the Bt talong in the market.

A consolidated petition was lodged to the SC to seek reversal of the May 17, 2013 decision and the September 20, 2013 resolution of the appellate court denying the motions for reconsideration filed by Bt talong proponents.  On December 8, 2015, after the review of the petitions and submissions, the SC en banc upheld the decision of the appellate court and further modified the CA ruling. The DA AO8 was nullified which temporarily halted the application for contained use, field testing, propagation and commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms until a new administrative order is promulgated in accordance with law.

Members of the scientific community, including student organizations and professional groups whose memberships are composed of well-known scientists such as the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), criticized the High Court’s ruling which apparently relied on discredited scientific research and literatures and improperly applied the precautionary principle to support its judgment.  Other stakeholders lamented on the possible negative repercussions of the SC decision on modern biotechnology and scientific advancement in the country.  Some farmer groups had urged the SC to junk the writ of kalikasan against Bt talong and the temporary ban on the commercial use, propagation and importation of other biotech plant products. 

In his concurring opinion to the SC ruling, Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen opined that the petition for the writ of kalikasan should have been dismissed and considered moot and academic by the appellate court considering the expiration of the validity of the biosafety permits for the field trials and the actual termination of all the field trials.  Further, Justice Leonen noted “grave abuse of discretion which amounts to excess of jurisdiction” in relation to the CA ruling.

Despite the negative decision of the SC, some positive outcomes were realized with the court’s ruling.  The SC ruling heightened public awareness and interest on modern biotechnology and biotech plant products.  The SC decision had become the topic of discussion for weeks in both mainstream and social media and public dialogues.  A collective voice of scientists defended the science behind the Bt technology and the safety and benefits of biotech crops.  The science community ventilated concerns on the consequences of the SC decision on the advancement of science and technology in the country.  In a demonstration of cooperation and mutual interest, five government agencies worked together to draft and finalize a new directive that would later become the regulatory framework for safety decisions on biotech plant products that is more transparent, participatory, comprehensive, and with strict adherence to high standards of risk assessment.

Supreme Court reversed previous ruling

Undeterred by the decision of the SC, motions for reconsideration were filed by the Bt talong proponents.  An unexpected turn of events occurred on July 26, 2016 when the SC en banc unanimous reversed its previous ruling.  The SC ruled in favor of the Bt talong proponents affirming mootness of the case.  The SC decision further stated that since no commercial propagation of Bt talong took place and research activities never went beyond the field trial phase, “any future threat to the public to a healthful and balanced ecology is more imagined than real.”

The court further noted that it should not have invalidated DA AO8 as it was only “collaterally challenged” and the anti-Bt talong petitioners were merely asking for amendments to the administrative order. The court declared DA AO8 null and void in its previous decision for failure to comply with the provisions of the National Biosafety Framework (NBF).  Three main issues raised by the court in the nullification of DA AO8 were the lack of meaningful public participation on biosafety decisions, non-implementation of the EIS system, and lack of standards for risk assessment.

New regulatory guidelines

The SC ruling in December 2015 required the issuance of new regulatory guidelines for safety assessment of biotech plant products.  Following the order of the SC, the NCBP initiated the drafting, public consultations, and finalization of the Joint Department Circular No. 1 (JDC), series of 2016.   The new regulatory framework became effective on April 15, 2016 replacing the voided DA AO8.  Under the JDC, five relevant government agencies, namely Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Health (DOH), and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) participate in the biosafety decision-making process involving the research, development, handling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of biotech plant and plant products.  The JDC provides a more rigorous scrutiny of biotech plant products with the inclusion in the safety assessment of environmental impacts, health impacts, and involvement and meaningful participation of the general public and communities in the decision-making process.

The next step

With the field trials of Bt talong already completed, confirming the efficacy of the technology against the fruit and shoot borer and its safety towards beneficial and non-target insects, and with the unanimous ruling of the SC reversing its earlier decision against field tests, immediate commercial release should be considered by its developer.  Farmers are set to gain from the adoption of Bt talong with significant reduction in yield loss, lesser use of pesticides, and increased income.  Consumers are expected to benefit from pesticide-free eggplants that will be made available in the market.

Written by Panfilo G. de Guzman, Associate Scientist of the International Service for the Acquisition of the Agri-biotech Applications. This article was originally published in BIOLIFE Magazine. 

Photos from iStock.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Hope for the Harvest

At the earliest light of day, farmers march to their fields with the hope of a good harvest. They till their land, plant seeds, and perform farming practices that they deem helpful to grow good crops and get high yields. A Filipino folk song best describes the life of a farmer in the field: Magtanim ay ‘di biro (Farming is not a joke).

On the other side of the field, scientists are growing crops not for the yield but to harvest information about the biotech crops they are studying. They carefully follow research guidelines alongside with the protocols implemented by the government with the hope that after all the backbreaking work; the crops they develop will eventually crossover to the farmers’ fields.

The tale of two Bt crops

In the Philippines, genetically modified (GM) maize resistant to a major insect pest and specific herbicides continues to be one of maize farmers' best options. After over a decade of commercializing biotech corn, the Philippines has finally achieved self-sufficiency. This has helped the country to save Php60M from corn imports from 2010-2013.

Eggplant, the top vegetable in the country, has been developed by the University of the Philippines to be resistant to its major insect pest – the fruit and shoot borer. The research started in 2003 following the strict rules implemented by regulatory government agencies. Alongside the conduct of the study, scientists and science communicators were equipping the public with facts about the biotech crop, which could potentially be the first GM food crop in the country. These efforts continued until the last leg of the research, which ended with a bang — biotech critics from Greenpeace filed a Writ of Kalikasan against the biotech crop in 2012.

Guided by the precautionary principle and the infamous Gilles-Eric Séralini’s journal article linking cancer to GM herbicide tolerant maize, the Philippine Court of Appeals gave the favor to the vigilant environmentalists’ plea to stop the trials in 2013. The following year, Séralini's paper was retracted by Food and Chemical Toxicology journal due to its questionable methodology which includes low number of samples and use of Sprague-Dawley rats that are tumor-prone.

The respondents to the case filed an appeal to review the case but the Court of Appeals affirmed its ruling that the trials violated the people’s constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology.  The respondents thus elevated the appeal to the Supreme Court for review.  Interventions from farmers and other organizations have been submitted to the court to reverse the earlier ruling. In December 2015, the Supreme Court declared that the testing of Bt eggplant should be stopped (but it is actually over before the filing of the case). For another blow to the scientific community, farmers and food/feed processors, the High Court also invalidated the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8, which covers the importation and/or release to the environment of GM plants. But the case did not end there because the Supreme Court ordered for a new set of regulations that will deal with GM crops.

In March 2016, five government agencies released a new set of regulations for GM crops, based on multisectoral public consultations handled by the National Committee of Biosafety in the Philippines. After four months, farmers, researchers and the rest of the community were surprised with another decision from the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the High Court reversed its earlier decision to stop the trials and granted Motions for Reconsideration submitted by the Bt eggplant developers and co-petitioners. Will Bt eggplant see the light of day in the Philippines soon?

Socio-economic experts have projected the potential benefits of Bt eggplant in the Philippines. Based on ex ante case studies, the average potential benefit of planting Bt eggplant ranges from 2,753-6,243 USD per hectare more than conventional eggplant varieties. This significant addition in profit is attributed to increased marketable yield and reduced pesticide use. In addition to higher income, there will also be reduction in pesticide use by almost 50 percent, which also means 19.5% decrease in environmental footprint. Because of decrease in pesticide use, health and environmental benefits will also be acquired. It is estimated that at 50 percent adoption rate of the crop, the benefits to human health is valued at 57,353 USD per year while the collective benefits to farm animals, beneficial insects and birds is estimated to be 155,841 USD per year.

Filipino farmers are eagerly waiting for the resolution to the Bt eggplant case. They are hankering for solutions because they are tired of getting infested produce that affect their families’ income. This could be the reason why a lot of eggplant farmers in the country are dipping their eggplant crops in a concoction of insecticides. They are out of options.

In South Asia, the same biotech crop also faced trial after trial. In India, even if Bt cotton has been proven to be safe and highly adopted by farmers over the years, Bt eggplant or brinjal is still in question.

Bt brinjal battle in Bangladesh

Farmers in the densely-populated country of Bangladesh finally got a taste of the benefits of crop biotechnology in 2014. Due to strong political will, Bt brinjal was approved for cultivation in 2013 and 20 small farmers planted the first seedlings of Bt brinjal on their fields in 2014. It is has been projected that Bt brinjal would generate a net additional economic benefi­t of 200 million USD per year for around 150,000 small brinjal farmers in Bangladesh. This breakthrough serves as an inspiration for other countries who are hoping to grow biotech crops in the coming years. As for the Philippines and India, who are also on the verge on commercializing the same biotech crop but halted by critics, hope remains in the hearts of farmers and scientists that this crop developed to minimize pesticide use and protect farmers’ health would eventually reach the farmers’ fields in due time.

The moral of the story

These stories highlight two main characters on stage: the scientists and the farmers. The scientists actually take two vital roles in the field of biotechnology: one as researcher and another as communicator. In a study conducted by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), it was shown that scientists devote only a small portion of their time for public engagement due to high demand of their research work and other responsibilities. Though there are science communicators who are trained to fulfil such task, the scientists are still on top of the credibility ladder to deliver facts on GM crops to the public. Thus, their efforts are highly needed to feed the minds of the public with right knowledge about biotech crops.

The farmers are the main protagonist in the story of biotech development. The primary goal in developing biotech crops is to be able to help farmers increase their yields and incomes by addressing their major concerns such as pests, weeds, and other stresses. Thus, the first generation of biotech crops are focused on developing the insect resistance and herbicide tolerance of crops.

Just like any technology, biotechnology does not answer all of farmers’ concerns. However, with the documented benefits of biotech crops, such technology cannot be denied for farmers who are looking for solutions to their farming problems. After all, they have a huge task of bringing food to our tables. By 2050, the world’s population may reach 9 billion, demanding for doubling present global food produce. With this demand, every tool in agriculture’s toolbox is necessary to the mend hunger and poverty.

Written by Kristine Grace Tome, Program Associate at the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, ISAAA.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

ISAAA Report Reaches 4.27 Billion People

The latest ISAAA report, 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 (ISAAA Brief 51), has reached about 4.27 billion individuals all over the world through news reports and social media posts. This is the highest media impressions recorded for any ISAAA Brief for the time period of two months since launch.

ISAAA Brief 51 was first launched in Beijing, China in April, catching the interest of the Chinese media. Thus, it has reached 2.9 billion people in China alone. Individuals from other developing countries such as Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Brazil also showed high interest on the ISAAA report. The New York Times and USA Today published articles about the report which were shared over 3,000 times in Facebook and Twitter.

Aside from English, a significant number of articles were written in other major languages such as Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish. Majority of the articles (92%) were written in neutral tone.

The news reports and social media posts are gathered by ISAAA staff, partners, and PR agencies.

Read the concise version of Brief 51, Pocket K No. 16: Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015.

The other Brief 51 materials are also available in different languages:

TOP TEN FACTS about Biotech/GM Crops in their First 20 Years, 1996 to 2015

Executive Summary

PPT Slides and Tables (2 languages)

Friday, May 27, 2016

ISAAA Brief 51 Launched in Beijing; Media Conferences Held in Six Countries

ISAAA has released the 20th Brief in its global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops in Beijing, China on April 13, 2016. Brief 51, 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crops Highlights in 2015, authored by ISAAA Founder and Emeritus Chair, Clive James.

Brief 51 companion documents include the Executive Summary, Top Ten Facts about Biotech Crops and a volume of Invitational Essays (Progress and Promise), which are designed to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the commercialization of biotech crops during the twenty-year period, 1996 to 2015 as well as the 2015 highlights.

Year after year, ISAAA prepares the global status report and supports its free distribution to developing countries to provide information and knowledge to the scientific community and facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion regarding the potential role of biotech crops in contributing to global food, feed, fiber, and fuel security, and a more sustainable agriculture.

The 2015 Global Status Report documents the global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops in the world in 2015, when ~18 million farmers from 28 countries planted 179.7 million hectares of biotech crops. Below are summaries of the country launches held for the 2015 Global Status Report.


Brief 51 was launched in the ISAAA Press Conference in China World Hotel Beijing on April 13, 2016, attended by 30 representatives of major media outlets (print, online, and TV broadcast). Dr. Paul S. Teng, ISAAA Chair, presented the Highlights of the Report prepared by Dr. James. ISAAA Global Coordinator Dr. Randy A. Hautea discussed the Overview of Biotech Crops in Asia with emphasis on biotech crop planting and regulatory milestones in India, China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Philippines, Australia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, which has commercialized biotech maize for the first time in 2015.
Dr. Zhang Chun-Yi, Dr. Paul S. Teng, Dr. Randy A. Hautea, Mr. Hernan Viola, and Dr. Dafang Huang at the media seminar in Beijing.

Mr. Hernan Viola, the Agro-Industrial Attaché of the Embassy of Argentina in China, presented an overview of biotech crops and the benefits they generated in Argentina. Dr. Zhang Chun-Yi, Deputy Director General of the Biotechnology Research Institute, CAAS and Prof. Dafang Huang, patron of ISAAA, gave the opening and closing remarks, respectively.

A seminar was conducted on April 14 at the Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) where Dr. Gao Caixia of the Institute of Genetics and Biology, CAS, made a timely presentation on Genome Editing: Progress and Perspectives.  Mr. Mark Petry of the USDA FAS gave a presentation on Reconsideration of New Breeding Technology and Biotech Regulation in the US. Some 150 members of the academe, government regulators, industry, media, students and researchers attended the seminar which was co-organized by CAAS, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the ISAAA China BIC.


Brief 51 was presented at a media seminar held at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel in Hanoi on April 15. The seminar was co-organized by the Agricultural Genetics Institute (AGI) led by Dr. Le Huy Ham. Drs. Teng and Hautea were joined by Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan, executive director of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC), who presented the Overview of New Breeding Technologies and Current Status. Around 100 attendees composed of researchers, policy makers, regulators, industry representatives, and media practitioners attended the event, and received copies of Brief 51 materials that were distributed during the seminar.

Mr. Bhagirath Choudhary

The seminar in Jakarta was held in the Ministry of Agriculture on April 19. Dr. Arujanan presented the Highlights of Brief 51, and also made a presentation on new breeding technologies. Mr. Bhagirath Choudhary, director of the South Asia Biotechnology Center based in India presented the Overview of Biotech Crop Adoption in Asia. 

The event was co-organized by ISAAA and IndoBIC, with around 100 members of the academe, media practitioners, and policy makers, including regulators and industry representatives in attendance. Copies of Brief 51 materials were distributed at the close of the seminar.


The ISAAA AfriCenter in collaboration with Africa Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and the Association Nationale des Entreprises Semencières du Burkina Faso (ANES-BF), a local seed trade association, launched the Brief 51 in Burkina Faso on April 20, 2016. The event was attended by 40 participants that included seed traders, media representatives, government regulators, and scientists. Hon. Henri Koubizara, a member of the parliamentary commission on economic development, environment and climate change was the guest of honor. Dr. Margaret Karembu presented the ISAAA report highlighting the role of seed traders in the adoption and commercialization of GM crops. Local scientists and regulators shared the status of GM crop research and regulation in Burkina Faso, and the West Africa region at large.
Hon. Henri Koubizara and Dr. Margaret Karembu at the launch in Burkina Faso.


A media conference organized by ISAAA and SEARCA BIC for Philippine journalists and stakeholders was held at Acacia Hotel Manila on April 29. Dr. Teng presented the ISAAA report for 2015. Dr. Gour Pada Das, Country Coordinator of the Feed the Future Bangladesh, and Dr. ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan, Chief Scientific Officer of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), discussed the highlights of the Bt brinjal project and commercialization experience, respectively. Over 50 representatives from media, academe, research, and private companies attended the event.
Drs. G.P. Das and ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan (center) at the Manila launch.


In Bangladesh, the Honorable Minister of Agriculture Matia Chowdhury inaugurated the seminar on 20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh on May 12.
Hon. Minister for Agriculture Matia Chowdhury (center) at the Brief 51 launch in Dhaka.

Resource persons in the seminar included Drs. Hautea and Arujanan, and Mr. Choudhary. Dr. G.P. Das facilitated the seminar which was attended by agriculture officials and members of the scientific community in Bangladesh.  During the seminar, Minister Chowdhury emphasized the need for scientific innovations nd collaborations to improve food production and poverty alleviation in Bangladesh. She also stated that the government is pro-active in adopting biotech innovations for introducing improved varieties to their farmers. The seminar was jointly organized by BARI, BARC, and ISAAA.

More information about ISAAA Brief 51 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crops Highlights in 2015 are available at the ISAAA website: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/51/default.asp

Brief 51 companion documents are available for download from the same link.

For more information about ISAAA, visit http://www.isaaa.org/, or follow ISAAA on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/isaaa.org) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/isaaa_org). 

Friday, April 15, 2016

2015 Marks Two Billion Hectares of Biotech Crop Plantings

Farmers Reap >US$150 Billion from Advances in Biotech Crops over 20 Years

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released this week its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, 20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015, showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops.

Since 1996, 2 billon hectares of arable land – a massive area more than twice the landmass of China, 
or the United States – have been planted with biotech crops. Additionally, it is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world.

“More farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously-tested option for improving crop yields,” said Clive James, founder and emeritus chair of ISAAA, who has authored the ISAAA report for the past two decades. “Despite claims from opponents that biotechnology only benefits farmers in industrialized countries, the continued adoption of the technology in developing countries disproves that” James added.

For the fourth consecutive year, developing countries planted more biotech crops (14.5 million hectares) than industrialized countries. In 2015, Latin American, Asian and African farmers grew biotech crops on 54 percent of global biotech hectarage (97.1 million hectares of 179.7 million biotech hectares) and of the 28 countries that planted biotech crops, 20 were developing nations. Annually, up to 18 million farmers, 90 percent of whom were small, resource-poor growers in developing countries, benefited from planting biotech crops from 1996 to 2015.

China is just one example of biotechnology’s benefits for farmers in developing countries. Between 1997 and 2014, biotech cotton varieties brought an estimated $17.5 billion worth of benefits to Chinese cotton farmers, and they realized $1.3 billion in 2014 alone,” explained ISAAA Global Coordinator, Randy Hautea.

Also in 2015, India became the leading cotton producer in the world with much of its growth attributed to biotech Bt cotton. India is the largest biotech cotton country in the world with 11.6 million hectares planted in 2015 by 7.7 million small farmers. In 2014 and 2015, an impressive 95 percent of India’s cotton crop was planted with biotech seed; China’s adoption in 2015 was 96 percent.

“Farmers, who are traditionally risk-averse, recognize the value of biotech crops, which offer benefits to farmers and consumers alike, including drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, and increased nutrition and food quality,” Hautea added. “Moreover, biotech crops contribute to more sustainable crop production systems that address concerns regarding climate change and global food security.”

Following a remarkable run of 19 years of consecutive growth from 1996 to 2014, with 12 years of double-digit growth, the global hectarage of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014, compared with 179.7 million hectares in 2015, equivalent to a net marginal decrease of 1 percent. This change is principally due to an overall decrease in total crop hectarage, associated with low prices for commodity crops in 2015. ISAAA anticipates that total crop hectarage will increase when crop prices improve. For example, Canada has projected that canola hectarage in 2016 will revert to the higher level of 2014. Other factors affecting biotech hectarage in 2015 include the devastating drought in South Africa, which led to a massive 23 percent decrease of 700,000 hectares in intended plantings in 2015. The drought in eastern and southern Africa in 2015/2016 puts up to 15 to 20 million poor people at risk for food insecurity and compels South Africa, usually a maize exporter, to rely on maize imports.

Additional highlights from ISAAA’s 2015 report include:
  • New biotech crops were approved and/or commercialized in several countries, including the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Myanmar.
  • The United States saw a number of firsts, including the commercialization of new products such as:
    • Innate™ Generation 1 potatoes, with lower levels of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, and resistance to bruising. InnateTM Generation 2, approved in 2015, also has late blight resistance. It is noteworthy that the potato is the fourth most important food crop in the world.
    • Arctic® Apples that do not brown when sliced. 
    • The first non-transgenic genome-edited crop to be commercialized globally, SU Canola™, was planted in the United States. 
    • The first-time approval of a GM animal food product, GM salmon, for human consumption.
  • Biotech crops with multiple traits, often called “stacked traits,” were planted on 58.5 million hectares, representing 33 percent of all biotech hectares planted and a 14 percent year-over-year increase.
  • Vietnam planted a stacked-trait biotech Bt and herbicide-tolerant maize as its first biotech crop.
  • Biotech DroughtGard™ maize, first planted in the United States in 2013, increased 15-fold from 50,000 hectares in 2013 to 810,000 hectares reflecting high farmer acceptance. 
  • Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by 30 percent to 120,000 hectares, while various factors precluded a higher hectarage in Burkina Faso. 
  • Eight African countries field-tested, pro-poor, priority African crops, the penultimate step prior to approval.
Looking ahead to the future of biotechnology in agriculture, ISAAA has identified three key opportunities to realize continued growth in adoption of biotech crops, which are as follows:·
  • High rates of adoption (90 percent to 100 percent) in current major biotech markets leave little room for expansion. However, there is a significant potential in other “new” countries for selected products, such as biotech maize, which has a potential of approximately 100 million more hectares globally, 60 million hectares in Asia, of which 35 million is in China alone, plus 35 million hectares in Africa. 
  • More than 85 potential new products in the pipeline are now being field-tested; including a biotech drought tolerant maize from the WEMA project (Water Efficient Maize for Africa) expected to be released in Africa in 2017, Golden Rice in Asia, and fortified bananas and pest-resistant cowpea in Africa. 
  • CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats) a new powerful genome editing technology has significant comparative advantages over conventional and GM crops in four domains: precision, speed, cost and regulation. When combined with other advances in crop sciences, CRISPR could increase crop productivity in a “sustainable intensification” mode on the 1.5 billion hectares of global arable land, and make a vital contribution to global food security.
For more information and other details about the 2015 report, visit www.isaaa.org.