GM Crops provide global gains

Environmental and economic benefits of GM crops continue to rise

A report by UK-based PG Economics has recently been released looking at the economic and environmental benefits GM crops have provided globally since they were first planted in 1996.

The key findings are:

  • the net economic benefit of GM crops at the farm level in 2010 was $13.3 billion, equal to an average increase in income of $95.30 per hectare;
  • for the 15-year period 1996 to 2010, the global farm income gain has been $74.7 billion;
  • the insect-resistance trait used in cotton and maize has consistently delivered the highest increase in farm income, with the average farm income gains from using insect-resistant cotton and maize in 2010 $270.5/ha and $84.8/ha respectively;
  • of the total farm income benefit, 60 per cent ($44.6 billion) has been due to yield gains resulting from lower pest and weed pressure and improved genetics, with the balance arising from reductions in the cost of production;
  • the cost farmers paid for accessing crop biotechnology in 2010 was equal to 28 per cent of the total technology gains, a total of $18.4 billion inclusive of farm income gains ($13.3 billion) plus cost of the technology payable to the seed supply chain ($5 billion);
  • between 1996 and 2010, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 97.5 million tonnes of soybeans and 159.4 million tonnes of maize. The technology has also contributed an extra 12.5 million tonnes of cotton lint and 6.1 million tonnes of canola.

According to the report, if GM crops were not available, maintaining global production at the 2010 levels would have required additional plantings of 5.1 million hectares of soybeans, 5.6 million hectares of maize, 3 million hectares of cotton and 0.35 million hectares of canola.

In relation to the environment, GM crops have contributed significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions according to the report authors, because of less fuel use and additional soil carbon storage from reduced tillage. In 2010, this was equivalent to removing 19.4 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 8.6 million cars from the road for one year.

Pesticide applications have also been reduced by 438 million kilograms (minus 8.6 per cent) according to the report. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to GM crops by 17.9 per cent.

KFC introduces homegrown canola oil

Last month KFC Australia officially replaced palm oil sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia with Australian-grown high-oleic-acid canola oil.

The company flagged the change last year and has finalised the introduction of canola oil following trials in Tasmania’s

KFC outlets since 2010.

“KFC is proud of the association we have with Australian farmers across the spectrum of our menu. Our entire range of chicken and all our fresh produce is homegrown and locally sourced. Our move to canola oil deepens our commitment to providing our customers with the best quality food, grown and cooked in our own backyard,” said Nikki Lawson, KFC’s chief marketing officer.

“We are delighted that KFC is sourcing 100 per cent of its canola oil from Australian farmers. This is a great vote of confidence in the Australian industry,” said Stuart Roberts, managing director of Integro Foods, a division of Goodman Fielder Limited.

The change to Australian-grown oil follows the company’s introduction of fresh salads and free-range chicken options earlier in 2012.

Anti-GM campaigners used the KFC announcement to attack GM canola and GM cotton, from which oil is also derived and used by the fast food industries. These campaigners implied that consumer concerns over oil from GM canola varieties were the key driver of the change.

The high-oleic acid canola oil that KFC is switching to, which performs well at high temperatures for uses such as frying, is not commercially available in a GM variety.

“There was no choice for KFC to make here between GM and non-GM canola,” said Matthew Cossey, CEO, CropLife Australia.

The European Union plans to amend GM regulations for imports

The European Union (EU) is drafting changes to its GM food, feed and crop legislation to allow trace amounts of unapproved GM content in food imports, in order to avoid disruptions to food trade.

“The European Commission has said it wants to tackle this issue before the end of this year and we will table a proposal in the very near future,” European Commission spokesman for health and consumers Frederic Vincent said.

In 2011, the EU passed a similar law allowing up to 0.1 per cent of unapproved GM content in animal feed imports, after several shipments from the US were blocked at EU ports after unapproved GM material was found in some cargoes.

The problem arises because of the slow pace of GM approvals in Europe, which create delays of up to two years between new varieties being cleared for cultivation in North and South America and getting import approval from the EU.

As with the existing rules for feed, the proposals are expected to set a tolerance threshold of 0.1 per cent, and the GM organisms in question must be approved in the exporting country with an EU authorisation request already lodged with the European Food Safety Authority.