GM expansion around the globe

Latest GM crop figures

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The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is a joint initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the GRDC and the National Farmers’ Federation. ABCA has been established to help shape a new era for Australian agriculture by encouraging informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information. Through the creation and sharing of research and knowledge, ABCA’s work aims to place biotechnology and gene technology into context as another invaluable innovation for Australian agriculture, ensuring that science guides public policy for the future of farming.

A record 181.5 million hectares of GM crops were grown across 28 countries in 2014, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). The 20 developing and eight industrialised countries where GM crops are produced represent more than 60 per cent of the world’s population.

Since 1996, more than 10 food and fibre GM crops have been approved and commercialised around the world, ranging from major commodities such as soybeans, maize and cotton, to fruits and vegetables such as papaya, eggplant and potato. The crops have been modified for traits such as drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance, herbicide tolerance, and increased nutrition and food quality.

The US once again dominates production, growing 73.1 million hectares of GM soybeans, maize, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya and squash, followed by Brazil and Argentina (soybeans, maize and cotton), India (cotton) and Canada (canola, maize, soybeans, sugar beet). Australia is ranked 13th, growing about 0.5 million hectares of GM cotton and canola.

The ISAAA report identified several new countries looking to begin GM crop production.

  • Bangladesh, one of the smaller and poorest countries in the world, approved and commercialised Bt brinjal (eggplant) in 2014. Initially, 20 smallholder growers planted the crop and this quickly expanded to 120 growers across 12ha.
  • Vietnam and Indonesia are moving towards planting their first GM crops in 2015. Vietnam approved GM maize (herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant) and Indonesia approved drought-tolerant sugarcane for food, while approval for feed is pending. Fifty hectares of GM sugarcane (for seed) were planted in 2014 for planned commercialisation in 2015.
  • US adoption of GM drought-tolerant maize increased in 2014. In 2013, 50,000ha of DroughtGard™ maize was planted, and this increased to 275,000ha in 2014.
  • In 2014, the US approved two new GM crops for commercialisation in 2015. The Innate® potato (the fourth most important food staple in the world) has lower levels of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, and less wastage due to bruising. Improved herbicide-tolerant GM technologies were also approved in the US – so-called second-generation products.
  • According to the report, Brazil will launch a GM herbicide-tolerant soybean and a homegrown virus-resistant bean in 2016.

Reduced-lignin lucerne

Lucerne (alfalfa) is the fourth largest crop by growing area in the US after maize, soybeans and wheat, occupying between eight and nine million hectares. GM herbicide-tolerant lucerne has been grown in the US since 2005 and a second GM lucerne was approved for commercial release in 2014.

It has up to a 22 per cent reduction in lignin when compared with conventional lucerne at the same stage of growth. The reduced-lignin lucerne maximises forage quality and yields by allowing growers to delay harvest for several days during which more forage biomass is accumulated. It also allows more flexible harvest schedules to deal with adverse weather and varying labour schedules.

Movement in China

In 2014, 7.1 million smallholder growers planted 3.9 million hectares of GM cotton at an adoption rate of 93 per cent of China’s 4.2 million cotton-growing hectares. In addition, approximately 8500ha of virus-resistant papaya were planted and about 543ha of insect-resistant GM poplar trees.

In the shorter term, the ISAAA predicts GM maize (insect-resistant, herbicide-tolerant and high-phytase) will be commercialised in China, with insect-resistant rice coming in the longer term. The arrival of these crops in the market will have global implications because rice is the most important food staple and maize the most important feed crop in the world.

WA grains industry strategy 2025+

A comprehensive strategy to double the value of the Western Australian grains industry over the next decade was launched by the Agriculture and Food Minister, Ken Baston, in February.

The strategy includes a role for GM crops, supported by established supply-chain protocols for a non-GM segregation that meets required specifications. It also recommends changing the terminology in the segregation specifications from adventitious presence to low-level presence to bring WA in line with international terminology.

The strategy also covers the opportunity to use the established GM canola pathway for novel food, pharmaceutical or industrial oilseed crops in the future. An example is CSIRO’s development of a GM canola that can produce long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, typically found in fish oil, by transferring genes from microalgae.

CSIRO is also working on the use of crops as biofactories and has developed GM safflower that can produce fatty acids and oils required by the chemicals industry.

The strategy was prepared by the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA).

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