Global genetically modified crop acres increase amid concerns
Global genetically modified crop area rebounded in 2016 and increased 3 percent from 2015 to a new high of 457 million acres.
Genetically modified crops were planted on a record 457.4 million acres globally in 2016, up 3 percent from the 444 million acres planted in 2015, according to statistics released by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. This follows a slight dip (1 percent) in the acres in 2015 compared to 2014. This dip was mostly attributed to falling commodity prices that prompted farmers to reduce genetically modified corn and soybean acres in favor of alternate crops. The global market value of biotech crops in 2016 was U.S. $15.8 billion.
Currently, genetically modified crops are grown in 28 countries by 18 million farmers. However, the bulk of acres are in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada and China. Despite the expansion of acres over the last two decades, genetically modified crops only account for a modest 10 percent of total land used for global primary crops. Currently, genetically modified seed is available in 10 crop species: corn, soybean, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beet, papaya, eggplant, potato and squash. However, four crops continue to dominate virtually all major genetically modified production: soybean (51 percent), corn (31 percent), cotton (13 percent) and canola (5 percent).
Efforts to expand the use of genetically modified crops in some countries have been hindered by opposition from consumer and environmental groups, regulatory hurdles, cultural and religious beliefs, and in some cases scientific obstacles.
New research evidence shows the effectiveness of popular genetically engineered traits used to protect crops is declining due to insect resistance development. This is partially the result of over-reliance on one avenue for pest control rather than integrated approaches. Another widely used genetically modified trait is glyphosate-tolerance, developed in soybeans, corn, cotton, canola and other crops. Since the genetically modified crops were introduced, U.S. farmlands are increasingly encountering glyphosate-resistant weeds. These factors pose major impediments to the sustainability of genetically modified crops.
In the U.S., farmers have the freedom to choice whether or not to grow genetically modified crops, and Michigan State University Extension provides educational information for both options.
The biotech industry is now looking for new frontiers and a next generation of genetically modified crops that will encompass greater agronomic and social sustainability in the future.