Global economic benefits of GM crops reach $150 bn: Report

Worldwide economic benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops have reached $150 billion, according to a study by UK-based agriculture consultants PG Economics Ltd. “GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2014”, released in Washington earlier this week, said farmers who used GM seeds reaped economic benefits averaging more than $100 per hectare (about 2.5 acres) in 2014, while simultaneously improving the environmental sustainability of their operations.

“The average yield gains over the 1996-2014 period across all users of this technology has been +13.1 per cent for insect resistant corn and +17.3 per cent for insect resistant cotton relative to conventional production systems,” the report said. India’s only permitted commercial GM crop is cotton, adopted in 2002, which contains genes to ward off certain insects. The success of Bt cotton in India has made it the world’s fourth largest GM crop producer, behind the US, Brazil and Argentina. In 2014, the direct global farm income benefit from GM crops was $17.7 billion – equivalent to addition of 7.2 per cent to the value of global production of the four main crops of soybean, maize, canola and cotton, the study said.

“The total farm income benefit of $150.3 billion was divided almost equally between farmers in developing (51 per cent) and developed countries (49 per cent),” it said. “The highest yield gains were obtained by farmers in developing countries, many of which are resource- poor and farm small plots of land,” it added.

Noting that crop biotechnology continues to be a good investment for millions of farmers, the study found farmers globally received an average of $3.59 for each dollar invested in GM crop seeds. “Two-thirds of these benefits derive from higher yields and extra production, with farmers in developing countries seeing the highest gains,” Graham Brookes, director PG Economics said at the report launch.

India, which has been hostile to GM crops, has recently changed position with eight Indian states in 2014 approving field trials of GM crops that include transgenic rice, cotton, maize, mustard, brinjal and chickpea. Concerns have been frequently raised in India that such crops may be unsafe for the environment or human health. In 2010, huge public protests by farmers and anti-GM groups led to the banning of GM brinjal.

At the core of the controversy in India are its more than 100 million farmers, who are concerned that if GM crops prevail, their livelihoods and the country’s food supply will increasingly rely on expensive, rapidly changing and proprietary seed technologies owned by big multinational corporations like Monsanto.