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Corn+Soybean Digest

We Can't Do Without Biotech

Last month I wrote about how a hungry world will need 70% more food by 2050. I know that distant date is difficult to comprehend, but be assured biotech crops will play a strategic role in getting there.

They already have.

A recent report by Biotechnology Industry Organization and PG Economics from England shows some fascinating facts about biotech crops:

  • Since 1996, biotech traits have added 67.8 million tons and 62.4 million tons, respectively, to global production of soybeans and corn.

  • The average yield gains across the global area planted to biotech insect-resistant corn is 6%, with the highest yield gains in developing countries.

  • If biotech seed had not been available to the 12 million farmers using the technology in 2007, maintaining global production levels at the 2007 levels would have required additional plantings of 14.75 million acres of soybeans and 7.5 million acres of corn, plus cotton and canola. This total area requirement is the equivalent to about 6% of the arable land in the U.S.

  • The additional production arising from biotech crops (1996-2007) has contributed enough energy (in kcal terms) to feed about 402 million people for a year.

Numbers like these make biotech seem so essential that it's hard to believe there are still pockets of resistance to its acceptance. Much of that opposition still comes from countries in the European Union (EU).

I was recently on a trip to Thailand and was surprised at the level of pushback on biotech traits, a term they prefer to call GMOs. There's a certain level of distrust with GMOs, especially since many products are sold into the EU.

As the seventh-largest food exporter in the world, it has a hard-line non-GMO policy, according to Ajarin Pattanapanchai from the Thailand Board of Investment.

“We can import GMO soybeans, but we can't grow them except in some test plots,” says Chachanat Thebtaranonth, executive director of the Technology Management Center in Bangkok.

MOSTLY BECAUSE of cheap labor, many U.S. companies have been locating in Thailand. For example, the premium candy confectioner Jelly Belly, with a two-year-old plant in Rayong, uses local GMO-free sugar and tapioca to make its premium jelly beans.

“We do that so we can sell into Europe,” says California native and Managing Director Herman Rowland, Jr. “We do buy corn starch from the U.S., but it has to be GMO-free.”

All this extra effort, just to appease the EU market. I hope it doesn't get in the way of using biotech to produce that 70% more food by 2050.

Happy Holidays from the staff at Corn & Soybean Digest.

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