4 billionth acre of biotech crops about to be planted

| April 7, 2014
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This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

We’re very close to reaching four billion (that’s 4,000,000,000) acres of biotech crops planted around the world. As I write, the ticker in the upper right of the nonprofit Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT) site reads 3,967,361,157 and climbing.

Fourth-generation farmer Jose Luis Romeo muses on this milestone in an editorial for TATT:

As I begin to plant my own crops this week, I know that somewhere in the northern hemisphere this month, a farmer will put a seed in the ground—and the world will have its 4-billionth acre of genetically modified crops.

How big is 4 billion acres? It’s an area so vast that Spain could fit into it almost 32 times. It’s more than one and a half times as large as all of Europe. It’s nearly as big as South America.

The virulent debate surrounding biotech crops and foods — better known, perhaps, as GMOs or GM crops, though there is some distinction between “biotechnology” generally and genetic modification specifically — shows no sign of abating. Neither, however, does the worldwide adoption of biotech crops. Even while battles play out in Hawaii about whether or not the islands ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops, the number at TATT keeps climbing.

Some opponents of biotechnology in agriculture would have you believe this is a dire omen, a numerical representation of the ever-growing influence of Monsanto and its cronies’ growing influence.

Romeo overs another perspective. “Farmers like me,” he writes, “choose to plant GM crops because they work. We have found them safer and easier to use. They also produce more food than so-called conventional crops.”

He explains the circumstances on his family farm that led him to adopt genetically modified corn:

Where I live—in the Ebro Valley of northern Spain, right beside the Pyrenees—we have a serious problem with the European corn borer. This pest drills into corn stalks, making them weak and barely able to stand. When the wind blows, it knocks down the corn. And the wind can blow so hard here that we have a special name for it: “the cierzo.”

When corn lies on the ground, of course, it is impossible to harvest.

GM corn, however, carries a natural resistance to the corn borer and we don’t have to spray our fields with insecticide. The bugs leave it alone. So when the cierzo strikes, our corn stands tall.  Best of all, we are obtaining better yields.

[…]

We’re doing more with less. Food is more affordable. So biotechnology contributes to the spread of sustainable agriculture—environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture.

Romeo’s experience stands in defiance of the general anti-biotech narrative (which you can find in almost any comment section here at the Genetic Literacy Project), which paints biotechnology as a tool of the corporate world foisted on unwilling farmers in the name of profit.

Many of the arguments, both for and against, biotech crops seem to assume that biotech crops are something that might happen; that arguments one way or another might tip the scales and prevent or allow the adoption of this new technology. There’s almost four billion acres of evidence now that biotech crops are here, have been here, and are going to be here. The future of biotechnology in agriculture is now.

The staggering number of biotech acres around the world are cause to stop and ask which is more likely: that a corrupt, world-poisoning conspiracy has been successful enough to sneak 4,000,000,000 acres of biotech crops under the noses of unsuspecting farmers … or maybe, just maybe, farmers are adopting this technology because they like it and it does what it is supposed to do.

Read Jose Luis Romeo’s full editorial at Truth About Trade & Technology: “Planting the Four Billionth Acre of Biotech Crops in the World

Kenrick Vezina is Gene-ius Editor for the Genetic Literacy Project and a freelance science writer, educator, and amateur naturalist based in the Greater Boston area.

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The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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