Wheat Scoop: Farmers will win the biotech fight
When it comes to biotechnology adoption in food crops, the times are changing.
American wheat farmers overwhelmingly support biotech wheat, according to a survey commissioned by the National Association of Wheat Growers earlier this year. Results of the survey were unveiled in February. More than 75 percent of all respondents to the survey agree that biotech commercialization in wheat is important. Wheat, it happens, is the world's most widely consumed food grain and, heretofore, has not had the benefit of biotechnology. That, in turn, has contributed to a rapid decline in acres devoted to wheat in the U.S. It also has led to miniscule gains in average yield, compared to those realized by corn and soybeans.
NAWG's survey results prove to agriculture bioscience companies that biotech wheat is in demand by farmers. And the U.S. is not the only country poised to gain from biotech food grains.
China, with one-fourth of the world's population, will probably be the first to put biotech to work in a crop primarily used for human food, says Larry Diedrich, an Elkton, S.D. farmer and director of Growers for Biotechnology, a farmer-led interest group. Biotech rice, already developed and field tested in China, has the potential to increase food availability and net income by about $100 per hectare for approximately 440 million people in the country.
Around the globe, attitudes against biotech crops are softening. On Feb. 16, nine European Union nations voted in favor of forcing France and Greece to remove their ban of insect-protected corn, the only biotech product approved for planting in the European Union.
European farmers who planted Bt corn know the benefits. Growers in seven EU countries--Spain, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia--increased Bt corn acreage 21 percent to total more than 247,000 acres, according to a new report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
"The more these growers hear about the benefits that American producers are receiving from biotech, the more they will speak out in favor of lifting the moratorium in Europe," Diedrich says.
Africa, too, is changing its hard line stance against biotechnology. Two additional countries--Egypt and Burkina Faso--joined South Africa in planting biotech crops in 2008. In late February, Kenya, the most advanced African nation in terms of biotech research, adopted a biosafety protocol, which will eventually lead to a regulatory structure that paves the way for biotech approvals there.
According to Diedrich, the advent of drought-tolerant crops along with an African regulatory structure will almost certainly expand biotech crops throughout that continent. The long-awaited Golden Rice, with potential to prevent blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, may be introduced in 2011.
Today, according to ISAAA, biotech crops are planted in 25 nations where more than half of the world's people live. Acreage expands by about 10 percent per year. In more than 12 years of widespread planting, there have been no instances of adverse health or environmental effects. Yet, the activist mantra is hard to overcome.
Diedrich reasons that the public perception against technology will eventually wane. "When barriers come down all over the globe, the world's farmers will have the best tools possible to meet the incredible challenge of doubling food production to meet the demands of 9 billion people who will inhabit this earth by 2030."