GM crops also have significant economic benefits. Higher yields and lower production costs have reduced global commodity prices (corn, soybeans and derivatives), resulting in higher farm income, enhanced supplies of food and feed products, and more readily available high-quality calories.
Indeed, farm income grew by nearly US$65 million from 1996 to 2009, as biotech crops increased global corn and soybean production by 130 million and 83 million tonnes respectively, owing to higher yields and, in Argentina, second cropping of soybeans. As a result, by 2007, global corn and soybean prices were nearly 6 percent and 10 percent lower respectively, than they would have been had farmers not embraced these crops.
Given their benefits, GM crops’ “repeat index” — the proportion of farmers who, after trying a GM variety, choose to plant it again — is very high. The boost to farm incomes and farm security — which translates into higher household incomes and improved standards of living — is particularly important in developing countries, where income levels are lowest but per-hectare benefits from planting GM varieties have been greatest.
However, GM crops do not benefit only those who grow and consume them. According to a 2010 study, fields of insect-resistant GM corn have an “area-wide suppression effect” on insects, benefiting neighboring fields containing conventional corn varieties.
The researchers calculated that, from 1996 to 2010, cultivating GM varieties increased farmers’ profits in three US states by roughly US$3.2 billion — US$2.4 billion of which accrued to farmers whose nearby fields had not been planted with GM varieties. The farmers planting the conventional varieties benefit disproportionately, because they do not have to buy the more expensive GM seeds.
Future generations of GM crops will bring even more benefits — but only if they are allowed to flourish. To that end, consumers must understand that GM crops hold great potential, while posing negligible risks, and governments must adopt regulatory policies that face facts and reject pathological science.
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Graham Brookes is an economist and co-director of the UK-based PG Economics Ltd.
Copyright: Project Syndicate