Friday, 30 March 2007

Genetically modified crops, ten years on

Is the expansion of genetically modified (GM) crops still seen as risky, or will it in fact help with the doubling of the food supply required as Earth’s population hits nine billion within the next 40 years?

Ten years after the first GM crops were planted, evidence is mounting that the technology can increase crop yields with apparently little environmental impact, particularly in developing countries. In India, for example, GM cotton has increased yields by around 150 per cent, trebled small farmers’ profits, and reduced pesticide volumes by 80 per cent. In Australia, GM cotton has also significantly decreased pesticide use while raising farmers’ yields.

Anti-GM groups, however, argue that in many developing countries, GM crops are now grown mainly for export by big farmers, not for local consumption, and that there are big effects of this monoculture cropping.

Most Australian states, including Victoria and New South Wales, have imposed moratoria on GM crops until 2008. But according to a 2005 ABARE report, ongoing moratoria could result in Australia losing billions of dollars in foregone profits over the next decade, particularly as global warming impacts crop environments.

University of Melbourne agronomist Rob Norton claims that the vigorous seedling growth of hybrid GM canolas helps them compete against weeds and shortens the interval to harvest, reducing exposure to heat at the end of the growing season, and meaning less irrigation is required. This trait would allow canola plantings to be expanded into drier areas, potentially boosting annual Australian production of canola by 295,000 tonnes annually.

More information is available from CSIRO's press release

No comments: