WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2016 - Developing country farmers could see productivity and income grow faster with genetically-improved seeds but are blocked by “unduly restrictive regulations and trade barriers” stimulated by European-led activist campaigns that influence UN bodies and flout scientific evidence, says the Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

Restrictions on biotech agriculture will cost developing nations as much as $1.5 trillion in forgone economic benefits through 2050 if not rolled back, according to ITIF’s report, “Suppressing Growth: How GMO Opposition Hurts Developing Nations.” Because farmers in developing nations often cannot afford other methods for improving productivity, such as advanced farm equipment and expensive pesticides, biotech seeds that resist insect pests or improve weed control are the most affordable way to abundant and higher quality crops, it says.

Although anti-biotech policies in sub-Saharan Africa “work to perpetuate underdevelopment and poverty” in many African countries, the technology has been welcomed by poorer nations elsewhere, the paper says. An estimated 16.5 million small-scale farmers in 20 developing countries planted biotech crops on 230 million acres (53 percent of the total) in 2014, it notes.

India’s 7.7 million smallholders increased their income by $16.7 billion and China’s enjoyed $16.2 billion greater income from biotechnology because they were able to reduce pesticide applications by 50 percent on corn, cotton, soybeans and canola. Globally, biotech crops have reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 percent, increased crop yields by 22 percent and increased farmer profits by 68 percent during the 20-year period of 1995 to 2014, says ITIF.

The report’s lead author is geneticist L. Val Giddings, an ITIF senior fellow who helped develop biotech policy at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the 1980s and later was vice president for agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

“Despite the strongly positive track record of biotech-derived crops for farmers, consumers, and the environment, there is still a significant opportunity to continue expanding their use to address the ever-increasing demand for food, animal feed, and industrial fiber,” says Giddings. “It is critical that restrictive regimes blocking GMOs be rolled back as rapidly as possible, so farmers everywhere can take advantage of the productivity-enhancing benefits of biotech innovation.”

The paper describes campaigns against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), originating primarily in Europe, that have created significant obstacles to development and adoption of biotech crops. Although suppression of the technology raises food costs in Europe where consumers are more affluent, it can “disproportionately hurt those nations with the greatest need for more productive agriculture – particularly the developing nations of sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Over the past three decades, a number of… groups have pressed successfully for restrictions or bans on the growth or import of crops and foods improved through biotechnology,” ITIF asserts. “These restrictions lower farmers’ productivity and raise food prices – not just in the countries where the campaigns originate, but in nations that avoid GMO crops so they can export to countries with policies banning or limiting GMOs.”

It adds, “Concerted efforts led by European countries, multinational organizations like (UN’s) Global Project for Development of National Biosafety Frameworks, and anti-GMO advocacy groups have denied the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and suppressed its diffusion. If not for this, the level of adoption in developing countries, particularly in Africa, which has closer trading ties with Europe, would no doubt be far higher, given the current adoption rate of GMO seeds wherever farmers do not fear export limitations.”


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