Despite concerns, farmers clearly prefer biotech crops

Published on: Jul 24, 2013

WHILE consumers continue to ask questions about the pros and cons of genetically-enhanced (GE) crop varieties, farmers continue to show an overwhelming preference for biotech corn, soybean and cotton varieties. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that GE varieties now account more than 90% of all acres planted to these three staple crops. 

According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), furthermore, a record 17.3 million farmers in 28 countries are using seed varieties improved through biotechnology and genetic engineering, with more than 90% of those farmers considered resource-poor, and farming in developing countries.

“Scientific innovation and seed technology allow growers to produce the most reliable and abundant yields with less tilling of the soil and fewer applications of insecticides,” explained Cathleen Enright, BIO’s executive vice president for food and agriculture. “These practices promote environmental sustainability, reduce on-farm fuel use, increase profit margins for U.S. farming families and keep food costs affordable for U.S. consumers.” 

USDA’s July update based on 2013 plantings shows 90% of all U.S. corn acres planted to a biotech variety, with 71% of all corn planted to a variety with a “stack” of genes, offering farmers tolerance to popular herbicides and resistance to key insects. The adoption of GE crops in the U.S. has been fairly rapid, with USDA survey data showing that herbicide-tolerant soybeans went from 17% of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997 to 68% in 2001, and hitting 93% for a second-consecutive year in 2013.

Even though U.S. farmers are nearly unanimous in their decision to plant seed varieties improved by genetic modification (GM), consumers are of a much more mixed mindset, especially those consumers residing in Europe. Two recent surveys conducted on behalf of Barclay’s, for example, drew a clear distinction between those who produce food in the United Kingdom and those who only consume it. 

While 61% of farmers surveyed said they would grow GM crops if legally permitted to do so, only 21% of consumers interviewed said they were willing to support GM food crops. Sixty-seven percent of adults in the UK said they would prefer to buy conventional food, and 24% said they would prefer strictly organic food options.

European governments by and large oppose adoption of GM crop technologies as a matter of policy; Monsanto announced July 17 that it would withdraw all applications to grow new GM crops in Europe because of deep opposition to the technology. The company instead said it would focus on increasing sales of its non-GM seed and farm input business in the region.