GM crops: Reaping the benefits, but not in Europe - Socio-economic impacts of agricultural biotechnology

31.05.2011

Biotech crops growing around the world

Since the first commercialisation of genetically modified crops in 1996, agricultural biotechnology has spread rapidly around the world. In 2010, 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries cultivated GM crops and experienced socio-economic and environmental benefits.  

Addressing benefits and concerns

The reasons for farmers to choose biotech crops include higher productivity, such as yield increases of up to 30% on the same amount of land, and extra income. Significant environmental benefits have also been recorded, such as reduced pesticide application and reduced CO2 emissions, and decreased soil erosion through the adoption of no-till practices. However, especially in Europe people still have concerns about the impact of GM crops. Apart from ethical, environmental and safety issues, some people raise socio-economic impacts, like access of the technology for poor farmers or questions about who really benefits.  

Regulation Socio-Economics?
The importance of taking the socio-economic impacts of GMOs into account has been highlighted by various groups and risk managers. As part of the December 2008 Environment Council conclusions, the European Commission was asked to compile Member States’ considerations on this issue. The Commission report was published in April 2011. Concerning regulation, it should be noted that, in modern market economies, economic impacts are not usually reasons to restrict products, since any economic risk is borne by economic actors. In any market, only economically viable products are successful. 
 
The Commission confirmed this when it said that “socio-economic factors cannot be taken into 
account when approving GM crops. To be approved, they must simply be shown to be safe for human 
health and the environment”.