Traditionally, a plant breeder tries to exchange genes between two plants to produce offspring that have desired traits. This is done by transferring the male (pollen) of one plant to the female organ of another. This cross breeding, however, is limited to exchanges between the same or very closely related species. It can also take a long time to achieve desired results and frequently, characteristics of interest do not exist in any related species. GM technology enables plant breeders to bring together in one plant useful genes from a wide range of living sources, not just from within the crop species or from closely related plants. This powerful tool allows plant breeders to do faster what they have been doing for years – generate superior plant varieties – although it expands the possibilities beyond the limits imposed by conventional plant breeding. (Source: ISAAA.org)
Whatever technique is used, the genome of the new variety is different from the parents, but convention dictates that this is not considered to be genetic modification, the term being reserved for the products of r-DNA technology. GM technology aims to produce new varieties by adding (or modifying the expression of) specific genes known to control particular traits.
GM is more targeted (only a few genes carrying known functions are inserted in the recipient genome) and more rapid (bypassing the multiple cross generations needed by traditional breeding).
It also allows plants to be used to produce molecules which could not be obtained otherwise, such as vaccines or bio-plastics.Where conventional techniques are effective, they will be used, but genetic modification allows a wider range of useful traits to be incorporated into a given crop.
A record 17.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2012, up from 16.7 million farmers in 2011.Worldwide, 170.3 million hectares were planted with GM crops in 28 countries – an 100-fold increase since they were introduced in 1996. This is about the same size as the territories of Spain, Germany, France and the UK combined.Resources
Because they benefit from the technology - after all, 17.3 million farmers around the world do so, and their numbers grow each season.In addition to higher yields and higher farm income, their reasons include:
Increased management flexibility
Easier adoption of no- or reduced till farming, which saves time, equipment usage, and carbon emissions
Improved weed control
Less worry about pest damage
Less time spent on crop walking and/or insecticide application
Savings in energy use – mainly associated with less spraying and tillage
Savings in machinery use (for spraying and possibly reduced harvesting times)
Improved quality (e.g., lower levels of mycotoxins in GM insect-resistant maize)
No. Over 90% (15 million) of the farmers planting GM cropsare small growers in developing countries.
The top ten countries planting GM crops each grew more than 1 million hectares in 2011: USA (69 million hectares), Brazil (30.3 million), Argentina (23.7 million), India (10.6 million), Canada (10.4 million), China (3.9 million), Paraguay (2.8 million), Pakistan (2.6 million), South Africa (2.3 million) and Uruguay (1.3 million).Brazil, for example, has dramatically expanded its planting of GM crops.In the crop season of 2010 to 2011, more than three-quarters of the land used in Brazilian soybean agriculture was planted with GM seeds, and this is predicted to grow by 13% for the 2011/2012 season.
As of 2012, just two GM crops have been approved for cultivation in Europe.
- The more widely grown of the two, MON810, is a type of maize that helps fight off pests, such as the European corn borer.
- The second approved product is a potato for industrial use called Amflora, approved in 2010. Its waxy starch content is useful for making paper, for example.
Several member states have issued (legally questionable) bans on cultivation of one or both of these crops approved at EU level.
As of April 2012, a total of 47 GM crops were approved in the European Union, most of them for imports and processing and/or for food and feed. More than half of those crops were types of GM maize. Other crops included soybeans, rapeseed, sugarbeet, cotton and potatoes.
Europe imports a substantial portion of its animal feed, and a large part of the world’s supply is GM.
Around 30 million tons of grain are imported per year from third countries, including 13 million tons of soybeans, 22 million tons of soymeal, 2,5 million tons of maize, 2 million tons of oilseed rape and 0.1 million tons of cotton.
European animal farmers rely on soybeans imports for animal feed. Europe imports most of the soybeans it uses, and those imports are mostly GM from North and South America.See our factsheet for more information on the global grain trade and GM crops' role.
- Labelling is mandatory within the EU for all food and feed products consisting of, containing, or obtained from GM plants when this is above 0.9% of that ingredient.GM crops are very often used for animal feed.Animal derived products such as meat, eggs or milk do not have to be labeled.
Anti-GMO groups claim that Europeans are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food and crops. But often they base these claims on incorrect readings of public opinion polls. What do surveys actually say about the current state of public opinion? Some polling results and questions are misleading. For example, some polls asked people to rank their levels of concern and asked them to agree or disagree with statements like “GM food is unnatural”, “makes you feel uneasy” or “GM food is not good for you.”Questions that ask people to quantify “how worried they are” obviously record high levels of concern. Reliable public opinion pollsters don’t use such methods; instead, they ask people to rank their concerns instead of prompting them with suggestions of what those concerns might be. Eurobarometer did this in 2010, asking 16,000 Europeans: “… in your own words, what are all the things that come to your mind when thinking about possible problems or risks associated with food and eating? Just say out loud whatever comes to mind and I will write it down.”According to Eurobarometer 2010 on food related risks, only 8% of Europeans spontaneously say they are worried about GM in food. People are more worried about: 1) chemical products, 2) food poisoning, 3) diet-related diseases, 4) obesity, 5) lack of freshness, and 6) food additives, colours and preservatives.Although there is concern about GM and biotechnology, consumers report a low level of knowledge about GM food. When a consumer has no direct experience or verifiable evidence to support concerns, he or she takes a much more cautious approach. In one recent survey, 34% of Europeans found a clear deficit of information on GMOs; as a result, many have yet to form their final opinion on the subject.The EU Research Project CONSUMERCHOICE looked at the actual purchasing behaviour of consumers when given the opportunity to choose between GM and non-GM foods. The project found that responses given by consumers when prompted by questionnaires about GM-food are not a reliable guide to what they do when shopping in grocery stores. Furthermore, the study concluded that Europeans do buy GM-foods when they are physically present and labelled on the shelves. Still, even now a large percentage of people recognise that there are benefits. According to another Eurobarometer, 77% of Europeans said that they agreed that the European Union should encourage its farmers to take advantage of biotechnology in agriculture.Other resources:GMO Compass: An overview of European consumer pollsSpecial Eurobarometer 354, 2010 Food-related risksSpecial Eurobarometer Biotechnology, 2010