Biotechnology industry growth and statistics

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech Crops: 2006
(Source: ISAAA Brief No. 35 by Clive James 2006)

  • The global area of biotech crops continued to climb for the tenth consecutive year at a sustained double-digit growth rate of 13%, or 12 million hectares (30 million acres), reaching 102 million hectares (252 million acres) in 2006.
  • The year-to-year increase of 12 million hectares from 2005 to 2006 is the second highest in the last five years in absolute area, despite the fact that the adoption rates in the United States, the principal grower of biotech crops, are already over 80% for soybean and cotton.
  • India, the largest cotton-growing country in the world, registered the highest proportional increase with an impressive gain that almost tripled its Bt cotton area to 3.8 million hectares.
  • The number of countries planting biotech crops increased from 21 to 22 with the EU country Slovakia, planting Bt maize for the first time and bringing the total number of countries planting biotech crops in the EU to six of 25. Spain continued to be the lead country in Europe, planting 60,000 hectares in 2006. The other five countries (France, Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany and Slovakia) increased over five-fold from approximately 1,500 hectares in 2005 to approximately 8,500 hectares.
  • In 2006 10.3 million farmers from 22 countries planted biotech crops, up from 8.5 million farmers in 2005. Of the 10.3 million, 90% or 9.3 million were small, resource-poor farmers from developing countries whose increased income from biotech crops helped eliminate their poverty. Of the 9.3 million small farmers, most of whom were Bt cotton farmers, 6.8 million were in China, 2.3 million in India, 100,000 in the Philippines, several thousand in South Africa, with the balance in the other seven developing countries which grew biotech crops in 2006. This initial modest contribution of biotech crops to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015 is an important development, and has enormous potential in the second decade of commercialization from 2006 to 2015.
  • A new biotech crop, herbicide-tolerant alfalfa, was commercialized for the first time in the US in 2006. RR® alfalfa has the distinction of being the first perennial biotech crop to be commercialized; it was seeded on 80,000 hectares, or 5% of the 1.3 million hectares of alfalfa probably seeded in the US in 2006. RR® Flex herbicide tolerant cotton was launched in 2006 occupying a substantial area of over 800,000 hectares in its first year and was planted as a single trait and as a stacked product with Bt, with the latter occupying the majority of the hectarage. The plantings were principally in the United States with a smaller hectarage in Australia. Notably in China, a locally developed virus-resistant papaya, was recommended for commercialization in late 2006.
  • The 22 countries growing biotech crops comprised 11 developing countries and 11 industrial countries. They were, in order of hectarage, United States of America, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay, Philippines, Australia, Romania, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, France, Iran, Honduras, Czech Republic, Portugal, Germany and Slovakia. Notably, the first eight of these countries grew by more than 1 million hectares each, providing a broad and stable foundation for future global growth of biotech crops.
  • For the first time, India grew more Bt cotton (3.8 million hectares) than China (3.5 million hectares) and moved up the world ranking by two places to number 5 in the world, overtaking both China and Paraguay.
  • More than half (55% or 3.6 billion people) of the global population of 6.5 billion live in the 22 countries where biotech crops were grown in 2006 and generated significant and multiple benefits. Also, more than half (52% or 776 million hectares) of the 1.5 billion hectares of cropland in the world is in the 22 countries where approved biotech crops were grown in 2006.
  • In 2006, the US, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops globally, with 54.6 million hectares planted in the USA (53% of global biotech area) of the which approximately 28% were stacked products containing two or three traits. The stacked products, currently deployed in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines, are an important and growing future trend, which meets the multiple yield constraints of farmers.
  • The largest absolute increase in biotech crop area in any country in 2006 was in the USA estimated at 4.8 million hectares, followed by India at 2.5 million hectares, Brazil with 2.1 million hectares, then Argentina and South Africa tying at 0.9 million hectares each. The largest proportional or percentage increase was in India at 192% (almost a three-fold increase from 1.3 million hectares in 2005 to 3.8 million hectares in 2006) followed closely by South Africa at 180% with an impressive increase in its biotech white and yellow maize area, and the Philippines at 100% increase, also due to a significant increase in its biotech maize area.
  • Biotech soybean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2006, occupying 58.6 million hectares (57% of global biotech area), followed by maize (25.2 million hectares at 25%), cotton (13.4 million hectares at 13%) and canola (4.8 million hectares at 5% of global biotech crop area).
  • From the genesis of commercialization in 1996 to 2006, herbicide tolerance has consistently been the dominant trait gained followed by insect resistance and stacked genes for the two traits. In 2006, herbicide tolerance deployed in soybean, maize, canola, cotton and alfalfa occupied 68% or 69.9 million hectares of the global biotech 102 million hectares, with 19.0 million hectares (19%) planted to Bt crops and 13.1 million hectares (13%) to the stacked traits of Bt and herbicide tolerance. The stacked product was the fastest growing trait group between 2005 and 2006 at 30% growth, compared with 17% for insect resistance and 10% for herbicide tolerance.
  • During the period 1996 to 2006, the proportion of the global area of biotech crops grown by developing countries has increased consistently every year. In 2006 40% of the global biotech crop area, equivalent to 40.9 million hectares, was grown in developing countries where growth between 2005 and 2006 was substantially higher (7.0 million hectares or 21% growth) than industrial countries (5.0 million hectares or 9% growth). The increasing collective impact of the five principal developing countries (India, China, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa) representing all three continents of the South, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, is an important continuing trend, with implications for the future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops worldwide.
  • In the first 11 years, the accumulated global biotech crop area was 577 million hectares or 1.4 billion acres, equivalent to over half of the total land area of the USA or China, or 25 times the total land area of the UK. High adoption rates reflect farmer satisfaction with biotech products, which offer substantial benefits ranging from more convenient and flexible crop management, lower cost of production, higher productivity and/or net returns per hectare, health and social benefits, and a cleaner environment through decreased use of conventional pesticides, which collectively contribute to a more sustainable agriculture. The continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements for both large and small farmers, consumers and society in both industrial and developing countries.
  • The most recent survey of the global impact of biotech crops for the decade 1996 to 2005 estimates that the global net economic benefits to biotech crop farmers in 2005 was $5.6 billion, and $27 billion ($13 billion for developing countries and $14 billion for industrial countries) for the accumulated benefits during the period 1996 to 2005; these estimates include the benefits associated with the double cropping of biotech soybean in Argentina. The reduction in pesticides for the decade 1996 to 2005 was estimated at 224,300 Metric Tonnes (MH) of active ingredient, which is equivalent to a 15% reduction in the associated environmental impact of pesticide use on these crops, as measured by the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) - a composite measure based on the various factors contributing to the net environmental impact of an individual active ingredient.
  • The serious and urgent concerns about the environment highlighted in the 2006 Stern Report on Climate Change have implications for biotech crops which can potentially contribute to reduction of greenhouse gases and climate change in three principal ways. First, permanent savings in carbon dioxide emissions through reduced use of fossil-based fuels, associated with fewer insecticide and herbicide sprays; in 2005 this was an estimated saving of 962 million kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to reducing the number of cars on the roads by 0.43 million. Secondly, conservation tillage (defined as the need for less or no ploughing with herbicide tolerant biotech crops) for biotech food, feed and fiber crops, led to an additional soil carbon sequestration equivalent in 2005 to 8,053 million kg of CO2, or removing 3.6 million cars off the road. Thus, in 2005 the combined permanent and additional savings through carbon sequestration was equivalent to a saving of 9,000 million kg of CO2 or removing 4 million cars from the road. Thirdly, in the future, cultivation of a significant additional area of biotech-based energy crops to produce ethanol and bio diesel will, on the one-hand, substitute for fossil fuels and on the other, will recycle and sequester carbon. Recent research indicates that bio fuels could result in net savings of 65% in energy resource depletion. Given that energy crops will likely occupy a significant additional crop hectarage in the future, the contribution of biotech-based energy crops to climate change could be significant.
  • While 22 countries planted commercialized biotech crops in 2006, an additional 29 countries, totaling 51, have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996. A total of 539 approvals have been granted for 107 events for 21 crops. Thus, biotech crops are accepted for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment in 29 countries, including major food-importing countries like Japan, which do not plant biotech crops. Of the 51 countries that have granted approvals for biotech crops, the US tops the list followed by Japan, Canada, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Mexico, New Zealand, the EU and China. Maize has the most events approved (35) followed by cotton (19), canola (14), and soybean (7). The event that has received regulatory approval in most countries is herbicide tolerant soybean event GTS-40-3-2 with 21 approvals (EU=25 counted as 1 approval only), followed by insect resistant maize (MON 810) and herbicide tolerant maize (NK603) both with 18 approvals, and insect resistant cotton (MON 531/757/1076) with 16 approvals worldwide.
  • The overview of bio fuels in this Brief serves to introduce the subject, and is focused on the implications of the growing interest and investments in bio fuels in relation to two specific topics: crop biotechnology and developing countries. It is evident that biotechnology offers very significant advantages for increasing efficiency of bio fuel production in both industrial and developing countries. It is expected that biotechnology and other improvements will allow industrial countries, like the US, to continue to produce surplus supplies of food, feed and fiber and coincidentally achieve ambitious goals for bio fuels in the near-term. Any investment in food crops for bio fuels in food insecure developing countries must not compete, but complement the programs in place for food, feed and fiber security. Any program developed in bio fuels must be sustainable in terms of agricultural practice and forest management, the environment, and the ecosystem, particularly the responsible and efficient use of water. Most developing countries, with the exception of countries like Brazil which is a world leader in bio fuels, would benefit significantly from forging strategic partnerships with public and private sector organizations from both industrial countries and the advanced developing countries, which are knowledgeable and experienced in the production, distribution and consumption of bio fuels Bio fuels should not only benefit the national economy of a developing country but also benefit the poorest people in the country, who are mainly in the rural areas, most of whom are small resource-poor subsistence farmers and the landless rural labour who are entirely dependent on agriculture and forestry for their livelihoods.
  • The future for biotech crops looks encouraging, with the number of countries adopting the four current major biotech crops expected to grow, and their global hectarage and number of farmers planting biotech crops expected to increase as the first generation of biotech crops is more widely adopted and the second generation of new applications for both input and output traits becomes available. The outlook for the next decade of commercialization, 2006 to 2015, points to continued growth in the global hectarage of biotech crops, up to 200 million hectares, with at least 20 million farmers growing biotech crops in up to 40 countries, or more, by 2015. Genes conferring a degree of drought tolerance, expected to become available around 2010-2011, are projected to have substantial impact relative to current input traits and will be particularly important for developing countries which suffer more from drought, the most prevalent and important constraint to increased crop productivity worldwide.

    The second decade of commercialization, 2006-2015, is likely to feature significantly more growth in Asia compared with the first decade, which was the decade of the Americas, where there will be continued growth in stacked traits in North America and strong growth in Brazil. The mix of crop traits will become richer with quality traits making their long awaited debut with implications for acceptance, particularly in Europe. A 2006 study by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in the USA confirmed that the vast majority of consumers are confident in the safety of the US food supply and express little to no concern about food and agricultural biotechnology, and would selectively  buy biotech-based products with high omega-3 oil content. By far, the most important potential contribution of biotech crops will be their contribution to the humanitarian Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and hunger by 50% by 2015. The use of biotechnology to increase efficiency of first generation food/feed crops and second-generation energy crops for bio fuels will have high impact and present both opportunities and challenges. Injudicious use of the food/feed crops, sugarcane, cassava and maize for bio fuels in food-insecure developing countries could jeopardize food security goals if the efficiency of these crops cannot be increased through biotechnology and other means, so that food, feed and fuel goals can all be met. Adherence to good farming practices with biotech crops, such as rotations and resistance management, will remain critical as it has been during the first decade. Continued responsible stewardship must be practiced, particularly by the countries of the Southern Hemisphere, which will be the major new deployers of biotech crops in the second decade of commercialization of biotech crops, 2006 to 2015.

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