The following is an excerpt of a report by Graham Brookes, PG Economics, commemorating 20 years of GM crops in Australia.
All crops grown in the world are the product of thousands of years of breeding by humans to improve the quality and yield of the end product. Crop biotechnology is a modern extension of plant breeding techniques that allows plant breeders to select genes with desirable or beneficial traits for expression in a new variety.
It represents a new step in the evolution of plant breeding because it allows for the transfer of genes with desirable traits between unrelated species (i.e. allows for the transfer of genes between species that are unlikely to have been possible using traditional plant breeding techniques). It is also a more precise and selective process than traditional cross breeding for producing desired agronomic crop traits.
The main GM traits (a trait is a desirable or target attribute such as pest resistance) so far commercialised have essentially been derived from bacteria and convey:
- Herbicide tolerance (HT) to specific herbicides (notably to glyphosate and to glufosinate). The technology allows a herbicide to be used to target weeds in the crop without harming the crop. For example, a glyphosate tolerant crop is tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate; and
- Resistance to specific insect pests (often called insect resistant or IR crops): here genes have been introduced into crops like corn, cotton and soybeans and make a crop resistant to a particular pest. For example, a cotton crop with resistance to the range of bollworm and budworm pests.
GM crops have been widely grown around the world and in Australia for 20 years. During this period, the technology has provided significant economic and environmental benefits to Australian farmers and citizens.
Australian cotton and canola farmers have gained AUS$1.37 billion worth of extra income and produced an additional 226,000 tonnes of canola that would otherwise have not been produced if conventional technology had been used.
The technology has enabled Australian farmers to reduce their use of insecticides and herbicides by 22 million kilograms of active ingredient, equal to a 26 per cent improvement in the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on these two crops.
This reduced use of pesticides has also resulted in a saving of nearly 27 million litres of fuel use and 71.5 million kilograms less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.
To read the entire report, please visit the CropLife Australia website.