Presented by The Right Honourable Owen Paterson MP (UK), former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK (2012-2014), at the annual South African agricultural biotechnology industry / ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) media conference in Pretoria on Tuesday 24 February 2015.

“Feeding a population of over nine billion people in 2050 is one of the most daunting challenges facing mankind during the remaining years of this century. From the phenomenal global results achieved during the past 19 years, 16 in South Africa, it is evident that biotech (GM) crops can make a major contribution to meet this challenge,” said Mr Owen Paterson MP.

Speaking at the annual South African Agricultural Biotechnology Industry / ISAAA media conference in Pretoria, he said currently there are globally 870 million chronically hungry people, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa. Two billion are malnourished. Biotech crops can make a difference to alleviate hunger and poverty.

In the past 18 years (1996-2013), biotech crops produced an additional 441.4 million tons of food, fibre and feed on existing crop land. If it were not for biotech crops, an additional 132 million ha of conventional crops would have been required to produce the same tonnage.

Significant multiple benefits offered by biotech crops are not punted by the industry, Paterson continued, but are confirmed by the latest independent global meta analysis of 147 studies in the last 20 years by German economists, Klumper and Qaim 2014.

They concluded that on average GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22% and boosted farmer profits by 68%.

The latest provisional data for 1996 to 2013 showed that crop production value increased by US$133 billion and from 1996-2012 saved 500 million kg active ingredient of pesticide. In 2013 alone, CO2 emissions were reduced by 28 billion kg, equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road for one year.

During 1996-2013 the cumulative economic benefits for industrial countries amounted to gains of US$65.2 billion and for developing countries US$10.1 billion. In 2014 the global value of biotech crops estimated by Cropnosis was US$ 15.7 billion. The estimated global farm gate revenues of the harvested commercial biotech crop “end product” are more than US$157 billion.

Biotech crops continue to grow at a phenomenal rate. In 2014, according to the ISAAA report, for the 19th consecutive year (16 in South Africa) a record 181.5 million hectares of biotech crops were grown globally by 18 million farmers in 28 countries (27 in 2013) where more than half the world’s population (4 billion) live. This was an increase of more than six million ha from 2013. One new country, Bangladesh, came on board with the first Bt brinjal.

Of the 28 countries, 20 were developing and eight developed countries. For the third consecutive year developing countries with 16.5 million poor smallholder farmers, out of the total of 18 million farmers, planted more biotech crops than industrial countries (1.5 million farmers).

Status in Africa

South Africa continues as the leading biotech country in Africa. Biotech crops – maize, soya and cotton – were grown on 2,7 million ha (2.9 million in 2013). The drop was primarily due to late onset of rain, lower commodity prices and adoption rate approaching saturation point. Nearly 86% of maize area is GM, soybeans 92% and cotton 100%. Maize is estimated at 2.5 million ha (2.73 million ha 2013). Biotech maize comprised 2.14 million ha (2.36 million 2013).

Soybean plantings in 2014 increased from 520 000 ha to 600 000 ha, with 92% biotech, with all 552 000 ha being herbicide-tolerant trait (92% and 478 000 ha in 2013). Total cotton area is estimated at 9 000 ha (8 000 ha in 2013).

It is estimated that the economic gain from biotech crops for South Africa for the period 1998 to 2012 was US$1.15 billion. In 2012 alone, the gain was US$218.5 million.

South Africa with its 2.7 million ha ranks eighth in the adoption of GMOs after the USA with 73.1 million ha, Brazil second with 42.2 million ha, Argentina third with 24.3 million ha and India and Canada fourth, both with 11.5 million ha.

According to the report steady and promising progress is being made in Africa. Sudan increased Bt cotton hectarage by nearly 50%, to 90 000 ha. Burkina Faso is the third African country growing Bt cotton.

It is encouraging to note that seven African countries in 2014 continued with field trials with a wide range of biotech crops, i.e. Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda. A major breakthrough in Africa was the launch of the first non-GMO drought-tolerant DroughtTEGOTM maize developed by WEMA (Water Efficient Maize for Africa) in conjunction with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and Monsanto, who donated the technology royalty-free. Successful trials were conducted in South Africa by the Agricultural Research Council.

Trials done in Kenya showed increased yields from 1.8t/ha to 4.5t/ha. The Bt GM drought-tolerant maize is expected to be released in South Africa by 2017. Yields are expected to increase by 20-35% to produce an additional two million MT of maize in drought years to feed an additional 14-21 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

EU Developments

Five EU countries continued to plant biotech crops on 143 016 ha (148 013 in 2013). Spain led with 131 538 ha of Bt maize, followed by Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Czechia. In addition, the EU imports 30 million tons of grain, more than 90% being biotech, mainly soybeans, soymeal and maize, from the USA and Latin America.

New Products

New GM products approved for planting in 2014 were Innate potato and alfalfa (lucerne) USA; brinjal, Bangladesh; HT plus IR soybean, Brazil; and drought-tolerant sugar cane, Indonesia. In the pipeline are some 71 new biotech crops listed for commercialisation during the next five years, subject to regulatory approval.

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A proliferating network of anti-GMO activists are spending millions of dollars annually to convince the world to reject scientific fact in favour of activist myth. “This is eco-terrorism. It is witchcraft,” emphasised Paterson.

This is often done with NGO and even EU support and in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of GMO efficacy and safety.

Less than a year ago an organisation closely allied with Greenpeace, MASIPAG, violently attacked and destroyed a field trial of Golden Rice in the Philippines, while Greenpeace openly cheered them.

The UN Environment Programme has spent more than $100 million to train developing countries in risk assessment of GMO crops. No UN money has been spent in assessing GMO benefits.

Last November incoming EU president Jean-Claude Juncker scrapped the important position of EU science adviser, not caring to renew the contract for Anne Glover, professor of cell biology, who had been doing excellent work. The vacancy was not filled.

These are all inhibiting factors that would condemn billions to poverty, hunger and underdevelopment, while the important role that biotech can play in alleviating human suffering and in spurring development are not recognised by individuals and even governments.

One of the ironic consequences is that the EU – at the spearhead of anti-GMO funding and with the well-meaning but misguided generosity of the privileged in Europe and elsewhere – cannot feed itself and has been relegated to a net food importer. The EU has therefore become a drag on the noble imperative of growing enough food to feed everyone and feed them well.

Nearly 805 million people – about one in every nine and the majority of them children – do not have enough to eat. Many of these poor people live in Africa – the continent with vast but underutilised resources of land, fertile soil and sun.

Fortunately the tentacles of the Green Blob – anti-GMO activists – can’t reach every positive effort to break the shackles of poverty: in Burkina Faso farmers planting Bt cotton have increased their yields by an average 20% over non-GMO cotton. Pesticide applications were also reduced drastically. Profits increased by at least $87 per hectare.

Africa is in fact showing Europe the way: in 2014 Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria recorded 13 field trials of GM crops, compared to a mere 12 field trials in the 28 member states of the EU.

Another positive development is the fact that influential people are beginning to realise that the anti-GMO Green Blob is the real danger to human health and prosperity.

· Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace in the 1970s – when it took account of science and respected human life – has broken ties with his old organisation and now works to expose Greenpeace’s actions in especially the developing world.

· Kenyan-born Calestous Juma, who holds a chair in international development at Harvard in the US, has repeatedly slammed the EU for strong-arming African nations not to grow GM crops and threatening to cut off imports.

· The Keystone Alliance, a collaborative effort of industry and conservation groups in the US, has demonstrated that modern agriculture resulted in less water, fertiliser and energy used in major crops, while dramatically lowering the environmental impact. Yields have skyrocketed.

· Anti-GMO myths are slammed by a growing awareness of the health, sustainability and financial benefits of modern biotechnology. The facts are:

* Every independent scientific institution in the world has found GMOs to be at least as safe as any other food. A simple example: naturally occurring toxins like aflatoxin are most effectively controlled by planting GMO crops engineered with Bt insect resistance. More than 4,5 billion people in the developing world are exposed to these toxins, which can suppress the immune system, retard growth and cause cancer and liver disease.

* Farmers are not fooled by biotech companies into paying more for GMO seeds – nearly 100% of all farmers who plant biotech crops choose to continue planting biotech crops.

* Going organic would be a disaster. Sustainable intensive agriculture produces more food on less land and therefore protects land for wildlife, recreation and urban development. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug (father of the Green Revolution) summarised it as follows: “There are 6,6 billion people on the planet today. With organic farming we could only feed 4 billion of them. Which 2 billion would volunteer to die?”

* Biotech has benefits for both farmers and consumers. Healthier soybeans, tomatoes that mimic good cholesterol, non-browning apples, healthier GMO potatoes and peanuts that lack two of the most intense allergens are some examples. Golden Rice, biofortified technology developed 15 years ago by German professors Ingo Potrykus and Pete Beyer, is a miracle grain enhanced with vitamin A producing beta-carotene.

Few people know that the first biotechnology product approved for food was rennet, a safer and more effective enzyme used to make cheese. All the insulin routinely used to keep diabetics alive comes from GMO bacteria. Previously one major industrial insulin processor had to process 11 tons of pig pancreases every day.

The challenge is to expose the anti-GMO activists’ organised, fanatical antagonism to progress and science, Paterson said.

For more information contact Dr Wynand van der Walt, telephone 012 347 6334 or 083 468 3471.