The present food supply crisis would be worse if it were not for commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops over the last 12 years, claims a new economic report.
GM crops have been grown commercially on a large scale for the past 12 years, although so far a limited number of agronomic traits have actually been commercialised, and in a small range of crops.
According to a new report conducted by UK-based PG Economics called Global impact of biotech crops: socio-economic and environmental effects 1996-2006, these traits have already resulted in improved productivity and profitability for the 10.25m farmers who adopted them over the study period.
Global production of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola were respectively 5 per cent, 1.4 per cent, 5.2 per cent, and 0.5 per cent higher that they would have been if farmers were not using GM technology.
This translated into additional production volumes of 11.6m tonnes for soybeans, 9.65m tonnes for corn, 1.38m tonnes for cotton lint and 0.21m tonnes for canola.
"GM technology is having an important impact on contributing to global supplies of these food, feed and fibre commodities and to limiting the level of price increases that have occurred in the last two to three years," said the report's authors.
For long-term food security, co-author Graham Brookes told FoodNavigator.com that he believes GM technology will to play an important part, but is not a "silver bullet".
There are a variety of other factors, including global policy, that will also contribute to ensuring the world's population has enough to eat.
While report indicates there are strong benefits to GM technology, in the EU adoption on a par with other parts of the world has been impeded by political wrangles and resistance.
This, Brookes believes, is lamentable.
"I consider that European citizens are being denied the environmental and economic benefits of GM. We have missed the boat in Europe."
Even if the political hold-ups were to ease, he believes the EU will remain 10 years behind.
Elsewhere, more uptake of available GM traits is expected in the next ten years, together with wider development of the technology by both the private and the public sector.
The public sector is an especially strong driver in developing countries. For instance the Chinese government has been investing in GM research, according to Brookes, with market benefits anticipated.
New traits are also expected to come to market in the foreseeable future. For example, according to Brookes a drought resistant corn trait is under development and in the next five years should allow the staple to be grown in drier regions and places where irrigation is problematic.
The anti-GM lobby has repeatedly expressed concerns that the long-term safety of GM crops has not been established.
Since the technology is relatively new, they argue that using GM technology now could be storing up unforeseeable health and environment problems for the future.
In addition, there are concerns about contamination of non-GM crops grown in proximity to GM crops, since cross-pollination is impossible to avoid.
Brookes, on the other hand, stands by the safety record of GM crops. He says it has passed the most rigorous review of safety in agriculture, and there is no one scientifically documented case of GM causing problems for health, safety or the environment.
The report was funded by the biotech industry, but Brookes told FoodNavigator.com that in order to counter allegations of self-interest, the researchers insisted on publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
The full 118 page version is available online . A shorter version has been accepted for publication in the journal AgBioForum, and is expected to appear in print within the next month.