Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary Memorandum by Monsanto Services International S.A./N.V.

  In response to a specific request from the Committee made by telephone on June 16, this evidence relating to the environmental and societal impact of genetic modification in agriculture is further to the evidence already submitted and dated 4 June 1998. This evidence specifically relates to the experience so far gained from commercially introduced genetically modified agricultural crops.

AGRICULTURE: THE GLOBAL DEMOGRAPHIC FACTS

  1. There are a range of estimates on the world's population growth and predictions suggest an increase from the current 5.8 billion to a peak in 2050 of some 10 billion. At the same time, this population must be fed and clothed and there is a limited and ultimately finite amount of available agricultural land on which to produce food and fibre for this growing population.

  2. Currently, about 14 million square kilometres of land are farmed and without technical developments, it is estimated that some 40 million square kilometres would be needed to sustain the population growth, while at the same time increasing the standard of living. Nearly all of the most productive and accessible farm land is already under cultivation, and it is the quest for further agricultural land which is leading to destruction of the wilderness and tropical forest areas. At the same time, this productive land is subject to the onslaught of both man and the elements leading to the substantial loss of valuable topsoil and soil nutrients in many areas and to less and lower quality surface and groundwater.

  3. The situation is different in developed and developing countries with the population of the developing countries striving to attain a standard of living comparative with those in developed countries. The first desires in many cases are a stable, more productive and higher quality source of food, which therefore depends on affordable improvements in agricultural capabilities. In developed countries where agriculture provides a more plentiful food supply, the immediate challenge is to provide that same food in a more environmentally sustainable manner and with compatible agricultural techniques. More worryingly on a global scale, it would seem that in recent years, the global human population has frequently consumed more food than it has produced.

  4. Current production systems, although they can be honed, cannot provide a long-term and sustained response to these issues and problems. The application biotechnology to agriculture can help to provide some of the solutions. However, it is still a technology in its early development and the limits of the opportunity to deliver solutions are still therefore largely unknown. Similarly, it should not be regarded in the current state of knowledge as a universal panacea.

  5. Nevertheless, from the data so far available, it is possible to gain an insight into the potential benefits which the application of genetic techniques can bring.

  6. The first genetically modified plants were produced in 1982 and the first plantings in the field were carried out in 1986. In the intervening 16 years since the first plants were produced, around 25,000 field tests have taken place in 45 countries with 60 different plant species.

  7. After gaining regulatory approval, the first products were commercialised in 1993 with currently 34 products approved in the United States, 30 in Canada, 20 in Japan, eight in the EU, three in Mexico and one in Australia. In the EU, only one food crop is permitted to be grown commercially.

  8. In 1996, approximately three million hectares were planted commercially increasing to 12 million hectares in 1997 and a projected 26 million hectares globally in 1998.

  9. From the experience gained from this long series of test and commercial operations, the benefits have been assessed and relate to a number of areas:

    Reduced chemical input to agriculture as a result of the introduction of insect-protected, herbicide-tolerant and virus-resistant crops.

    A shift to more sustainable and environmentally sound crop protection systems, resulting in reduced land erosion with improved ground and surface water quality and preservation of natural habitats from increased yields.

    Reduced farmer exposure to agricultural protection products.

    A reduced need for use of non-renewable fossil fuels in chemical production, transport and application.

    Increased productivity per unit of useable farm land due to superior weed and insect control thus limiting the demand for sourcing new arable land.

  10. Data from four crop examples are given below which illustrates the impacts of these crops in the local environment. In all cases, the information is from commercial experience in the countries concerned. The products were submitted to the regulatory authorities in each country who carried out a full examination of relevant data prior to approval of the products for commercialisation.

BOLLGARD® [INSECT-PROTECTED COTTON]

  11. Approximately 730,000 hectares of genetically modified insect-protected cotton varieties were grown in the United States in 1996 accounting for approximately 13 per cent of the US cotton crop in that year. The crops were given the insect protection by introduction of genes derived from the naturally occurring bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Plantings rose to 900,000 hectares in 1997 with a projected crop of over one million hectares in 1998. In addition, insect-protected cotton varieties are cultivated in Australia (60,000 hectares) and Mexico (16,000 hectares) in 1997 and are expanding to China and South Africa in 1998.

  12. The cotton plants have been genetically modified to provide protection against the three major cotton insect pests: tobacco budworm (Heliothis virescens), pink bollworm (Pentinophora gossypiella) and cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa zea).

  13. Cotton consumes per crop, one of the largest amounts of chemical insecticides in the United States. From US data, it has been calculated that cotton growers that grew Bollgard cotton reduced their chemical insecticide use to control the targeted insect pests by between 85 and 90 per cent on the hectares where the insect protected crop was grown. This translates into a reduced consummation of about one million litres of chemical insecticides in 1996 and 1.25 million in 1997.

  14. The increased effectiveness of pest control in these crops resulted in an average increase of 7 per cent in cotton production where the insect-protected varieties were cultivated due to lower losses to insects. Cotton growers averaged a net $130/hectare income advantage as a result of lower chemical cost and higher yields. At the same time, compared with insecticidal protection, there is an increase in the number of beneficial insects due to specificity of the pesticidal protein which provides the protection of the crop.

  15. Other world areas which could benefit from this technology include India (cotton cultivation of 6.3 million hectares), Argentina (0.3 million), Zimbabwe (0.1 million), Turkey (0.6 million) and the EU (0.6 million, principally Spain and Greece).

YIELDGARD® [INSECT-PROTECTED MAIZE]

  16. With an insect protection similar to that of cotton, some 160,000 hectares of genetically modified insect protected Bt maize were commercialised in the United States in 1996, rising to 1.2 million in 1997. It is projected that in 1998, some 8 million hectares or approximately 30 per cent of the US maize crop will be accounted for by Bt insect-protected varieties from a number of producers.

  17. The modification of the maize varieties results in protection against the corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) which in areas of infestation can account for up to 20 per cent in yield losses with an average of 6.4 per cent. Prior to the introduction of the insect-protected varieties, there was no effective treatment for the pest.

  18. In the maize crop, insect damage to the corn ear permits infection by fungal pathogens such as Fusarium which produces mycotoxins which are toxic and a suspected cause of some cancers. Use of YieldGard varieties prevents insect damage to the ear and thus eliminates the infection by Fusarium and the production of the Fusarium mycotoxins. The end result is a higher and more consistent grain quality.

  19. As a result of the introduction of the new genetically modified varieties, tests by university groups have shown that grain yields have increased by 10-15 per cent with YieldGard varieties as a result of season-long protection throughout the plant. Improved performance of the crop in adverse weather or drought has been seen as well as the increase in grain quality. Maize growers have also seen improved net income of up to $65/hectare.

  20. Besides the United States, other corn borer infested maize growing world areas which could benefit from the introduction of YieldGard varieties include China (8 million hectares), Brazil (8 million), Mexico (6 million), Central European and the CIS (9.4 million) and Western Europe (7.5 million).

ROUNDUP READY® [HERBICIDE TOLERANT] SOYBEANS

  21. Beginning in 1996 approximately 400,000 hectares of glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready®) soybeans comprising 10 varieties from three seed companies were grown by some 10,000 growers in the United States. There were an additional 50,000 hectares under cultivation in Argentina. It is projected that over 10 million hectares of Roundup Ready®, or more than 30 per cent of the total soybean acreage comprising more than 300 new varieties, will be under cultivation in the United States in 1998. In Argentina, more than 4 million hectares of Roundup Ready® soybeans are projected to be planted in 1998.

  22. Due to the warm and humid growing climate for soybeans, weed infestation is a major problem in soybean production. Weeds take light and nutrients from the growing crop and contaminate the final grain with foreign seed material. Prior technology for dealing with the weed problem involved soil-treatment with a number of chemicals prior to planting to reduce weed germination.

  23. The advent of Roundup Ready® soybeans which are tolerant to the Roundup herbicide allows the crop to be planted and sprayed with Roundup® once and when the extent of the weed problem is observed. Being tolerant to glyphosate the soybeans are unaffected while weeds are eliminated. Roundup® is well-recognised for its environmentally sound characteristics.

  24. As a result of the introduction of Roundup Ready® soybeans, academics, seed companies, commodity evaluation companies and Monsanto have generated detailed data which shows a number of benefits. The excellent weed control leads to an overall average of 5 per cent yield increase on areas where Roundup Ready® soybeans are cultivated. In-season herbicide use (in 1997) in the United States was reduced by between 11 per cent in the West Central area of the US to 30 per cent in the South East with an overall average of 22 per cent in Roundup Ready® soybean cultivation. Seventy-five per cent of soybeans farmers used only one application of Roundup® herbicide. The improved weed control also gave results in a reduction by one-third in foreign matter (e.g., weed seed) present in harvested grain. Adopted in combination with conservation tillage techniques, soil erosion also drops significantly.

  25. For soybean growers, besides the peace of mind and less intensive production control, the benefits have translated into lower unit costs of production of soybeans which have provided income benefits estimated at up to $40/hectare. (See Monsanto Achievements 1997).

NEWLEAF® [INSECT-PROTECTED POTATOES]

  26. Since 1996, NewLeaf® Bt insect-protected potatoes have been in commercial production.

  27. Many areas of potato production are affected by the destructive Colorado potato beetle which affects tuber quality and the introduced NewLeaf® varieties have high specificity for the targeted insect pests while leaving beneficial insects untouched.

  28. As a result of the introduction of the new varieties in the United States and Canada, data generated show that insecticide use for insect pest control has been reduced by 40 per cent. Payable yields of high quality large tubers have been increased and internal tuber defects have been reduced. The planned introduction of NewLeaf Plus, which combines protection against Colorado Potato Beetle and the potato leaf roll virus (PLRV) will lead to an estimated 80 per cent reduction in chemical insecticide use in potato.

  29. A chemical balance comparison calculation of traditional potato production versus NewLeaf® potato cultivation in the United States has shown that over 40 per cent reductions in the following can occur: To produce insecticides for the US potato crop, 2 million Kgs of raw materials are used and the energy from 1,500 barrels of oil producing 1 million Kgs of waste. The 500 thousand Kgs of the produced insecticide is then formulated with two million Kgs of inert material to produce 180,000 containers of insecticide product which is then sprayed on the crop using 600,000 litres of fuel. At the end of this process, only some 5 per cent of the insecticide reaches the target pest.

  30. As a result of cultivating NewLeaf® potatoes, the resultant net benefits to potato growers is up to $280/hectare as a result of lower input costs and increased payments as a result of improved potato quality.

EXPERIENCE FROM OTHER COMPANIES

  3.1 For a recent summary of the experience of other companies and institutions which have introduced genetically modified crops into agriculture, the paper by James (1997) should be referred to. (This paper has been provided with the evidence provided previously). [not printed]

EMERGING PRODUCT CONCEPTS

  32. This paper only touches on the societal and environmental benefits which genetically modified crops may provide, since it only covers the first few products derived from plant biotechnology. Such concepts which are currently under study include: Improved nutrient content such as healthier oils, carbohydrates, essential amino acids and vitamins; increased yield; elimination of nutrients and allergens; value added products to replace energy intensive manufacturing such as biopolymers and biofuels; and human and animal disease prevention through the production of edible vaccines and dietary improvements. Each of these concepts presents a unique technological challenge and the products will require an appropriately adapted regulatory process to ensure they are safe for introduction.

23 June 1998



 
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