Supplementary Memorandum by Monsanto Services
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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).
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).
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
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.
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]
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