GMO Opposition Hurting the Developing World

Lizzy Schultzbiotechnology, GMO, International, Policy, sustainability

ITIF_logo Increasing pressure from the anti-GMO movement has created an increased demand for governments to restrict the use of biotechnology in agriculture, with the majority of biotech opposition stemming from European and European-funded NGOs and campaign groups. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a nonpartisan research and educational institute, has recently published data suggesting that the biotechnology restrictions created by the anti-GMO movement pose a significant threat to global production, impose considerable costs on the global economy, slow the overall growth of agricultural productivity, and most of all, create significant barriers to the development of the poorest nations on earth.

The use of GMO crops has led to significant economic and production benefits in agriculture. From 1996-2013, their use added $133 billion in value to global agricultural production, with the highest yield and profit gains seen in developing nations. In 2014, GMO seeds were grown by 16.5 million small farmers in twenty developing nations. India was home to 7.7 million of these smallholders, and China to 7.1 million. The production of GMO seeds brought substantial benefits to the lives of these smallholders, including increased income amounting to $16.7 and $16.2 billion, respectively, and a fifty percent reduction in pesticide applications on their crops.

While most farmers across the globe are increasing their support for GMO technology, farmers in Africa have been significantly lagging behind in their adoption, with only three of Africa’s 54 nations growing any biotech-improved crops. The opposition isn’t because the technology is not needed: Farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have not seen the increase in productivity or income that farmers in other developing nations have, with the annual farm household income remaining at around $3,000 in many African nations. Africa’s apprehension to adopt the technology has instead been seen as an attempt to maintain a positive relationship with a major export market: The European Union (EU).

Many nations in the EU have proudly rejected GMO technology, with 19 European countries recently announcing bans on growing GM crops, despite strong opposition from the scientific community. Very little agricultural production exists in Europe, however, requiring the import-dependent EU to impose intense GMO restrictions onto their major trade partners. Countries like France, Germany, Netherlands, and Italy have intercepted GMO imports at the border and destroyed the food, while France has threatened to stop importing rice, a crop for which GMO technology has not yet been developed, from Thailand should the country allow any type of GMO crops to be produced there. European nations have also used foreign aid programs like Overseas Development Aid (ODA) as a major form of manipulation, with Germany threatening Zimbabwe, an impoverished nation afflicted by drought and famine, that it would lose their ODA unless the country shut down its agricultural biotechnology research efforts.

These pressures from the anti-GMO members of the EU have led many African nations to restrict the production of GMO crops in order to stay in good favor with Europe, regardless of the production challenges the restrictions bring. The ITIF estimates that the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low and lower-middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050.

Read the full ITIF report here.