EU losing out on contributions to sustainable farming from biotech traits[1]

June 8th 2009, Dorchester, Dorset: New study shows GM insect resistant (GM IR) maize[2] has delivered important economic and environmental benefits but only a small part of the potential benefit is currently being realised.

 “GM insect resistant maize adoption by EU farmers has contributed to reducing insecticide spraying, improved the quality of maize and significantly boosted farmers’ incomes,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, and author of the report. “The technology has made important contributions to increasing yields, reducing production risks and improving productivity.  These benefits are, however, being denied to farmers and citizens alike in several maize-growing EU Member States, with the biggest losers being the very countries which have effectively banned the use of the technology; Italy, France, Germany and Austria”

 Previewing the findings of the comprehensive study, the key findings are:     

  • In maize growing regions affected by corn boring pests, the main impact has been higher yields compared to conventional maize (average yield benefits of +10%);
  • In 2007, users of GM IR maize[3] earned average, additional income levels of +€186/ha (range of +€25 to +€201/ha).  Across all users of the technology, the total increase in farm income directly attributable to the technology in 2007 was +€20.6 million;
  • In certain regions, GM IR maize has delivered important improvements in grain quality from significant reductions in the levels of mycotoxins found in the grain;
  • Where maize growers have traditionally used insecticides to control corn boring pests, the switch to using GM IR technology has resulted in important reductions in insecticides use and its associated environmental impact (notably in Spain);
  • The potential EU adoption area for GM IR maize is between 2.25 million ha and 4 million ha, depending on the annual levels of pest pressure.  At these levels of adoption, the annual direct farm income benefit potential is €160 million and €247 million.  Across the EU only between 8% and 12% of this total potential benefit is being realised;
  • The countries currently foregoing the largest economic gains from GM IR maize technology are Italy, France and Germany, followed by Austria and Romania;
  • Annual savings of between 0.41 million kg and 0.7 million kg of insecticide active ingredient could be realised if GM IR maize technology was used on its full potential area.  At present, only between 14% and 25% of the total potential environmental benefit from reduced insecticide use is being realised;
  • Spain is the only EU member state where GM IR maize adoption levels are currently delivering farm income and environmental gains at or near full potential levels;
  • The countries currently foregoing the largest environmental benefits that might reasonably be realised from the use of GM IR maize are Italy, France and Germany[4].

For additional information, contact Graham Brookes.  Tel 00 44 (0) 1531 650123

[1] Download Full report .  This report also updates a previous study (using the same methodology), available on the same website and in the peer review scientific journal, International Journal of Biotechnology (2008, vol 10, 2/3).

[2] The only GM trait currently permitted for commercial farming use in the EU

[3] On about 110,000 hectares across the EU

[4] Austria and Romania lose out significantly in economic terms but less so environmentally, because use of insecticides for corn borer control in conventional maize production is a much less practiced corn borer control measure in these countries compared to Italy, France, and Germany