Fortune magazine’s Marc Gunther wrote a blog this week about the growing adoption of biotech crops and the debate over their use:
The debate over biotech crops has become predictable. In his 2012 annual letter from the Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, who has a near-religious faith in technology and innovation, argues that an “extremely important revolution” in plant science, i.e., genetically-engineered crops, can help farmers in poor countries by giving them access to new varieties of crops that will better resist disease and adapt to climate change.
Days later, the Center for Food Safety, a Washington watchdog group and persistent critic of Big Ag, pushed back, saying that biotech crops had failed to deliver on their promise to alleviate hunger, and that Gates would do better to support low-cost “agroecological techniques” that don’t depend on patented, genetically-engineered seeds.
…The voices of farmers are rarely heard in these debates. (They’re probably working too hard.) But data released this week indicates farmers, through their actions, are voting for biotech crops. Last year, farmers planted an additional 12 million hectares of biotech crops, an increase of 8 percent over 2010, according to the annual biotech crop report of the ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications).
Why do more farmers every year plant biotech crops? Critics of genetically-modified crops will say they are tricked into it by marketing or lack of knowledge or short-termism, and it’s certainly true that the popularity of a product is not a reliable indicator of its value (ABBA sold more records than the Rolling Stones. People smoke cigarettes.). But if biotech crops didn’t make farmers more productive, or save them time or money, would they spread around the world as consistently as they have?
Watch a Q&A with Bill Gates in which he discusses biotech crops: