That’s a clever way of putting it, but the statement should have been made stronger: GM crops have spread even faster.
The earliest ox-pulled plow was probably invented in Mesopotamia about 8,000 years ago. Centuries would pass before people in other parts of the world would adopt the fundamentals of this technology. Centuries more would pass before it would be improved upon.
GM crops, by contrast, needed only ten years between their commercial introduction and their one-billion-acre milestone in 2005. And they’re getting better all the time, as the Beatles put it roughly forty years ago today.
I don’t want to take anything away from the good old plow, but let’s face it: GM crops are to the plow what wireless email devices are to cuneiform writing on clay tablets.
Two years ago (early May 2005), when Truth About Trade & Technology officially announced that a farmer somewhere in the northern hemisphere had planted the one-billionth acre of GM crops, I predicted that it would only take five years before a farmer planted the two-billionth acre.
It turns out that this prediction wasn’t optimistic enough: A few weeks ago, we passed the 1.5-billion-acre mark. (Visit truthabouttrade.org to see a real-time counter, based on a continuous study of global farming statistics.) If current trends hold–12-million acres of GM crop plantings per week this planting season–we’ll hit two billion acres in a couple more years.
We’ll hit it even faster than that when China starts commercial planting of biotech rice–something that hasn’t happened yet, but which is all but certain to take place at a point in the not-too-distant future.
At some point, we’ll just quit counting acres. Remember when McDonald’s counted its customers on its store signs, beneath the golden arches? Then the signs just started saying, “Billions and Billions Served.” The same thing will happen with GM crops.
In a certain sense, GM crops already have served billions and billions because acres possibly aren’t the best unit of measurement. Better to think of it the way McDonald’s does, in terms of meals served. According to one estimate, North Americans alone have consumed more than a trillion servings of food with genetically enhanced ingredients.
Maybe farmers should start posting signs beside their GM corn and soybean fields: “Trillions and Trillions Served.”
The bottom line is that biotech food is about as exotic as a plow. It’s downright conventional.
Sometimes I wonder if the plow had political opponents–the forerunners of today’s Greenpeace activists. Perhaps they complained about how these newfangled tools that helped people work the land were a dangerous threat to their traditional ways of hunting and gathering.
If they did, we may safely assume that these village cranks were laughed out of their huts.
Whatever the case, the world is now rushing to embrace biotech crops. Earlier this year, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) reported that farmers in 22 countries now plant GM crops.
That number will do nothing but increase. Europe, for instance, has been slow to adopt biotech foods, for reasons that are mostly political. But its resistance is crumbling. Just last week, a government agency in Sweden issued a report that outlined the numerous benefits associated with GM crops. It claimed that Swedish farmers might see their profitability increase by as much as 12 percent, especially if they started growing GM potatoes.
So far, Sweden hasn’t planted a single acre of biotech crops. Its farmers have been so spooked about a potential negative reaction from misinformed consumers that they even adopted a voluntary moratorium against GM crops a decade ago.
Last year, however, they thought better of their ban. Livestock farmers began to accept a small amount of imported GM feed because it made economic sense. They still aren’t growing their own GM crops, but it’s only a matter of time.
When it happens, will the rest of the world have passed the three-billion-acre milestone — or the five-billion-acre milestone? It’s impossible to say–except to note that our biotech future is arriving much faster than anticipated.
Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology.