CONTINUING THE GREEN REVOLUTION
July 18, 2007
Over the millennia, farmers have practiced bringing together the best characteristics of individual plants and animals to make more vigorous and productive offspring. Early crossbreeding experiments to select desirable characteristics took years to reach the desired developmental state of a plant or animal.
Today, with the tools of biotechnology, such as molecular and marker-assisted selection, the ends are reached in a more organized and accelerated way. The result has been the advent of a "Gene" Revolution that stands to equal, if not exceed, the Green Revolution of the 20th century, says Norman E. Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian honor.
Consider these examples:
- Since 1996, the planting of genetically modified crops developed through biotechnology has spread to about 250 million acres from about five million acres around the world, with half of that area in Latin America and Asia; this has increased global farm income by $27 billion annually.
- Ag biotechnology has reduced pesticide applications by nearly 500 million pounds since 1996; in each of the last six years, biotech cotton saved U.S. farmers from using 93 million gallons of water in water-scarce areas, 2.4 million gallons of fuel, and 41,000 person-days to apply the pesticides they formerly used.
- Herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans have enabled greater adoption of minimum-tillage practices; no-till farming has increased 35 percent in the United States since 1996, saving millions of gallons of fuel, perhaps one billion tons of soil each year from running into waterways, and significantly improving moisture conservation as well.
- Improvements in crop yields and processing through biotechnology can accelerate the availability of biofuels; while the current emphasis is on using corn and soybeans to produce ethanol, the long-term solution will be cellulosic ethanol made from forest industry by-products and products.
Source: Norman E. Borlaug, "Continuing the Green Revolution," Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2007.
Browse more articles on Environment Issues