Genetically Modified Food and Global Welfare: Volume 10

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Table of contents

(23 chapters)

This series is aimed at economists and financial economists worldwide and will provide an in-depth look at current global topics. Each volume in the series will focus on specialized topics for greater understanding of the chosen subject and provide a detailed discussion of emerging issues. The target audiences are professional researchers, graduate students, and policy makers. It will offer cutting-edge views on new horizons and deepen the understanding in these emerging topics.

Genetically modified (GM) (or transgenic) crops are produced using plant biotechnology to select desirable characteristics in plants and transfer genes from one organism to another. As a result, crops can survive under harsher conditions, costs are lowered, chemical application is reduced, and yields are improved. Scientists are introducing genes into plants that will give them resistance to herbicides, insects, disease, drought, and salt in the soil. The application of modern biotechnology to crop and food production is one of the most significant technological advances to impact modern agriculture.

The application of modern biotechnology to crop and food production is one of the most significant technological advances to impact modern agriculture. Barely a dozen years since their introduction, genetically modified (GM) crops are currently grown on more than 300 million acres worldwide. GM (or transgenic) crops are produced using plant biotechnology to select desirable characteristics in plants and transfer genes from one organism to another. As a result, crops can survive under harsher conditions, costs are lowered, and yields are improved. Scientists are introducing genes into plants that will give the plants resistance to herbicides, insects, disease, drought, and salt in the soil. Crop research in bioengineering is also aimed at improving the nutritional quality of food, such as providing healthier vegetable oils. Pharmaceutical and industrial crops (or “pharma” crops) are also on the horizon, with the potential to dramatically reduce drug production costs. Compared to traditional plant breeding, biotechnology can produce new varieties of plants more quickly and efficiently, and it can introduce desirable traits into plants that could not be established through conventional plant breeding techniques.

The products of transgenic technology have captured the attention of enthusiasts and detractors, but transgenics are just one tool of agricultural biotechnology. Other applications enable scientists to understand biodiversity, to track genes through generations in breeding programs, and to move genes among closely related as well as unrelated organisms. These applications all have the potential to lead to substantial productivity gains.

In this chapter we provide an introduction to basic plant genetic concepts, defining molecular markers, transgenic and cisgenic techniques. We briefly summarize the status of commercialized biotechnology applications to agriculture. We consider the likely future commercialization of products like drought tolerant crops, crops designed to improve human nutrition, pharmaceuticals from transgenic plants, biofuels, and crops for environmental remediation. We identify genomic selection as a potentially powerful new technique and conclude with our reflections on the state of agricultural biotechnology.

Research at universities and other public-sector institutions, largely focused on advancing knowledge, has aroused enormous optimism about the promise of these DNA-based technologies. This in turn has led to large private-sector investments on maize, soybean, canola, and cotton, with wide adoption of the research products in about eight countries. Much has been made of the potential of biotechnology to address food needs in the low-income countries, and China, India, and Brazil have large public DNA-based crop variety development efforts. But other lower income developing countries have little capability to use these tools, even the most straightforward marker applications. Ensuring that these and other applications of biotechnology lead to products that are well adapted to local agriculture requires adaptive research capacity that is lacking in the lowest income, most food-insecure nations. We are less optimistic than many others that private research will fund these needs.

Purpose – The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of controversial debates. Consequently, policy-makers are unsure whether this technology is suitable for developing countries. This chapter reviews the scientific evidence.

Methodology/approach – Starting from a food security definition, potential pathways of how GM crops could contribute to hunger reduction are analyzed conceptually. Furthermore, studies about the socioeconomic impacts of GM crop applications are reviewed. This includes ex post studies for present applications such as insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops, as well as ex ante studies for future GM technologies such as Golden Rice and drought-tolerant varieties.

Findings – GM crops can raise agricultural productivity and thus contribute to better food availability. Especially when tailored to small farm conditions, GM crops can also cause income increases for the rural poor, entailing better access to food. Nutritionally enhanced, biofortified GM crops could reduce problems of micronutrient malnutrition in a cost-effective way.

Research limitations – The examples observable so far are still limited. Impacts also depend on the wider institutional setting. Like any technology, GM crops are not a substitute but a complement to much needed institutional and infrastructure improvement in developing countries.

Social implications – The fact that available GM crops already contribute to poverty reduction and improved food security has not been widely recognized up until now.

Value of paper – Results presented in this chapter can contribute to a more constructive public debate, in which GM crop risks are not discussed out of the context of actual and potential benefits.

World agriculture faces enormous challenges in the coming decades. To feed the world adequately in 2050, agricultural production in developing economies will need to nearly double. Incremental production will mainly come from increases in yields or cropping intensities. This chapter focuses on the potential of genetically modified (GM) crops to contribute to agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction in developing economies. On the basis of a comprehensive literature review of the most recent literature, we aim to shed light on (a) whether GM crops benefit farmers in developing economies and (b) whether GM crops that are currently in the research pipeline address future challenges for agriculture. The first part of the chapter reviews farm-level impacts of GM crops in developing economies. The second part discusses the GM crop research pipeline. GM crop markets are expected to grow in the future but not to change dramatically. We conclude that GM crops benefited farmers, including resource-poor farmers, in developing economies, but benefits are location- and individual-specific. Addressing such complexities will be required to unlock technology potentials.

Since the 1980s agricultural biotech investments by the public sector have increased substantially in both China and India. In the last two decades there has also been a dramatic increase in private section investment in agricultural biotechnology particularly in India. The promise of major benefits of Bt cotton identified in early socioeconomic studies of Bt cotton has proven to be true. Bt cotton has spread to at least 66% and 85% of total cotton areas of China and India, respectively – wherever bollworm is a major problem. Bt cotton continues to control bollworm in both countries, and farmers continue as major beneficiaries rather than biotech or seed companies. The major impacts have been yield increases in India and reduced pesticides consumption in China. In China, evidence also suggests that Bt cotton has suppressed the bollworm population so that non-Bt cotton growers and producers of other crops that are susceptible to bollworm are also benefitting.

The chapter also provides evidence that in the near future Bt rice and Bt eggplant could have major positive impacts by reducing pesticide use and farmers’ exposure to chemical pesticides and increasing yields. Both crops were approved for commercial production by government biosafety regulators, but are not yet available for commercial cultivation.

Purpose – The objective of this chapter is to examine and provide new perspectives on the contributions of public and private R&D to biotech crop improvement.

Methodology/approach – The chapter examines a set of topics that have affected the way that research is undertaken on plant germplasm improvement and how it has changed with the genetically modified (GM) trait revolution.

Findings – Although the basic science providing the foundations for GM crops was undertaken in the public sector, GM traits and GM crop varieties have been developed almost exclusively by the private sector. The biotech events leading to GM traits are currently being developed largely by five companies – all having ties to both the chemical and the seed industries. The GM crop revolution started in North American in 1996 and has spread slowly to the largest developing countries that have large agricultural sectors, including Argentina, China, Brazil, and India, but not to Europe or Japan.

Practical implication – To shed new light on the economic reasons for private sector dominance in GM crop varietal development in selected crops but not in others.

Social implication – Shows how GM traits have contributed to technical change and declining real food prices.

Objective – The current biotechnology revolution has been associated with newly developed genetic modifications (GM) that offer new prospects for increasing agricultural productivity. This has stimulated a rapid adoption of GM corn hybrids by U.S. farmers. Yet, there is concern about the structure of competition among biotech firms that own patents over GM traits. This chapter evaluates the spatial differences in pricing of biotech corn hybrids, with a focus on the fringe versus core regions of the U.S. Corn Belt.

Methods – The analysis examines how local conditions and market concentrations affect the pricing of GM corn hybrids in different locations.

Results – We find evidence of more extensive subadditive pricing in the fringe region. We also examine how both own- and cross-market concentrations affect prices across regions. For GM hybrids, the results show that market power is generally more prevalent in the core region compared to the fringe.

Conclusions – The evidence shows that the pricing of GM corn hybrids varies across space. The observed pricing schemes benefit farmers more in the fringe than in the core region of the Corn Belt.

The widespread introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops may change the effect of agriculture on the environment. The magnitude and direction of expected effects are still being hotly debated, and the interests served in this discussion arena are often far from those of science and social welfare maximization. This chapter proposes that GM crops have net positive environmental effects, while regulatory responses focus mainly on environmental concerns, giving an unbalanced picture of the regulatory context. This unbalance supports the hypothesis that environmental concerns about GM crops have been politically instrumentalized and that more attention should be paid to regulatory responses considering the environmental benefits of this technology. It is also argued that a number of environmental effects have not yet been quantified and more research is needed in this direction.

Two major regulatory regimes for planting of genetically modified (GM) crops have emerged: one where the property rights for growing GM crops are mainly with the GM farmer and another where the property rights are mainly with the non-GM farmer. In this contribution, the regulatory model chosen by Canada and the United States is compared with that of the EU and its variants, analyzed from an efficiency point of view. While the general view in the literature on ex-ante regulation versus ex-post liability rules under uncertainty holds that the most efficient regulatory regime depends on the specific case under investigation, we have investigated the analytical conditions for one or the other regulatory system to be more efficient, concluding that the property rights systems are almost equivalent, so long as transaction costs are not prohibitively high and using the court system is costless. As using the court system is not cost free, however, we hold that property rights regimes where the GM farmer is not liable are preferable from a social welfare point of view.

Purpose – To identify how agricultural biotechnology addresses the two challenges facing agriculture: to feed a world growing to 9 billion people by 2050 and to provide a liquid fuel alternative to petroleum.

Design –This chapter relies on econometric modeling, a review of existing literature, and diagrammatic modeling to articulate the impact of agricultural biotechnology on food and energy markets.

Findings –Agricultural biotechnology reduces the tension between food security and biofuel production. It reduces volatility in food and fuel markets and can mitigate risk to biofuel processors.

Originality – The analysis is original although it relies on previous research to some extent. The analysis is compared to and contrasted with related work.

Purpose – Despite the existence of hundreds of studies and several review articles on consumer preferences for genetically modified (GM) food, it remains difficult to ascertain the current state of knowledge on the topic. The purpose of this chapter is to distill some of the key findings from the body of research on consumer preferences for GM food.

Approach – In reviewing key pieces of literature, including two meta-analyses, the chapter identifies four key unresolved questions and includes discussions on how the questions might be resolved.

Findings – The chapter identifies four questions in need of additional thought and research. The questions relate to (1) why the market for GM-free food is so small in the United States despite the large estimated willingness-to-pay premiums for GM-free food, (2) why consumers remain so uninformed about biotechnology despite their seemingly high levels of aversion, (3) why economists have generally ignored the information-content of GM food policies, and (4) why it is so difficult to determine why U.S. and European consumers have seemingly reacted so differently to GM foods.

Value – This chapter should be useful to those interested in learning about the current state of knowledge on consumer preferences for GM food, and to those seeking to identify areas in need of additional research.

Purpose – This chapter investigates the role that mandatory genetically modified (GM) labeling versus voluntary labeling has played in the split between those countries with small GM markets and those with large GM markets.

Methodology/approach – Data on product introductions and other market evidence are used to examine market outcomes and identify the likely drivers of GM market bifurcation.

Findings – Labeling has negligible effects on consumer choice or on GM differentiation costs and therefore does not explain the split in GM market outcomes. Other factors have driven market outcomes: namely, consumer confidence in government and the safety of the food supply, competition among manufacturers and retailers, market momentum, and most importantly, the affordability of a non-GM strategy. Ultimately, a non-GM market strategy is feasible only if consumers are willing to cover the additional costs associated with non-GM production and marketing. The two elements composing the cost/price wedge between GM and non-GM products – the cost-reducing benefits of the GM technology and the costs of differentiating non-GM products – therefore play an important role in market outcomes. In the mid-1990s, when producers, manufacturers, and retailers were determining their strategies, neither element was very large. As a result, both GM and non-GM marketing strategies were economically feasible.

Practical implication – Regardless of the labeling regime, changes in the cost/price wedge between GM and non-GM products could change the mix of GM and non-GM products on the market.

Originality/value of paper – This analysis extends the literature by focusing on the impact of labeling regime on both consumer behavior and the cost/price wedge between GM and non-GM products.

Purpose – The chapter examines the international welfare effects of biotech crop adoption, based on a transversal literature review and a case study of the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Methodology/approach – The analysis is based on (a) a review of lessons from the applied economic literature and (b) simulations using an improved multimarket, multicountry, computable general equilibrium (CGE) model, calibrated with productivity hypotheses formulated with local scientists in the four Asian countries.

Findings – Results from the analysis show that, in the absence of trade-related regulations, GM crop adoption generates economic gains for adopting countries and importing non-adopters, that domestic regulations at adopters and especially non-adopters can reduce these gains, and that import regulations in other countries can also affect gains for exporting adopters. The case study illustrates these conclusions, but it also shows that net importers will mostly benefit from adoption in their terms of trade, and that segregation of non-GM crops for export markets can be beneficial if it is not too costly.

Research limitations/implications – The use of a CGE model allows for accounting for cross-sectoral effects, and for regulations affecting bilateral trade flows, but it also has a number of limitations. The model used here, like the ones used in the other papers in the literature, is static, based on an aggregated representation of the global economy (GTAP database), and assumes perfect competition. This means that the absolute results of each scenario may not perfectly represent the actual welfare effects engendered by the adoption of biotech crops. Still, what matters here is the comparison of the relative welfare effects across countries and scenarios. The simulations are also done ex-ante, so, even if the model here was calibrated with country-based data, the results do depend on hypothetical assumptions about the performance of the selected technologies.

Originality/value of the paper – The chapter aims to illustrate the welfare effects generated by GM crops for adopters, non-adopters, in a segmented and regulated international market. Unlike other papers, the review section provides key transversal lessons from the literature, accounting for results from both partial equilibrium and CGE model studies. The empirical application focuses on four populous Asian countries that have been largely left out of the literature. The model used in the simulation presents a number of improvement from the CGE literature on GM crops, including partial adoption, factor-biased productivity shock in each adopting country, GM labeling regulations modeled as trade filters, and the inclusion of costly non-GM segregation as observed in the international market.

Purpose – The chapter provides a comprehensive review of trade-related regulations of genetically modified (GM) food, identifies their main effects, and analyzes the main motivations behind their support.

Methodology/approach – The analysis is substantiated by (a) results from the literature on GM food regulations and (b) comparative statics results from a simplified three-country partial equilibrium welfare and political economic model.

Findings – The analysis shows that in a non-GM producing country, trade-related regulations will benefit producers, but not necessarily consumers. Producers' support is found to be instrumental to push for a ban, for information requirements on shipments, or for mandatory labeling of GM food products. Outside pressure groups will play the role of swing voters in cases where consumers and producers do not agree.

Research limitations/implications – The analytical model is based on simplifying assumptions on the groups and market effects of each regulation. Future research is needed to empirically validate some of the main results.

Originality/value of the chapter – The goal of the chapter is to inform economic and policy researchers on the effects of GM food trade-related regulations. The chapter provides an updated comprehensive overview of the key trade regulations of GM food. It uses a unique model to derive the main welfare effects of GM food regulations. By comparing the effects of GM food regulations in different types of countries for different pressure groups, the findings provide new insights in this area.

Purpose – New genetically modified (GM) crops are novel but risky interventions, offering a variety of potential benefits but also the possibility of serious unintended consequences. I address the regulatory framework for GM crops, seeking protection from disproportionate risks without unduly stifling innovation.

Approach – Conditions that may justify precautionary interventions are identified, and an idealized regulatory protocol (screening, pre-release testing, and post-release surveillance, STS) is developed to provide protection, encourage research and learning, and focus-in quickly on the cases that pose serious threats of harm. This protocol is adapted to the case of GM crops, and compared with current regulatory practice in the United States, the EU, and Canada, as well as international agreements exemplified by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Two real-world cases are considered, Starlink® corn and Roundup-Ready® canola, and some speculations are offered as to how the stylized protocol might have handled them.

Findings for policy – Pre-release, US regulatory practice is more fragmented and incomplete than the stylized protocol; EU practice is more systematic and streamlined, but some critics perceive over-regulation; and Canadian regulatory practice is more consistent with the protocol. Only the EU performs systematic post-release surveillance. International agreements have various weaknesses, beginning with fragmentation: for example, food safety and biosafety are regulated separately.

Implications for further research – Embracing the STS framework opens a broad new avenue of research about to how the mix of pre-release testing and post-release surveillance might be streamlined to provide adequate protection while reducing further the costs and delays entailed.

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Frontiers of Economics and Globalization
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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