Taking a look at genetically engineered (GE) seed suppliers or technology providers, USDA’s Economic Research Service notes that the number of field releases for testing of GE varieties approved by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is an important measure of research and development activities in agricultural biotechnology.
The number of releases grew from 4 in 1985 to 1,194 in 2002 and has averaged around 800 per year thereafter; however, while the number of releases peaked in 2002, other measures of research and development activity, the number of sites per release and the number of gene constructs (ways that the gene of interest is packaged together with other elements) have increased very rapidly since 2005. Also, releases of GE varieties with agronomic properties (like drought resistance) jumped from 1,043 in 2005 to 5,190 in 2013.
As of September 2013, about 7,800 releases were approved for GE corn, more than 2,200 for GE soybeans, more than 1,100 for GE cotton and about 900 for GE potatoes.
Releases were approved for GE varieties with herbicide tolerance (6,772 releases), insect resistance (4,809), product quality such as flavor or nutrition (4,896), agronomic properties like drought resistance (5,190) and virus-fungal resistance (2,616).
The institutions with the most authorized field releases include Monsanto with 6,782, Pioneer-DuPont with 1,405, Syngenta with 565 and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service with 370.
As of September 2013, APHIS had received 145 petitions for deregulation, allowing GE seeds to be sold, and had approved 96 petitions: 30 for corn; 15 for cotton; 11 for tomatoes; 12 for soybeans; 8 for rapeseed-canola; 5 for potatoes; 3 for sugarbeets; 2 each for papaya, rice and squash; and 1 each for alfalfa, plum, rose, tobacco, flax and chicory.
Consumer acceptance of foods with GE ingredients varies. According to the ERS, most studies find consumers are willing to pay a premium for foods that do not contain GE ingredients.
“However, studies in developing countries yield more mixed results. Some studies, including some with a focus on GE ingredients with positive enhancements (such as nutrition), find consumers to be willing to try GE foods and even to pay a premium for them, while others find a willingness to pay a premium for non-GE foods,” government analysts say.
“Most studies have shown that willingness-to-pay for non-GE foods is higher in the EU, where some retailers have policies limiting the use of GE ingredients. Non-GE foods are available in the United States, but there is evidence that such foods represent a small share of retail food markets,” they continue.
Future trends eyed
Field releases approved for GE varieties continue to focus heavily on herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, but other traits are being developed and tested in large numbers as well.
These include traits that provide favorable agronomic properties including resistance to cold-drought-frost-salinity, more efficient use of nitrogen, increased yield; enhanced product quality, such as delayed ripening, flavor and texture (fruits and vegetables); increased protein or carbohydrate content, fatty acid content or micronutrient content; modified starch, color (cotton, flowers), fiber properties (cotton), or gluten content (wheat); naturally decaffeinated (coffee); and nutraceuticals (added vitamins, iron, antioxidants such as beta-carotene).