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Biotechnology

Our researchers deliver innovative seed technologies that benefit farmers, consumers and the environment. Through cutting-edge innovation, our scientists are helping plants to cope better with climate-related stresses, and improve plant performance so farmers can grow more with less.

What is biotechnology? What is a genetically modified (GM) organism?

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to develop products with enhanced features and includes the use of genetic modification, also known as "gene technology" or "genetic engineering". This refers to the process of adding a specific gene (or genes) to an organism or removing one to produce a desirable, and often novel, characteristic. In agriculture, it allows the production of food and feed crops with improved characteristics such as higher yield, improved nutritional qualities, or resistance against insects and diseases. Biofuels may also be produced from GM crops.

Traditional farming practices have sought to combine crops that display useful characteristics to increase resistance to threats over an extended period of time. Since the start of crop cultivation thousands of years ago, farmers have looked for desirable traits to incorporate them into the following generation of plants. Originally they created new varieties by cross-breeding. This shuffled the plant's genes, leading to random variation, and the better plants were selected for replanting while the less interesting ones were discarded. By contrast, GM involves defining the desired characteristic in advance and then carefully selecting the gene that confers it. Developments in plant sciences have made it possible to identify desired 'traits' on a genetic level and to breed those desired traits safely and efficiently.

Read more about genetic modification on GMO Answers

Are GM crops really needed?

Farmers need every tool available to them to increase production using limited natural resources to meet the growing demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel as the global population rises. Biotechnology can improve productivity, secure yields and improve quality of crops, while minimizing the environmental impact of their production.

Biotechnology enables growers to achieve consistently high yields by making crops resistant to insect attacks or pathogens, or using herbicides so that weeds can be controlled more effectively. Genetically modified (GM) crops have enabled a 30% rise in corn yields in the US. The latest products are being developed to enable growers to respond to the effects of climate change such as drought and increasingly salty conditions.

We believe the benefits of genetic modification and other biotechnologies should be available to growers to help them grow more from less. GM food, feed and fuel products continue to be the most heavily tested and regulated in agriculture. We support this approach as it demonstrates that GM products are just as safe as conventional varieties.

Are GM crops safe for humans?

Yes. All genetically modified (GM) crops are subject to stringent regulations and testing of allergenic or toxic properties for humans and animals. People around the world have safely consumed GM foods on a daily basis for over 30 years. Leading scientific bodies, regulatory agencies and international organizations have concluded that GM crops are as safe as similar crops developed using more conventional breeding methods.

Do GM crops cause allergies?

No. Food allergies are a concern for many people. Approximately 90% of food-related allergies are caused by proteins found in a range of common foods: tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans and wheat1. GM crops are always screened for potential allergens as part of the regulatory approval process. Also, biotechnology is now being used to modify or remove existing allergens from certain foods.

1US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; US Department of Health and Human Services; Food Allergy – an Overview; July 2007

Are GM crops safe for the environment?

Biotechnology delivers biodiversity benefits in numerous ways because of their proven record of environmental safety. By building in an ability to fight particular pests, insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops avoid the need for pesticides with minimal impacts on non-target species. Bt corn, for example, uses protein derived from the soil micro-organism Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), also used as a pesticide in organic farming. Bt proteins target specific pests and degrade rapidly so they have a low impact on the broader environment.
There is no credible evidence that existing GM crops are or could be any more difficult to manage in the farm environment than conventionally-bred crops, for example, by becoming weeds. Both conventionally-bred and GM crops are developed to have certain traits that are beneficial for agricultural purposes.1

Read more

1Crawley M J, Brown S L, Hails R S, Kohn D D and Rees M; "Biotechnology: Transgenic Crops in Natural Habitats"; Nature 409 (2001): 682-683

Do GM crops increase the use of pesticides?

Genetically modified (GM) crops do not increase the use of pesticides under good management practices. Some cases show the opposite: crops that can resist disease or pests do not require treatment. Cotton, for example, traditionally requires spraying to control pests inside the cotton ball, but the development of insect resistant GM cotton has greatly reduced the use of pesticides.

Do GM crops compromise other types of food production?

Good agricultural practices – that farmers have often been using for many years – help minimize mixing of crops and enable the various agricultural production systems to coexist in a particular country or region. These include separation of crops by space and time, communicating with neighbors, use of good husbandry, planting, harvest and storage practices.

How much revenue does Syngenta generate from GM products?

We sell genetically modified (GM) seeds for corn and soybean crops.

The percentage of our total revenues generated from GM was just under 10% in the past 3 years, representing about 40% of our global seeds sales. Key countries where our GM corn and/or soybean seeds are cultivated include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the Philippines, Vietnam and the US.

What is Syngenta's position on labeling of GM products?

We adhere to all local legislation regarding labeling of genetically modified (GM) products and we support the use of accurate and informative GM product labeling. All our seed bags are labeled to allow traceability throughout the supply chain, and we work closely with our suppliers and regulators to make sure that the information we provide is meaningful to the customer, enabling them to choose which products they want to use.

We believe that consumers should be well informed about the types of foods available – providing choices about the food they buy. Labeling of GM produce enables this choice, but is not a safety issue, since GM products are subject to extensive safety assessments. Our view is that governments wishing to implement GM labeling in the interests of consumer choice must display the importance of providing consumer information with the associated costs and practicalities.