BOSTON, June 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- In some ways, transgenic ("genetically modified", or "GM") crops have been extremely successful. Since GM crops were first planted in the USA in 1996, their production has increased dramatically, to the point where more than 90% of all soybean, cotton and corn acreage in the USA is now used to grow genetically engineered crops. A 2014 meta-analysis found that using GM crops can improve yields by 22%, reduce chemical pesticide use by 37% and increase farmer profits by 68% on an average farm.
Despite this, the picture is not all bright. GM crops have been extremely controversial over the last few decades. Widespread consumer hostility has led to many governments creating harsh regulatory environments, where getting a new GM crop approved is extremely costly and time-consuming. Europe is an extreme example of this, to the extent where it is essentially impossible to get a GM crop approved in the EU.
This, alongside the technical barriers, has led to GM crops being very expensive to develop. A study in 2011 found that it costs an average of $136 million to develop and commercialise a new plant biotechnology trait, with the process taking an average of 13 years. These extremely high barriers to commercialisation mean that only companies capable of investing hundreds of millions of dollars have been able to develop transgenic crops. This has created a highly consolidated market, where four players control over 60% of the global industry: Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Corteva Agriscience.
However, this could be all set to change. In recent years, the rapid development of gene editing technologies has led to a surge of interest in how they could be applied in agriculture. Gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9 are much cheaper and quicker than transgenic technologies. As well as this, several countries, including the USA, have signalled that they do not intend to regulate gene edited crops. By removing many of the barriers around crop biotechnology, there are hopes that gene editing techniques like CRISPR could "democratise" agriculture, creating a more competitive and start-up friendly environment, accelerating the pace of innovation in what has become an increasingly stagnant market in recent years.
"Crop Biotechnology 2020-2030," the recent report by IDTechEx explores the tools and techniques used in crop biotechnology, providing a market outlook and evaluating whether gene editing really is the future of agriculture.
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