Beneficial Uses of Genetically Modified Crops


Genetically modified (GM) crops have now been under commercial production for over 20 years. They are grown on around 180 million hectares of land in 28 countries worldwide, and cultivation is dominated by four crops: maize, soya bean, cotton and canola. First‐generation herbicide‐tolerant and insect‐resistant GM crops have many quantifiable beneficial uses, including increasing crop yields and reducing pesticide use, to maximise outputs on currently available agriculture land while conferring a range of economic, environmental and human health benefits. Over the next few years, the increasing commercialisation of second‐generation GM crops with improved quality traits should produce similar benefits and contribute to the sustainable intensification of agriculture that is required to ensure global food security for future generations.

Key Concepts

  • Genetically modified crops have been cultivated commercially for over 20 years.
  • Over 90% of GM crops grown are herbicide‐tolerant (HT) and insect‐resistant (IR) maize, soya bean, cotton and canola.
  • GM crops produce yield gains of 22% on average, most indirectly via reduced losses with use of GM HT and IR crops.
  • Pesticide use reduces by around 37% when GM crops are cultivated, saving around 583.5 million kilograms of pesticides during the period 1996–2014.
  • Cultivation of GM crops provides profit increases of around 68% – equivalent to almost $18 billion every year.
  • Commercialisation of HT and IR traits in other principal crops and the addition of quality traits should further increase yields and profits in the next decade.

Keywords: genetically modified; genetic engineering; agriculture; farming; plants

Figure 1. GM crop cultivation hectarage by country in 2014 (compiled from data provided in James, ).
Figure 2. Worldwide GM crop approvals by trait (compiled using data provided by FAO, and ISAAA, ).


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Further Reading

Hull R, Tzotzos GT and Head G (2009) Genetically Modified Plants: Assessing Safety and Managing Risk. London, UK: Academic Press.

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Ford, Kathryn L, Bailey, Andy M, and Foster, Gary D(Apr 2017) Beneficial Uses of Genetically Modified Crops. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023735]