Do GM crops have socio-economic benefits? 15.4 million farmers around the world who planted these crops on 148 million hectares (365 million acres) in 2010 would most likely answer with a resounding ‘yes,’ thanks to higher profits from higher yields and environmental benefits that also translate into savings. In response to a European Commission report, EuropaBio notes that a new study also launched this week on GM crops' global socio-economic and environmental impacts shows their positive impacts worldwide (1).

The European Commission report on GM crops’ socio-economic implications should encourage European policymakers to reflect on this important topic – and the social and economic benefits Europe is missing out on by not approving more GM crops for cultivation. The European Commission report recognizes that farmers cultivating GM crops “could benefit from higher yields.”

According to a study (1), farmers planting GM crops have indeed experienced results:

  • Higher productivity: growing more on less land
  • Better income for farmers: global farm income benefit of over €7 billion ($10.07 billion) in 2009
  • 53 percent of farm income gain in 2009 to farmers in developing countries, and 90 percent of those who plant GM crops are small, resource-poor farmers who live in developing countries
  • Less need to till the soil, which saves fuel and money, while reducing carbon emissions – removing the equivalent of 6.9 million cars from the road in 2009 (a decrease of 17.7 billion kg of CO2)
  • Cost savings, for example through reduced applications of crop protection products – 393 million kg reduction in 2009
  • Two-thirds of the benefits of growing GM are shared among farmers and consumers, while one-third goes to the developers and seed suppliers
  • Higher yields help to preserve natural habitats (2)
  • Less water needed for some GM crops

Income gains

In Europe, it is estimated that Spanish farmers had an income gain of €65 million ($93.54 million) (1996-2009) thanks to the cultivation of insect-resistant GM maize. A study by the Joint Research Centre (3) showed that this maize increased farm income by up to €122 ($175.57) per hectare, led to higher average yields of 11.8 percent in an area of heavy insect pressure, and resulted in a reduction in insecticide costs by as much as €20.04 ($28.84) per hectare.

Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, EuropaBio’s Director for Green Biotechnology Europe, commented, “Purely in economic terms, a recent study (4) showed that EU farmers are missing out on €440-930 million ($633.22 million - $1338.39 million) each year, simply because they do not have access to the GM crops that could be grown here. This means, as well, that there are other foregone benefits, such as no-till methods, fuel savings, and carbon emissions reductions. There is no question that these crops are beneficial – otherwise, why would 15.4 million farmers around the world continue to plant them?”

1 Brookes, Graham and Peter Barfoot (2011). GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2009.
2 Carpenter, Janet (2011). Impacts of GM crops on biodiversity. GM Crops 2:1, 1-17.
3 Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (2008). "Adoption and performance of the first GM crop introduced in EU agriculture: Bt maize in Spain.” Also published in Nature Biotechnology, April 2008
4 Park, Julian, et al. (2011). The Impact of the EU regulatory constraint of transgenic crops on farm income. New Biotechnology.

Additional resources

"No easy fix: Simply using more of everything to produce more food will not work." The Economist Special Report on Feeding the World, February 2011.
ISAAA 2010 Global Status of Commercialised GM crops, February 2011.