Biofuel from GM crops less pollutive – ISAAA

Rudy A. Fernandez - The Philippine Star

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – Don’t look now, but genetically modified (GM) crops, when made into biofuel, could considerably help reduce vehicle-generated pollution in traffic-congested urban centers.        

This is according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a not-for-profit international network of centers that contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications. The ISAAA network includes the Southeast Asian center in Los Baños.       

The use of biofuels derived from GM crops could reduce vehicular pollution in two ways, ISAAA pointed out in a report titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014” authored by ISAAA founder and emeritus chairman Dr. Clive James.      

Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, ISAAA senior program officer, presented the report at the 2014 Philippine edition of the agency’s annual media conference last month at the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati City.         

The conference was co-organized by ISAAA and the Philippine government-hosted, Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).       

Other speakers were Agriculture undersecretary Paz Benavidez II, SEARCA director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., ISAAA Board of Trustees chair Dr. Paul Teng, ISAAA global coordinator Dr. Randy Hautea, National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) academician Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., Dr. Maria Monina Cecilia Villena of SEARCA, and Bukidnon eggplant farmer Edgar Talasan, assisted by Mindanao farmer-leaders Reynaldo Cabunao and Edwin Paraluman.               

ISAAA pointed out that GM biofuels could considerably help mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gases in two principal ways.       

First, permanent savings in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through reduced use of fossil-based fuels, associated with fewer insecticide and herbicide sprays, could be realized.         

“In 2012, there was an estimated savings of 2.1 billion kilograms of CO2, equivalent to reducing the number of cars on the road by 940,000,” ISAAA noted.

Secondly, additional savings from conservation tillage (less or no ploughing facilitated by herbicide-tolerant biotech crops) for GM food, feed, and fiber crops, led to an additional soil carbon sequestration equivalent in 2013 to 25.9 billion kg of CO2, or removing 12.4 million cars off the road for one year from 11.8 million in 2012.      

Locally, this could best be appreciated when one considers that there are about 400,000 registered transportation vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, and others), excluding “colorum” or unregistered vehicles plying Metro Manila roads alone, said Dr. Aldemita.          

Citing other studies on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO)-derived biofuels, ISAAA said: “In 2013, the combined permanent and additional savings through sequestration was equivalent to a saving of 28 billion kg of CO2, or removing 12.4 million cars from the road.”

ISAAA had earlier reported that now leading the “GMO biofuel revolution” is the United States, the world’s top producer of GM crops.     

In 2014, the US planted biotech maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beet, papaya, squash, and alfalfa in 73.l million hectares, enabling it to maintain its lead among the world’s top “biotech mega-countries” (those producing GM crops in 50,000 ha or more).        

ISAAA also reported that another country in the forefront of GMO biofuel production is Brazil, the world’s second top biotech producer. Available records show that in 2007, Brazil planted 750,000 ha to soybean for use in biodiesel production.       

So far, the US and Brazil are devoting large biotech crop areas for biofuel purposes. But it is likely that some other GM crop-producing countries would follow suit.     

The other biotech “mega-countries” are (in order) Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Bolivia, the Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, and Sudan.           

Also producing GM crops in lesser areas are Honduras, Chile, Portugal, Cuba, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Costa Rica, ad Bangladesh.     

About 181 million ha of biotech crops were planted by 18 million farmers in 28 countries in 2014, ISAAA reported.

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