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Latin America’s embrace of gene editing positions Americas to become global leader in agricultural innovationqrcode

Mar. 11, 2022

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Mar. 11, 2022

By Luis Ventura

Over the 25 years since the introduction of GM crops in Latin America, the continent has been a battleground between proponents of biotechnology versus groups, mostly agrarian activists funded by global environmental technology skeptics in North America and Europe. Faced with these competing lobbying forces, a sharp divide has evolved across the Americas.

There are countries with restrictive regulatory frameworks regarding GMOs that even today make their adoption unlikely—such as in Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico. In contrast, Brazil and Argentina have taken a totally different approach allowing, deliberately, and fervently embracing biotech innovation, and transforming South America into a global leader in GM crop production. These same countries are now embracing advancing the latest cutting-edge genetic engineering tools, CRISPR, and other forms of gene editing.


All signs point to gene editing crops having a less bumpy road through the regulatory thickets as the genetic engineering process does not involve the transfer of so-called ‘foreign genes’, a key (if scientifically meaningless) issue that regulators used to block approval of GMOs.

The Americas emerging as a world GM crop innovator

The Latin American region is an important net exporter of food and agricultural commodities, accounting for 16% of total global food and agriculture exports and 4% of total food and agriculture imports.




According to the “International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) ISAAA, Latin America, led by Brazil and Argentina, are among the top five countries that produces GM crops. By 2019, Argentina and Brazil together with Paraguay, Colombia, Chile, and Bolivia represented 44% of the world area devoted to GM crops, a percentage comparable to North America (the US and Canada) which also has 44%. It is worth mentioning that GM soybean production in Brazil was higher than in the United States. In addition, Colombia significantly increased its adoption by 15% in the cultivation of transgenic corn and cotton and Chile is now the largest exporter of transgenic seeds in the southern hemisphere.

These remarkable levels of GMO production reached across Latin America were achieved despite the current restrictive regulations. The complicated and expensive web of restrictions has made the approval process so expensive and slow that only a few companies have the deep pockets to even be involved in the GM crop production market. It’s also limited the number of crops considered for investment and development to corn, soybean, and cotton. This dynamic is expected to change.

Gene editing on the horizon

While the European Union continues to debate the regulatory status of gene-edited crops, the LATAM region represented by several nations – Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica among others — has created regulatory frameworks that will open the door to innovation. Because gene editing does not involve a transgene process, CRISPR crops are now considered for regulatory purposes as conventional with no for further needs for more regulations—a distinct break from the regulatory morass that has hampered the approval of GMO products.

Because of the lower cost burden in approving gene edited crops, public research centers in Latin America that could not afford the expenses needed to run the regulatory gauntlet to get a GMO permit, are in a position to invest in projects where gene-editing is applied—and they are doing so. So far there are many ongoing projects using genome editing with novel crops ready to be introduced.

Going forward, public research institutions are likely to take the led in developing these novel products, with specific focus on crops of regional and domestic impact and relevance— traits not only focused on benefitting corporate farmers by increasing yields or conferring herbicide or pest tolerance, but on crops with more direct benefits to small farmers and consumers, such as nutrition enhancement or disease resistance.

Latin America’s gene-editing impact on global sustainability

Gene editing innovations will not only benefit the Americas by preserving biodiversity, but they will help solidify its role as one of the largest and most critical agricultural export regions. Latin America plays a key role in the global food system. The importance of the LATAM region is not long seen in the vast biodiversity of its nations but because of its great potential to produce food and export its production to other nations.

Europe is particularly critical. The EU is currently debating implementing a Green Deal Farm to Fork Policy, which will require a dramatic increase in crop production while shifting its emphasis towards organic farming, which has a yield lag of 20-40%. As there is no more arable land left in Europe to meet growing demand, imports will become even more critical, with Latin America as the main beneficiary.

The region is one of the few parts of the world with significant resources of unexploited agricultural land (concentrated in Brazil and Argentina), suggesting the region will continue to play a pivotal role in global food production and exports in the future.


The 33 countries forming the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States are the EU’s fifth largest trading partner. Two-thirds of the goods the EU imports from Latin America are primary resources, including vegetable and mineral products, food, and tobacco that together were worth about $70 billion in 2014. To meet the anticipated demand surge, gene edited crops are even more essential.

By expanding crop biotechnology to include gene editing, and maintaining its cultivation of classic GMOs, the LATAM is poised to boost the economy of the whole region, and even taking the led at a global scale in food and agricultural innovation.

Read the original article on Genetic Literacy Project.



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