Transgenic crops or animals are often referred to as GMO’s or genetically modified organisms. This is misleading because all cultivated crop plants and livestock have been genetically modified through centuries of human selection and traditional breeding. A more accurate name for the genetically engineered organisms that are referred to as GMOs, is transgenic organisms. Transgenic crops or livestock contain genetic material that was transferred from a different species through biotechnology techniques or genetic engineering.
In the 1980s, agricultural input companies began developing and using transgenic techniques to develop new crop varieties. The first traits that were inserted into major crop plants and commercialized on a large scale were genes from two different species of bacteria. The transgenic traits were for insect resistance (Bt) and resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (commercially marketed as Round-up). Since the first commercial release in 1996, these technologies have been widely adopted in the US and other parts of the world (See Figure below).
Figure 8.2.15.: Adoption of genetically engineered crops in the United States from 1996 - 2014. Data for each crop category include varieties with both HT (herbicide-resistant) and Bt (stacked) traits. Credit: USDA Economic Research Service using data from Fernandez-Cornejo and McBride (2002) for the years 1996-99 and USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, June Agricultural Survey for the years 2000-14.