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Global GMO Crop Growth Expands

Led by U. S. producers, 14 million farmers around the world planted genetically modified crops last year, increasing planted biotech cropland by seven per cent, even as biotech crop use declined in Europe, according to an industry report issued late last month.

Expansions were noted for biotech soybeans, corn and cotton, and the appeal to farmers grew in part due to the stacking of multiple different genetic traits in the seeds aimed at better yields, improved herbicide tolerance and insect protection, according to the report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

ISAAA chairman Clive James said the growth of biotech crops around the world was helping meet the challenges of feeding a rapidly growing global population.

“When we look at the challenges that we have today … we are talking about needing to double food production and to do it sustainably,” James said.

The pro-biotech crop group, which annually assesses the use of genetically modified crops, said farmers in 25 countries last year planted 134 million hectares – 330 million acres – of biotech crops in 25 countries, up from 13.3 million farmers and 308 million acres, in 2008.

ISAAA said 13 million of the 14 million farmers were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries.

As has been the case year after year, the United States accounted for 48 per cent of the planted biotech crop area, with 64 million hectares, or 158 million acres, last year.

Brazil and Argentina followed, with 21.4 million hectares and 21.3 million hectares, respectively.

But farmers in Europe, where consumer opposition to biotech crops remains high due to fears of health and environmental dangers, planted fewer areas to biotech crops, ISAAA said.

Six European countries planted 94,750 hectares of biotech crops in 2009, down from seven countries and 107,719 hectares in 2008, as Germany discontinued planting altogether.

James said that was a mistake.

“The smart money in Europe knows they are on the wrong track,” he said.

A significant advance last year, according to ISAAA, was a decision in November by China to issue biosafety certificates for biotech insect-resistant rice and phytase maize. Developers still must conduct two to three years of field trials before commercialization, but James said biotech crops were poised to become a critical tool for helping feed China’s 1.3 billion population and other growing countries.

China is also investing in biotech wheat, James said.

Other biotech crops expected to be approved for planting around the world within the next few years include potatoes with pest and/or disease resistance, and disease-resistant bananas.

ISAAA said it expects the number of biotech farmers globally to reach 20 million, planting 200 million hectares in 40 countries by 2015.

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