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GMO Acres Seen Rising Worldwide With Political Will

Global plantings of genetically modified corn, soybeans and other crops grew 9.4 per cent last year as economic challenges spurred growing political will to adopt biotech crops that help farmers fight weeds, pests and crop diseases, an industry-backed study said Feb. 11.

More than 13 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops last year, up 9.4 per cent from 2007, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which receives public and private funding, including from commercial biotech crop companies.

“We’ve seen progress on many fronts,” said ISAAA founder and chairman Clive James.

Increasing demand for food in hungry countries was spurring demand, ISAAA said, predicting a second wave of strong adoption through at least 2015.

Bolivia became the ninth country in Latin America to adopt biotech crops last year, while Burkina Faso in Africa began planting biotech cotton, and Egypt planted biotech maize for the first time, ISAAA said.

FOOD BILLS

World food prices soared last year amid production problems and increased use of corn for biofuels even as many countries slid into economic crisis.

Farmers in the U. S., home of biotech crop leader Monsanto, remained by far the largest users of biotech crops, planting an estimated 62.5 million hectares, or fully half of global plantings, with biotech crops in 2008.

Following the U. S. , Argentina planted 21 million hectares, Brazil 15.8 million, India and Canada each 7.6 million, and China 3.8 million.

Opposition to biotech crops continued to frustrate their promoters in many countries, most notably within the European Union where consumer and political opposition has stymied efforts to promote the crops for years and France has banned genetically modified maize.

One leading biotech crop critic, Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology, said the fact that 95 per cent of genetically modified crops are concentrated in just six countries shows continued wide global distrust of the technology.

“People resist this technology because it endangers health, will not solve the hunger problem, and irreversibly contaminates the ecosystem,” said Smith.

G o v e r nme n t -f u n d e d animal feeding studies in Europe demonstrate serious side-effects, including infer-t ility and impairment of immune responses, he said.

Genetically altered soybeans continued to be the most popular biotech crop, planted on 65.8 million hectares, followed by biotech corn planted on 37.3 million hectares and biotech cotton on 15.5 million hectares.

One of the newest biotech crops on the market is a Roundup Ready sugar beet, genetically altered to tolerate herbicide treatment.

Opponents’ doubts

Some anti-biotech groups say ISAAA’s data is inflated. One group, GM Freeze, said it checked the data against Monsanto’s plantings data and determined ISAAA had inflated data for the European Union – where only Monsanto’s Bt maize is allowed to be grown – by a factor of four.

ISAAA said seven EU countries increased their planting 21 per cent to total more than 100,000 hectares. The difference year over year was less than 3,000 hectares, however.

“We simply cannot rely on ISAAA figures to give an accurate picture – the 2008 data should be taken with a large grain of salt,” said GM Freeze spokesman Pete Riley.

ISAAA spokesman John Dutcher said the report was not misleading and its EU data was “very clear.”

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