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GM Crops Grew By 10% In 2010

February 23, 2011

The amount of global farmland used to grow genetically modified (GM) crops increased 10% last year, with the United States remaining the largest zone for the biotech produce, according to a study released Tuesday in Brazil by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

There are now 366 million acres (148 million hectares) given over to GM plantations in 29 nations, managed by 15 million farmers, according to by ISAAA, a group that promotes biotech crop adoption.

The ISAAA report shows a continuing trend of steady growth in biotech crops over the past decade, with about 10 percent of total global cropland now being planted with genetically modified produce.

The U.S. remains the largest user of genetically modified seeds, but Brazil saw the largest growth, with plantings surging 19 percent, according to the report.

ISAAA Chairman Clive James said Brazilian farmers grew their biotech crop plantings by 4 million hectares in 2010, more than any other nation.

“It is growing extremely fast,” James said, referring to Brazil’s use of genetically modified crops, particularly soybeans.

“The technology is here to stay,” he added.

The U.S. remained, by far, the biggest adopter of biotech seeds, with 165 million acres (66.8 million hectares) planted to genetically modified crops in 2010, a 4 percent increase from 2009 levels.

Globally, farmers planted 365 million acres (148 million hectares) of genetically modified corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops last year.

Monsanto and DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred are the global leaders in the development of crops genetically altered to help farmers combat weeds, pests and diseases.

Critics argue that genetically modified plants harm the environment through the increased use of herbicides, and that they carry potential health problems for humans and animals.   Supporters, however, say the altered plants are safe, and help address increasing demands for food production to serve a growing global population.

China planted just 3.5 million hectares of biotech crops last year, a 5 percent drop from 2009, but the government is promoting the development of genetically modified crops as a way to ensure food security for its fast-growing population, the ISAAA report said.

Genetically modified wheat, soybeans, potato, cabbage, papaya, and melon are among the many crops being field-tested in China, Reuters reported.

Pakistan, Myanmar and Sweden planted biotech crops for the first time last year, the ISAAA report said.   Farmers in Pakistan and Myanmar began planting insect-resistant Bt cotton, while Swedish farmers seeded a genetically modified starch potato approved for industrial and feed use.

Developing nations grew nearly half, or 48 percent, of the total global biotech crops last year, and are expected to continue to quickly accelerate their use, ISAAA said.

James predicted an additional 12 countries would adopt biotech crops by 2015, with the number of farmers planting such crops expected to double to 20 million. 

Global hectarage used to grow biotech crops will likely rise to 200 million hectares, or nearly 500 million acres, he added.

The report estimated that as many as four additional countries would grow biotech crops from each of the three regions of Asia, West Africa, East/Southern Africa. 

Europe remains primarily a steady opponent of biotech crops, James said, although there are signs that may be changing.

“Europe is not lost but is by far the most difficult region to call in terms of future development,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

ISAAA said that advancements in new types of genetically modified crops, such as drought-tolerant corn, might accelerate adoption.

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