April 25, 2006

Biotech Crops Seen Spreading Despite Green Fears

By Dolly Aglay

MANILA - The global area planted to genetically modified crops, nearly four times the size of the United Kingdom last year, is likely to show double-digit growth again this year, an expert on GMO crops said on Tuesday.

Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, said the area planted to GMO crops rose 11 percent last year to 90 million hectares despite fears raised by environmental groups.

"For 10 years, we have seen double-digit growth yearly," Hautea, whose group tracks planting and development of GMO crops, told reporters on the sidelines of a sugar forum in Manila. "That trend will continue."

He said the global value of biotech crops was projected to rise to $5.5 billion in 2006 from $5.25 billion in 2005.

Hautea said he expected the growth this year to come partly from India, whose area of GMO cotton last year nearly tripled to about 1.4 million hectares from half a million hectares in 2004.

He said he expected Pakistan to start commercial planting of GMO cotton this year.

The highest biotech expansion last year in terms of actual area was Brazil with 9.4 million hectares planted with GMO soybeans, triple the 3 million hectares in 2004, Hautea said.

GMO crops -- designed to be pest-resistant, give better yields or offer higher nutritional value -- accounted for 60 percent of global soybean area last year, 28 percent of cotton, 18 percent of canola and 14 percent of corn, he added.

There were 21 countries that planted GMO crops last year, with the United States accounting for more than half of the total at 49.8 million hectares.

Argentina accounted for 17.1 million hectares, Canada for 5.8 million and China for 3.3 million.

Greenpeace and other groups oppose the planting of GMO crops, saying they threaten consumer health and the environment.