Growth benefit questioned

C&I Issue 4, 2008

  Developing nations have overtaken industrialised countries in planting GM crops, with 12 developing countries compared to 11 industrialised countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA). The growth rate for GM crop planting in developing countries is also three times that in industrialised countries, 21% compared to 6%. The US, however, leads with the largest area under cultivation, 57.7m hectares, followed by Argentina, 19.1m hectares, and Brazil with 15m hectares. Eight EU countries, led by Spain, planted 70 000 hectares in 2007.

The land area devoted to GM crops worldwide grew by 12% , or 12.3m hectares, to reach 114.3m hectares in 2007, the second highest increase over the last five years. In addition, the number of farmers planting such crops grew by 2m to reach 12m globally, with nine out of ten being resource-poor. Around 9% of the total planting area was devoted to biofuel production, with 90% being located in the US.

The ISAAA is an international not-for-profit organisation that aims to deliver the benefits of new agricultural biotechnologies to the poor in developing countries. ‘With increasing food prices globally, the benefits of biotech crops have never been more important,’ said Clive James, ISAA founder and chairman, who wrote the report. ‘Already those farmers who began adopting biotech crops a few years ago are beginning to see socio-economic advantages compared to their peers who haven’t adopted the crops. If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015, biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade.’

The environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE), however, disputes the claim that GM crops have tackled hunger and poverty, and says they have also failed to deliver environmental benefits. In its recent report, ‘Who benefits from gm crops?’, FoE says ‘the majority of GM crops are not destined for hungry people in developing countries but are used to feed animals, generate biofuels and produce highly processed food products...GM crops have not increased food security for the world’s poor’. The report also highlights Bt cotton as being unable to ‘cope with the structural problems that are the chief causes of rural poverty, factors such as commodity prices, lack of credit, and declining government support of agriculture’.

The FoE claims that over 90% of the area planted with GM crops is in five South and North American countries, with the US and Argentina together accounting for over 70% of all GM crops.

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