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Alarming World-Wide Rise of Genetically Engineered Crops

(Beyond Pesticides, February 24, 2011) After 15 years of commercialization, accumulated Genetically Engineered (GE) crops in the world exceeded 1 billion hectares in 2010. For comparison, 1 billion hectares is roughly equivalent to the vast land area of China, or of the United States. The figures are in this year’s International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) report, out this week. Of the four most commonly planted GE crops, a rising percentage of the total of all plantings are GE. In 2010, 81% of all soybeans, 64% of cotton, 29% of corn and 23% of canola globally were from biotech seeds, the ISAAA says.

“Growth remains strong, with biotech hectare increasing 14 million hectares — or 10 percent – between 2009 and 2010,” said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA. “That’s the second highest annual hectare growth ever – bringing 2010 global plantings to 148 million hectares.”

Unfortunately, the situation does not look brighter for this upcoming year due to the recent decision from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the U.S. sugar beet industry to continue growing Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready,” GE sugar beets and the recent decision to deregulate GE alfalfa seed, despite the risks they pose to both organic and conventional farmers. On February 7, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Sierra Club and Cornucopia Institute formally filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the agency concerning its decision to allow unrestricted deregulation of GE alfalfa.

Center for Food Safety’s senior attorney and counsel for the lawsuit to be filed against the USDA regarding GE alfalfa and past lawsuit regarding GE sugarbeets, George Kimbrell, is scheduled to speak at Beyond Pesticides’ 29th National Pesticide Forum, “Sustainable Community – Practical solutions for health and the environment http://www.beyondpesticides.org/forum/index.htm ,” April 8-9 in Denver, CO. Among other cases, Mr. Kimbrell was counsel in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms (2010), the first case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on the impacts of GE crops.

For the first time, in 2010, the ten largest GE crop growing countries all had more than 1 million hectares in production. In hectare rank order, they include: USA (66.8 million), Brazil (25.4 million), Argentina (22.9 million), India (9.4 million), Canada (8.8 million), China (3.5 million), Paraguay (2.6 million), Pakistan (2.4 million), South Africa (2.2 million) and Uruguay (1.1 million).

For the second consecutive year, Brazil had the world’s largest year-over-year increase in absolute biotech crop plantings, adding 4 million hectares in 2010 — a 19 percent increase — to grow a total of 25.4 million hectares. However, the United States leads Brazil in total cropland devoted to biotech crops. Australia saw the largest proportional year-on-year increase in biotech crop plantings at 184 percent. Burkina Faso followed at 126 percent growth with 80,000 farmers planting 260,000 hectares, a 65 percent adoption rate.

“Developing countries grew 48 percent of global biotech crops in 2010 and will exceed industrialized nations in their plantings of GE crops by 2015,” said James. “Clearly, the countries of Latin America and Asia will drive the most dramatic increases in global hectares planted to biotech crops during the remainder of the technology’s second decade of commercialization.”

The five principal developing countries growing GE crops – China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa – planted 63 million hectares of biotech crops in 2010, equivalent to 43 percent of the global total. All told, 19 of the 29 countries that have adopted biotech crops are developing nations, which grew at a rate of 17 percent or 10.2 million hectares over 2009 compared to only 5 percent growth or 3.8 million hectares in industrialized countries.

Developing nations are adopting these methods in the hopes of lowering food prices and reducing poverty and hunger in their nations. However, the findings of a comprehensive United Nation’s assessment of world agriculture, International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), concluded that GE crops have little potential to alleviate poverty and hunger in the world. IAASTD experts recommended instead low-cost, low-input agro ecological farming methods.

“U.S. farmers are facing dramatic increases in the price of Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and the chemicals used with them,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the US-based Center for Food Safety and co-author of the report. “Farmers in any developing country that welcomes Monsanto and other biotech companies can expect the same fate – sharply rising seed and pesticide costs, and a radical decline in the availability of conventional seeds.”

Meanwhile, biotech propaganda has obscured the huge potential of low-cost agro ecological and organic techniques to increase food production and alleviate hunger in developing countries. The report mentions several such projects, such as push-pull maize farming, practiced by 10,000 farmers in east Africa. The enormously successful push-pull system controls weed and insect pests without chemicals, increases maize production, and raises the income of smallholder farmers.

Producers of genetically engineered crops claim they will reduce pesticide use and increase drought resistance, among other things, but many studies have emerged since their widespread adoption in the 1990s showing otherwise. Insect resistance, weed resistance (the development of “super weeds”), and cross contamination of other crops have been documented. These impacts threaten the sustainability of agriculture.

Beyond Pesticides believes that whether it is the incorporation into food crops of genes from a natural bacterium (Bt) or the development of a herbicide-resistant crop, the GE approach to pest management is short sighted and dangerous. There are serious public health and pest resistance problems associated with GE crops. Beyond Pesticides’ goal is to push for labeling as a means of identifying products that contain GE ingredients, seek to educate on the public health and environmental consequences of this technology and generate support for sound ecological-based management systems.

For more information on GE crops please see Beyond Pesticides page on Genetic Engineering.

Source: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Brief 42-2010: Press Release


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