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Published:January 20th, 2007 12:21 EST
Biotech Crop Area Jumped 60-Fold in Last Decade, Report Says

Biotech Crop Area Jumped 60-Fold in Last Decade, Report Says

By SOP newswire

Researchers expect more biotech crops to be developed for biofuel production
Biotech crops
The total area planted with biotech crops continues to climb, with a 13 percent increase in 2006. (© AP Images)

Washington -- Since crops derived from biotechnology first were commercialized in 1996, the total area devoted to growing these plants has increased 60-fold, to 102 million hectares (252 million acres), according to a leading international agricultural institute.

The rate of adoption of biotech crops worldwide is the highest of any crop technology, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said in a report released January 18.

There is "cautious optimism" that the growth rate between 2007 and 2015 might surpass that of biotech's first decade, as more biotech crops are expected to be developed for biofuel production, the ISAAA reports in Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2006.

"We're at an exciting time in biotechnology's adoption," Clive James, ISAAA chairman and founder, said in a press release accompanying the report.

The total area planted with biotech crops continued to climb for the 10th consecutive year, with a 13 percent increase in 2006. The report predicts that by 2015, some 200 million hectares will be planted with biotech crops, also called genetically modified crops.

Developing countries account for 40 percent of the global crop area. The number of farmers around the world planting biotech crops grew by nearly 2 million between 2005 and 2006, to 10.3 million, ISAAA said.

More than 90 percent of these farmers were poor and with little land in developing countries, which means that they were "allowing biotechnology to make a modest contribution to the alleviation of their poverty," James said.

"The report clearly shows that more farmers are growing biotech crops on more land and in more countries than ever before. Ten years of consistently high growth demonstrates that farmers are benefiting from the technology, not only in the United States but in many countries around the world," said Chris Moore, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for trade policy and programs.

"It is particularly encouraging to see the strongest growth among small-holder farmers in the developing world who are reaping the rewards of this technology -- holding the promise of higher incomes, reduced poverty and improved food security," Moore said.

Farmers in 22 countries, representing all major continents, now grow biotech crops. Half of these countries are developing countries and half are industrial nations. Slovakia became the newest country in 2006, and the sixth in the European Union, to plant biotech crops.

An additional 29 countries have approved the import of biotech crops for use as food or animal feed, the report says.

Highlights of the report include:

-- Global market value of biotech crop production in 2006 was $6.15 billion, or 16 percent of the total crop market that year.

-- Soybean continued to be the main biotech crop, followed by maize, cotton and canola.

-- Herbicide tolerance in those crops, as well as alfalfa, continued to be the most popular biotech-enhanced trait. Alfalfa, the first biotech perennial, was commercialized for the first time in the United States in 2006.

-- Insect resistance was the next most popular biotech-enhanced trait, followed by "stacked" products, or those carrying the two traits. Stacked products were the fastest growing trait group between 2005 and 2006.

-- The United States is the principal adopter of biotechnology, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China.

-- The United States also had the largest increase in biotech crop area in 2006 at 4.8 million hectares, followed by India at 2.5 million hectares, Brazil at 2.1 million hectares, and Argentina and South Africa at 0.9 million hectares each. India's biotech crop area was nearly three times more than in 2005.

-- South Africa led in Africa by nearly tripling its biotech area, notably in maize. Spain continues to lead in Europe.

Continued growth in the commercialization of biotech crops offers significant opportunities around the world, the report said.

Biotech rice that is insect resistant and therefore produces higher yields could have "a substantial impact" on reducing poverty; drought-resistant crops could unlock more production opportunities in dryer climates; and golden rice enhanced with vitamin A could improve nutrition significantly, it said.

The report said that biotech crops' reduced need for pesticides was equivalent to a 15 percent reduction over the past decade in the associated negative environmental effect of agricultural production, as measured by the environmental impact quotient. The quotient is a composite measure of pollution based on various factors relating to pesticide ingredients.

Biotech crops have the potential to contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gases because fewer pesticide applications require less use of fossil-based fuel. More crops grown to produce ethanol and biodiesel that can substitute for fossil fuels also can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, the report said.

ISAAA is a nonprofit organization headquartered in the Philippines and with centers in Kenya and the United States.

An executive summary, highlights of the report and the press release are available on the ISAAA Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Agricultural Biotechnology.