December 8, 2008

Transgenic crops near 10 percent of global crop plantings


Genetically modified crops now represent nearly 10 percent of total global crop production, according to the December Vital Signs Update published by the Worldwatch Institute.


Year-over-year plantings of transgenic crops increased 12 percent in 2007 and now cover more than 282 million acres, report said.


The US remains the world leader among the 23 countries planting biotech crops, followed by Argentina and Brazil, said the report's author Alice McKeown, a Worldwatch Institute researcher.


India ranks fifth in transgenic crop area with 15.3 million acres of genetically modified cotton planted in 2007, a 63 percent increase from the year prior, McKeown wrote, noting the year-over year acreage increase of almost 6 million acres is similar to the year-over-year jump in 2006.


"Although China was the first country to grow a commercial genetically modified crop - transgenic tobacco in 1992 - added crop area rates there have significantly trailed those of India," she said, noting cotton is China's most-planted transgenic crop. "In 2007 China had 3.8 million hectares in [genetically modified] crops, including 300,000 new hectares, about one eighth as much as India's new crop area for the same year.


Of the total transgenic crops planted, herbicide tolerance traits account for 63 percent of the plantings, followed by insect resistance in 18 percent of the plantings, the report said, noting stacked traits, which represent a combination of desired attributes, account for the balance.


Biotech crops introduce foreign genes into crops to enable greater herbicide, insecticide resistance or resilience to environmental pressures. By comparison, conventional breeding technology depends on hybrid crosses among the same plant species to advance desired traits.


"Several concerns surround [genetically modified] crops, including the transfer of food allergens across crop species, the unintentional spread and gene flow of [genetically modified] crops, contamination of organic and other non-[genetically modified] crops, the development of weed and pest resistance, and toxicity to animals that may feed on or near the crops," McKeown wrote.


"The potential social benefits of [genetically modified] crops for small farmers and consumers in developing countries have not yet been realized in part because large profit-driven agribusinesses have dominated research and development and hold intellectual property protections that make public research costly and time-consuming."


The Worldwatch Institute's stated mission is to promote "an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs."

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