Asian GM crop acres small but growing

U.S. numbers steady | More than 430 million acres of GM crops were grown in 2013

(Reuters) — The growth of genetically modified crops in the United States appears to have hit a plateau, according to an industry report.

Meanwhile, farmers are accelerating plantings in Asia, although it still remains a much smaller market.

The International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a pro-biotech industry organization, said the world’s farmers grew a record 433 million acres of GM crops in 2013, up three percent from 2012, with American and Brazilian farmers continuing to be the dominant users.

Critics of GM crops accuse the ISAAA of inflating figures in the European Union and developing countries to show growing support for biotech crops.

Particularly in the European Union, opponents of biotech crops say they lead to increased pesticide use and environmental damage and have not been proven safe for human and animal consumption.

Backers say the crops are no different than non-GM crops.

“Biotech crops are demonstrating their global value as a tool for resource-poor farmers who face decreased water supplies and increased weed and pest pressures, and the effects of climate change will only continue to expand the need for this technology,” said ISAAA chair Clive James.

U.S. farmers planted an estimated 173 million acres last year with corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa and other crops that have been genetically modified, the report said. That was up less than one percent over 2012 plantings.

In Brazil, farmers planted 99.5 million acres to GM soy, corn and cotton, up 10 percent from 2012, according to ISAAA.

While growth was hitting a plateau in the U.S, where GM crops were introduced in 1996, plantings in China grew five percent last year to 10 million acres, the report said.

ISAAA said the global value of GM crops was estimated at $15.6 billion in 2013, up from $14.6 billion in 2012.

The EU continues to be a difficult market for GM crops.

Five EU countries planted a record 365,000 acres of GM corn last year, up 15 percent from 2012, the ISAAA report said.

Farmers in Spain were the largest users of the B.t. corn, planting 94 percent of the total crop in the EU.

Not all countries where farmers have been trying GM crops have expanded their use. GM crop plantings dropped seven percent in Canada last year compared to 2012, but that was because canola acreage dropped in reaction to strong wheat prices and rotational issues.

Plantings held steady or dropped in South Africa, Australia and Mexico.

Critics of GM crops say the numbers are dubious, and the report is more promotional than factual.

“The numbers are incredibly doubtful … totally doctored,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a California-based think-tank and policy group that focuses on global agriculture.

“It is an industry publication and they use fake numbers to show a groundswell of use of GMO crops,” she said.

“But the evidence is coming in around the world that shows the crops are failing and farmers are turning away.”

The Africa Centre for Biosafety accused ISAAA last year of inflating plantings in South Africa and said its numbers were at odds with a trend there away from GMO plantings.

As well, critics accused the ISAAA in 2009 of inflating numbers for crop plantings in the EU.

ISAAA spokesperson John Dutcher said the group would not comment on the complaints.

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