London (March 30th, 2005) – Most of the world of agricultural biotechnology has developed smartly since last December although much of Europe, as always guided by its “precautionary principle”, is arguing, hesitant and trying hard not to put even a toe into its agricultural future.

In the past few months, a number of additional countries around the world have signalled their interest or intention of going forward with cultivating GM crops: Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mail, Nigeria, Paraguay and Tanzania are amongst them.

But the big news was the report of global progress last year. In 2004, the area of GM crops cultivated worldwide increased by no less than 20%, up from 15% in 2003. The total area of approved biotech crops increased from 68 mn hectares (167 mn acres) in 2003 to about 81 mn. hectares, (200 mn) acres). That is more than 2.5 times the area of the British Isles and represents some 5-6% of the world’s arable acreage. The number of farmers involved increased in parallel with the acreage: up from 7 mn in 18 countries in 2003 to some 8.25 mn in 2004, about 90% of them in poor countries.

In 2004, there were fourteen major GM crop-growing countries (each with more than 50,000 hectares) as against ten in 2003. Nine of them were developing countries while five were industrial. ISAAA reports their order in terms are areas of cultivation as: the US, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Romania, Mexico, Spain and the Philippines.

The foods and other goods these farmers produce are, of course, sold ultimately to consumers, demolishing to the notion that “people don’t want” GM crops and their products so often put about by opponents of the technology.

A comparison with organic farming is especially significant. Certified organic farming as we now generally recognise it started in the 1940s. By 2004, the total global acreage was about 24 mn hectares. Compare that with 81 mn for GM cultivation which started from zero in 1995/6 and one appreciates the rapidity of uptake of transgenic technology. On these data one should ask whether anybody "really wants organic" and "do we need it?"

Europe generally is the major area lagging behind. While the European Commission fights valiantly to promote acceptance of the technology, the hysteria continues in Member States (as we comment in the accompanying piece for the UK). In some countries (Germany, for instance), governments actively obstruct its adoption on political grounds even though simple consumer trials have shown a willingness of consumers to buy if the price is right. Ah well; things will no doubt change in the fullness of time.

Sources:

1. Lewis, Steven (7.2.2005). Bolivia takes small step toward biotech commercialization, Food Chemical News, Volume 46; Issue 52 (ISSN: 0015-6337)

2. Bolivia: Anapo will sow genetically modified soy. El Deber (11.11.2004).

3. Peter Apps (28.2.2005). S.Africa leads on GMO, other African states wary. USA TODAY (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/techpolicy/2005-02-28-biotech-africa_x.htm)

4. Elizabeth Johnson (13.10.2004). Paraguay Soy Producers Close To Monsanto Royalties Deal – Assn. Osterdowjones Commodity Wire (http://www.agprofessional.com/show_story.php?id=28008)

5. Biotechnology for improving farm output, protect resources stressed. The Bangladesh Journal (13.2.2005) (http://www.bangladeshjournal.com/index.php?ID=3349)

6. Hans Nakora (14/3.2005). TPRI (Tropical Pesticides Research Institute) Jumps on GMO Bandwagon. Arusha Times (http://allafrica.com/stories/200503140605.html)

7. ISAAA Briefs 32-2004: Preview: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2004 (http://www.isaaa.org)

8. Jeremy Smith (18.3.2005). EU to push for GMO foods despite opposition –draft. Reuters (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L1873909.htm)

9. Karin Hollricher (10.3.2005) Gentechnik am Gängelhaken (Gene technology curbed) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (http://www.faz.net/s/Rub268AB64801534CF288DF93BB89F2D797/Doc~EA4F00F19
BD8B426F935ED9C9AB2DD93F~ATpl~Ecommon~Scontent.html)


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