Global planting of biotech crops jumps 10 percent: report

KANSAS CITY, Missouri Tue Feb 22, 2011 11:03am EST

Armando Villareal, a Chihuahua farmer and GMO advocate, points at corn hectares at Ejido Benito Juarez in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua February 29, 2008. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

Armando Villareal, a Chihuahua farmer and GMO advocate, points at corn hectares at Ejido Benito Juarez in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua February 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Tomas Bravo

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Global plantings of biotech crops increased 10 percent last year, continuing steady growth over the past decade that has been spurred by concerns about feeding a growing world population, according to an industry analysis.

While the United States remains the largest user of genetically modified seeds, Brazil posted the biggest growth, with plantings rising 19 percent, according to the report issued Tuesday by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which promotes biotech crop adoption. That marked a rise of 10 percent over 2009.

About 10 percent of total global cropland is being planted to biotech crops, according to ISAAA.

Brazilian farmers led the way, increasing their biotech crop plantings by 4 million hectares in 2010, more added farmland sown to biotech seeds than any other country last year, according to ISAAA Chairman Clive James.

"It is growing extremely fast," James said of Brazil's use of biotech crops, particularly soybeans. "The technology is here to stay."

The United States remained by far the largest adopter of biotech seeds, with 165 million acres (66.8 million hectares) planted to GMO crops in 2010, up 4 percent from 2009.

Globally, farmers last year planted 365 million acres (148 million hectares) of genetically modified (GMO) corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops.

U.S.-based Monsanto and DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred are world leaders in development of crops genetically altered to help farmers fight weeds, bugs and diseases.

Critics say the altered plants cause environmental harm in many ways, including through increased use of herbicides, weed resistance, and potential health problems for animals and people. But supporters say they are safe and the answer to demands for increased food production to serve a growing population.

CHINA BECOMING BIOTECH LEADER

ISAAA's report said that while China planted only 3.5 million hectares to biotech crops last year, down 5 percent from 2009, policymakers there are encouraging development of biotech crops to address food security concerns for the fast-growing population. Among biotech crops being field-tested are GMO wheat, soybeans, potato, cabbage, papaya, and melon.

Pakistan and Myanmar were among three countries planting biotech crops for the first time last year, with farmers in those nations planting insect-resistant Bt cotton. Sweden also reported planting biotech crops for the first time last year as farmers there seeded a biotech high-quality starch potato approved for industrial and feed use.

Notably, developing countries grew 48 percent of the total global biotech crop tally last year, and are expected to continue to accelerate use of biotech crops rapidly, according to the ISAAA report.

James said he expects an additional 12 countries to adopt biotech crops by 2015 and the number of farmers planting such crop to double to 20 million with global hectarage rising to 200 million hectares, or nearly 500 million acres.

Up to three or four additional countries are expected to grow biotech crops from each of the three regions of Asia, West Africa, East/Southern Africa and fewer from Latin/Central America, and Western and Eastern Europe.

Europe largely remains a steady foe of biotech crops, James said, though there are signs some European countries are softening.

"Europe is not lost but is by far the most difficult region to call in terms of future development," he said.

Advancements in new types of biotech crops should accelerate adoption, particularly drought-tolerant corn, and rice that is healthier, tastes better and resists pests. Biotech wheat that resists certain plant diseases is also on the drawing board.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)