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Rapid adoption of biotech crops helps meet growing food demand

It took 10 years for the world's farmers to pass the 1 billion acre level of biotech crops planted — a milestone achieved in 2005 — but only three years beyond that to pass the 2 billion acre mark.

It's estimated that the 3 billion acre level will be reached in 2011, this despite ongoing scare tactics by various activist organizations and outright bans by some countries for the genetically modified crops that give farmers a built-into-the-plant weapon for battling insects, weeds, and diseases that take a toll on yields.

Of the 308.8 million acres of biotech crops planted worldwide last year, the U.S. led with the most, 154.4 million, up from 143 million the previous year, according to a recent report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Other countries in the Top 10 were Argentina, 51.89 million acres; Brazil, 39.04 million; India and Canada, 18.78 million each; China, 9.39 million; Paraguay, 6.67 million; South Africa, 4.47 million; Uruguay, 1.72 million; and Bolivia, 1.48 million.

Soybeans were the leading biotech crop in the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia; cotton in India and China; canola in Canada; and maize in South Africa. Worldwide, soybeans represented 53 percent of the GMO crops acreage, followed by maize, 30 percent, cotton, 12 percent, and canola, 5 percent.

Herbicide resistance was the dominant trait in crops planted in 2008, representing 63 percent of the total acres. But for the second year running, double- and triple-stacked gene crops were planted on more acres, 22 percent, compared to insect resistant varieties, 15 percent. The stacked trait products had by far the fastest growth between 2007 and 2008, 23 percent, compared to 9 percent for herbicide tolerance and minus 6 percent for insect resistance.

“At a time when the United States and the world are looking for science-based solutions to help feed a growing population, agricultural biotechnology is able to deliver heartier crops that produce more food, often in less than perfect growing conditions,” said Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, executive vice president of the Food and Agriculture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

A record 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries are now planting biotech crops, the ISAAA report notes; 90 percent of those are resource-poor farmers in 15 developing countries.

“This report illustrates what we've known all along — that biotechnology is a key component contributing to sustainable agriculture,” Lauritsen says. “It provides solutions in the form of plants that yield more per acre, resist diseases and insects, and reduce farmers' production costs and input use.

“It's obvious that biotech crops are delivering value to more and more growers around the world.”

Burkina Faso, which has been much in the news in recent years as a result of charges that American cotton farmers had an unfair advantage over them, began planting biotech cotton in 2008, and Egyptian growers, for the first time, planted biotech maize.

Africa, with over 900 million people representing 14 percent of the world's population, is the only continent where per capita food production is declining. One in three Africans is affected by hunger and malnutrition.

With the commercialization of biotech crops in three principal regions, the report notes, those countries can “become role models … for more African farmers to be able to benefit directly from learning by doing.”

Biotech crops have been the fastest-adopted crop technology in recent history, with re-adoption rates near 100 percent.

TAGS: Management
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