The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released research revealing that in 2005 biotech farming grew at its lowest rate in ten years. However, the report by Dr Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, remained positive about the future of biotech growth.

“Farmers from the United States to Iran, and five EU countries, demonstrate a trust and confidence in biotech crops,” said James. “The continued expansion of countries growing biotech crops also bears witness to the substantial economical, environmental and social benefits associated with these crops.”

The report highlights the achievements of the biotech industry. Since its commercialisation in 1996, the global planted area of biotech crops has risen to 90m hectares in 21 countries, with 8.5m farmers planting genetically modified (GM) crops in 2005.

Herbicide-tolerant soybeans remained the most widely adopted crop in 2005, accounting for 60% of the total global area. Crop varieties with multiple GM traits have grown in popularity throughout the year and now account for 10% of the global area.

In the EU, France and Portugal began planting GM crops after four and five year bans respectively. The Czech Republic planted GM maize for the first time, joining Spain and Germany which also allow the cultivation of GM crops. 
Iran was the first country to begin the commercial cultivation of biotech rice. However, considerable controversy surrounds the safety of this modified staple and China has delayed licensing genetically modified rice twice in recent months.

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Nonetheless, James indicated that ISAAA believes the future of GM crops looks set to be one of expansion. “I am cautiously optimistic the stellar growth experienced during the first decade of commercialisation will not only continue, but will be surpassed in the second decade,” he said. “The number of countries and farmers growing biotech crops is expected to grow, particularly in developing countries, while second-generation input and output traits are expected to become available.”

Of the 21 countries growing biotech crops, two-thirds planted more than 50,000 hecatres in 2005, including the US, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Romania, the Philippines and Spain.

The report highlighted impressive expansion in Brazil, where GM soybean cultivation has shot up by 88%. However, rather than taking this as evidence of the success of GM produce, environmental group Friends of the Earth points to the lobby power that the financial clout of big business has in these countries.

Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth Europe’s corporate campaigner, said: “Monsanto has been in the driver’s seat as the US, Brazil and other countries developed their GM policies, and their influence has been obvious. Governments should stop serving the interests of big companies such as Monsanto and put the interests of their citizens and the environment first.”

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth told just-food: “This is an industry-funded report promoting the industry’s view of the world. They have conveniently forgotten to mention the accumulating problems associated with the growing of GM crops, the number of countries and regions now banning them or the growing global opposition to eating them.