Farmers in developing nations will sow more biotech crops than those in the industrialized world for the first time this year, with Brazil leading the charge, according to a report issued on Tuesday that showed steady growth in the use of genetically modified seeds.
Globally, the area planted with biotech crops rose 8 percent last year to a record 395 million acres, slowing slightly from a 10 percent rise in 2010, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) in its annual report on biotech seed use.
Use in developing nations continued to grow faster than in the United States, still the biggest market by a wide margin. GMO area in developing countries rose by 11 percent or 20.25 million hectares. Growth in the United States, which grows about 43 percent of the world's GMO crops, slowed to 3 percent.
"Developing countries grew close to 50 percent (49.875 percent) of global biotech crops in 2011 and for the first time are expected to exceed industrial countries' hectarage in 2012," the report said.
"This is contrary to the prediction of critics who, prior to the commercialization of the technology in 1996, prematurely declared that biotech crops were only for industrial countries and would never be accepted and adopted by developing countries."
Biotech crops were planted by 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries, up from 15.4 million farmers in the same number of countries in 2010, according to international agency's report.
"I was a little surprised that the growth was as strong as it is," said Clive James, chairman of the ISAAA board of directors. "Millions of farmers around the world in both industrial and developing countries are adopting the technology."
The ISAAA is a not-for-profit organization aimed at promoting crop biotechnology applications, which are the subject of controversy, particularly in Europe, where they are largely banned.
Critics say there is evidence of human health dangers and environmental problems connected to genetically modified crops, though the technology companies that develop them and supporters say they are proved safe.
U.S. farmers have embraced the technology, and most of the U.S. corn and soybeans are altered genetically. Corporate biotech leaders, such as Monsanto, have crafted crops that tolerate dousings of herbicides, and crops that are designed to resist pests, effectively creating their own insecticide.
According to the ISAAA, U.S. farmers planted 69 million hectares, or 170.43 million acres, with biotech crops in 2011; followed by Brazil with 75 million acres and Argentina with 59 million acres.
While the United States boasts biotech corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugarbeet, alfalfa, papaya and squash, in Latin America biotech crops are so far limited to soybeans, corn and cotton.
India had 26.2 million acres planted to cotton in 2011 and Canada had 25.7 million acres planted to canola, corn, soybeans and sugarbeet.
All other countries had less than half that amount, with China having the next-largest planting area for biotech crops with 9.6 million acres planted in 2011.
While biotech crops remain controversial in Europe, six European Union countries — Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Romania — planted 281,700 acres of biotech corn in 2011, up more than 25 percent over 2010.
Still, critics noted significant setbacks for biotech crops last year, notably a decision by the world's biggest chemical company, BASF, to halt development and commercialization of genetically modified crops in Europe due to the lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of the continent.
Similarly, Monsanto said it would not sell its genetically modified maize in France in 2012 and beyond.
"The evidence against genetically modified crops continues to grow," said Mute Schimpf, a Friends of the Earth Europe spokesman. "Communities and nature are paying the price of the resulting pollution. The biotech system of farming is a dead-end and will fail to meet the needs of the future."
Biotech crops are accepted for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment in 60 countries, including major food-importing countries such as Japan that do not plant biotech crops, the ISAAA said.
The global value of biotech seed alone was $13.2 billion in 2011, with the end product of commercial grain from biotech maize, soybean grain and cotton valued at $160 billion or more per year, according to the ISAAA.
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