By Kathryn McConnell
IIP Staff Writer
February 7, 2012
Agricultural biotechnology continues to grow around the world at unprecedented rates, with 8 percent more biotech hectares planted in 2011 than in 2010, according to a major international research group.
During 2011, 160 million hectares were planted in crops developed through biotechnology, a 94-fold increase over hectares planted in 1996, when biotech crops first were commercialized. Farmers in 29 countries, including 19 developed countries, planted and replanted a total of 1.25 billion hectares of biotech crop land between 1996 and 2011 — an area 25 percent larger than the total land mass of the United States and China, said Clive James, author of an annual biotech crop report released February 7 by the research group International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).
“That makes biotechnology the fastest-adopted agricultural technology in history,” James said. “It reflects the confidence small-, medium- and large-size farmers have in biotech,” he added.
The report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011, was launched via a worldwide webcast to journalists.
From 1996 to 2010, biotech crops contributed significantly to food security and environmental protection, James said. Biotech crop production increases are valued at more than $78 billion. Requiring less pesticide use and tilling, biotech crops have saved hundreds of kilograms of pesticides from entering the soil and water, and reduced carbon emissions.
HIGH ADOPTION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Developing countries, which represent 40 percent of the world’s population, are adopting biotech twice as fast as industrialized countries. In 2011, biotech crops grown in developing countries for the first time were close to half of global crops grown, James said.
While the United States continued to be the lead producer of biotech crops in 2011 with 69 million hectares planted, Brazil was second with 30.3 million hectares planted. It is followed by Argentina at 23.7 million hectares and India at 10.6 million hectares. Rounding out the top 10 countries that each grew more than 1 million hectares of biotech crops were Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa and Uruguay.
“We expect Brazil to be the leader in planting biotech soybeans and maize,” James said, noting that Brazil is bringing more land into arable production and is expected to devote a large portion of that to biotech.
ACCEPTANCE BY OTHER COUNTRIES
In 2011, six counties in the European Union planted biotech maize, 26 percent more than in 2010. Two more European countries planted a high-starch biotech variety of potato. Sixty countries accept biotech crops for import for food and feed use, including major food importers like Japan, which does not plant biotech crops.
The rate of new variety development has accelerated in recent years, and stacked traits are an important feature, James said. Twelve countries planted crops with two or more traits in 2011; nine of those were developing counties. A stacked variety carries more than one beneficial trait.
In 2012, a stacked soybean that resists insects and is herbicide tolerant will be introduced in Brazil and is expected to be released in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, James said.
In 2013, the first variety of drought-tolerant maize will be grown in the United States. In either 2013 or 2014, a “golden rice” enhanced with Vitamin A will be introduced in the Philippines and then in Bangladesh, saving millions from death or blindness every year, according to James.
Also in 2014, a variety of soybeans containing healthy omega-3 oils will be introduced worldwide, he said.
The United States works with ISAAA and other international research groups to encourage the adoption of proved technologies, including biotechnology that produce more per hectare while using less water, fewer herbicides and pesticides, and less energy.
The years to 2015, the target world leaders set in 2000 to cut hunger in half, look “encouraging” for biotech, James said. Experts say that beyond that, the world needs to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of a population that the United Nations estimates will be more than 9 billion.
Biotech will be an important tool in meeting those needs, James said.