Global GMO area dips in 2015 in first-ever decline

Reuters — The world scaled back biotech crop planting for the first time ever in 2015, led by a decline in the U.S., which has fuelled rapid expansion of genetically modified crops since their commercial launch two decades ago, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

The decline was blamed largely on lower crop plantings overall due to lower commodity prices, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the group that released the report.

Planting area was unchanged or lower in eight of the top 10 biotech crop-producing countries, including a 2.2-million-hectare drop in the U.S., the world’s largest grower, according to data from the ISAAA, which promotes the use of biotechnology in agriculture.

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Biotech crops are genetically modified to resist pests or disease, tolerate drought or withstand sprayings of chemical herbicides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup.

Brazil and Argentina, South America’s largest crop producers, were the only two nations in the top 10 that measurably expanded biotech seedings, adding two million and 200,000 hectares, respectively, according to ISAAA data.

In terms of total acres planted to biotech crops, Canada came in fifth at 11 million hectares, having seeded 400,000 fewer hectares of biotech canola in 2015, the ISAAA said.

Total biotech crop acreage is expected to improve when crop prices improve, the ISAAA added, noting Canada, for one, forecasts canola area this spring returning to 2014 levels.

Globally, biotech crops — including corn, cotton, soybeans, canola and other crops — were sown on 179.7 million hectares in 28 countries in 2015, down from 181.5 million hectares the previous year, according to the group.

In China, biotech crops were planted on 3.7 million hectares, down 200,000 from 2014, nearly all of it biotech cotton. Despite the country’s rising demand for grain and oilseeds, cultivation of biotech corn and soybeans is not allowed in China.

The February agreement by state-owned ChemChina to buy Swiss seeds and agrochemicals company Syngenta for US$43 billion has fuelled speculation the biotech grain cultivation ban could soon be reversed.

There has been increasing pressure from some consumers and environmental groups who argue that biotech crops lead to increased pesticide use and pose threats to the environment and human health.

EU countries are discussing whether to extend the EU-wide license for glyphosate after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as a probable human carcinogen last March.

Some U.S. states have passed laws requiring food labels to disclose GMO ingredients. Industry-backed efforts to block the regulations failed in the Senate last month.

The ISAAA noted new biotech crops were commercialized in 2015 in several countries, including Canada, the U.S. and Brazil. Among the approvals worldwide were Innate bruise-resistant potatoes, non-browning Arctic apples and the first biotech food animal, genetically modified salmon.

Karl Plume reports on agriculture and ag commodity markets for Reuters from Chicago Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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