There’s little to celebrate for the GM crop industry in ISAAA’s latest figures, as China drops GM plantings by 24%
The GMO industry lobby group ISAAA’s latest report (see the press story in item 2 below) says that GM crop cultivation increased globally in 2016, by 3%, after a dip in 2015.
But Gene Ethics points out (item 1 below) that two countries — Burkina Faso and Romania — gave up growing GM crops altogether in 2016.
Other countries have registered falls in GM crop production.
Bt cotton cultivation fell markedly in India in 2016, due to pest problems.
And in Argentina, ISAAA’s own report admits that GM crop plantings declined by 3%, largely due to reduced soybean seedings as farmers shifted land to corn and sunflower cultivation.
In China, low cotton prices and high stocks triggered a 24% drop in GM crop plantings.
China’s GMO acreage doesn’t seem set to increase in the near future, since in December 2016 China's biggest grain-producing province passed a five-year ban on growing, processing and selling the crops.
The rise reported by ISAAA has been driven by small increases in GM crop plantings in just two countries, the US and Brazil.
The rise in Brazil’s GM crop acreage – most of which will be GM soy — has been accompanied by reports that deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rose for the first time in nearly a decade, to nearly two million acres between August 2015 and July 2016. Increasing demand for soy was cited as the chief reason for the spike in forest burning.
1. GM crops stalled in 2016
2. GM numbers cause controversy
1. GM crops stalled in 2016
Gene Ethics, Monday May 8 2017
Genetically Manipulated (GM) crops grew on less than 13% of global cropland in 2016.
"Two countries that grew GM in 2015 planted none in 2016, reducing GM countries to 26. And around 90% of all GM crops are grown in eight North and South American countries so it is not a global industry," notes Gene Ethics Director, Bob Phelps.
"In 2015 Burkina Faso grew 400,000 ha of GM cotton but the crop was banned last year, after poor GM fibre quality had ruined the country's top reputation and down-graded its product.
"Romania had Europe's longest GM crop history, but just one farmer grew 2.5 ha of commercial GM maize in 2015 and last year Romanian farmers also imposed a national GM ban.
"Only 18 million broad-acre farmers grew GM commodities, for the second year in a row - just 3% of the world's 570 million growers.
"Yet the ISAAA's * annual GM crop report crows over a 3% increase in GM plantings in 2016 when the net gain was a marginal 2%, after a fall in 2015. The USA and Brazil - by far the two biggest GM crop countries - drove a small rise in GM plantings while most other countries had minor increases or declines.
"Most GM crops - soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugarbeet - still contain only the two GM crop traits first released in 1996 - Roundup weed killer tolerance and Bt insect toxins.
"More complex traits - drought and salt tolerance; nitrogen fixation in grains; more nutritious foods; higher yields; etc. - were long promised but never delivered.
"Most GM crops are sold for animal feed, biofuel production, or fibre, as few people willingly eat them.
"Big agricultural ingredient suppliers like Cargill are responding to strong shopper demand for GM-free labelled foods and ingredients in North America, driving a return to conventional varieties.
"Faced with failure, GM seed companies are merging and cross-licensing their seeds and traits to stay viable. Soon three agrochemical and seed giants - Bayer/Monsanto; ChemChina/Syngenta; and Dow/Dupont - will own over 70% of all commercial crop seed globally, including all GM varieties.
"It's time to accept that Genetically Manipulated crops have stalled and to move on," Mr Phelps concludes.
2. GM numbers cause controversy
North Queensland Register, 8 May 2017
The annual war of words surrounding the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) report on the amount of hectares sown to genetically modified crops has erupted once again.
ISAAA has reported that global plantings of biotech have risen three per cent to 185.1 million hectares, primarily on the back of significant increases in hectares sown in Brazil and the US.
It comes the year after a slight drop in biotech area planted in 2015, which ISAAA attributed to low grain prices.
“The report confirms the importance of Australian farmers being able to choose innovative, safe and approved technologies to remain globally competitive, meet the requirements of increased food demand and farm sustainably in a changing and challenging climate,” said Matthew Cossey, chief executive of of CropLife Australia.
However Bob Phelps, director of anti-GM lobby group Gene Ethics, said drilling down into the figures showed a stagnation in GM crop production.
"Two countries that grew GM in 2015 planted none in 2016, reducing GM countries to 26. And around 90pc of all GM crops are grown in eight North and South American countries so it is not a global industry," he said.
Mr Phelps also noted Romania, once one of Europe’s major producers of GM crops, was on the verge of implementing a farmer-driven GM food crop ban.
"It's time to accept that GM crops have stalled and to move on," Mr Phelps said.
Tony May, managing director of Monsanto Australia, had a different view and said GM was a winner for farmers and the environment.
“GM technology has been used in the Australian cotton industry for more than 20 years now,” he said.
“We are seeing the industry and the environment reap significant benefits from the use of GM, including reduced pesticide and fuel use and an associated reduction in carbon emissions.”
“Cotton continues to be an attractive choice for a summer crop with more than 200 new or lapsed cotton growers planting cotton this last season.”
In its report, ISAAA noted that the majority of the adoption rate was over 90pc, saying high adoption rates reflect farmer satisfaction with the products.
Mr Cossey said Australia’s regulatory framework needed to support new agricultural technology.
“Modern farming using biotechnology innovation will play an increasingly crucial role in food, feed and fibre production in Australia.
“This report is further evidence that the remaining state moratoria on genetically modified (GM) crops are antiquated and serve no purpose.”
Mr Cossey said the ISAAA report quantified the environmental benefits of GM food crops.
He said since 1996 GM crops have saved 620 million kilograms of pesticide active ingredient from being applied.
Domestically, he said the proof was in the uptake rates.
“Australian farmers continue to embrace crop biotechnology with an increase in GM crop plantings of 29pc, mostly from higher plantings of GM cotton.
Mr May said farmer uptake of Monsanto’s new Bollgard 3 system showed the interest was there for new GM innovation.
“This was the launch year for our new generation Bollgard 3 technology and we have seen significant uptake with 92pc of the area growing Bollgard 3 for the first time.
“We know that due to Bollgard 3, 8pc of Central Queensland growers were able to plant in a window they could not have previously, showing that GM is allowing growers greater flexibility.”
But Mr Phelps said scientific advances had stalled, with the vast majority of GM crops produced still featuring traits developed a long time ago.
"Most GM crops - soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugarbeet - still contain only the two GM crop traits first released in 1996 - Roundup weed killer tolerance and Bt insect toxins.”
"More complex traits - drought and salt tolerance; nitrogen fixation in grains; more nutritious foods; higher yields; etc. - were long promised but never delivered.”