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Environment Threatened By Biotech Crops Planted Worldwide (1/21/04)
(Beyond Pesticides, January 21, 2004) For the seventh consecutive year, farmers around the world continued to plant biotech crops at a double-digit pace, with the 2003 total up 15 percent to 167.2 million acres, according to a report released on January 13th by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). Environmentalists are concerned about their use due to serious environmental threats they pose and inadequacies in their regulation. The report, Global Status of Commercialized of Transgenic Crops: 2003 states that 7 million farmers in 18 countries planted biotech crops in 2003, up from 6 million in 16 countries in 2002. In the U.S., biotech crop acreage grew 10 percent, with a total of 105.7 million acres of soybeans, corn and cotton were grown. The U.S. continued growth is a result of significant acreage gains in biotech corn varieties and continued increases in herbicide-tolerant soybeans.

Almost one-third of the global biotech crop area was grown in developing countries, up from one-quarter last year. The number of countries responsible for 99 percent of the global biotech crop area expanded to six, up from four in 2002, according to the report. Brazil and South Africa joined the U.S., Argentina, Canada and China as the leading growers of biotech crops. China and South Africa experienced the greatest annual increase, with both countries planting one-third more biotech hectares than in 2002.

Country Acreage Planted % Change from 2002 Global % of Biotech Crops*
U.S. 105.7 million acres 10% increase 63%
Argentina 34.3 million acres 3% increase 21%
Canada 10.9 million acres 26% increase 6%
Brazil 7.4 million acres -- 4%
China 6.9 million acres 33% increase 4%
South Africa 988,000 acres 33% increase 1%

* Australia, India, Romania, Uruguay, Spain, Germany, Philippines, Colombia, Honduras and Mexico make up less than one percent of the global total percentage for planting biotech crops.

Biotech soybeans continue to lead all hectares globally with an increase of nearly
13 percent to 102.2 million acres - 55 percent of soybeans globally. New varieties and country approvals spurred the greatest growth in the area planted to biotech maize, with an increase of 25 percent to a total of 38.3 million acres worldwide - 11 percent of the global maize area. Canola followed with 20 percent growth for a total of 8.9 million acres - 16 percent of canola hectarage globally. Biotech cotton was up approximately 6 percent to a total of 9.7 million acres - 21 percent of the global cotton area.

Within the next five years, ISAAA predicts 10 million farmers in 25 or more countries will plant 100 million hectares or 247,000,000 acres of biotech crops. According to the report, the global market value of biotech crops is expected to increase from approximately $4.5 billion this year to $5 billion or more by 2005.

Environmentalists are concerned about the increase in biotech crops because of the serious environmental threats they pose and inadequate regulations monitoring their impacts. Concerns have been raised over the potential for biotech crops to drift onto organic and conventional farms. If an organic farmer's crops become polluted with genetically engineered pollen, they may loose their organic certification and experience financial losses. Even conventional farmers have been sued after GE pollen drifted from a neighboring farm contaminated their crops. Monsanto sued Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser for patent infringement after the company allegedly found its GE crops on his property. Mr. Schmeiser, who says he has never planted Monsanto's patented seeds, lost his first case to Monsanto and has appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court.

For more information about biotech crops, see Beyond Pesticide's Genetic Engineering Issue Page.