Watchdog refutes claims of rapid global growth in GE crops

Geneva, 20 Jan (Kanaga Raja) - An Australian-based genetic engineering watchdog has refuted claims by a biotech industry promoter in its GE crop update 2002 that GE crops “continue rapid global growth”.

The GeneEthics Network, a non-profit federation of groups and individuals, has said that in fact the GE crop industry has stalled globally.

The network undertook a critical analysis of the report “Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops 2002” by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-biotechnology Applications (ISAAA) and found that the GE crop industry has indeed stalled.

GeneEthics argues that the GE industry has not expanded globally and is still largely confined to only four countries. Moreover, the GE product range is still limited to only four broadacre commercial crops, and the range of characteristics in GE crops has also stalled.

“Despite seven years of production, this is not a global industry as the ISAAA’s own figures show: 99% of commercial GE crops are planted in only four countries - USA 66%; Argentina 23%; Canada 6%; and China 4%,” GeneEthics Network Director, Bob Phelps pointed out.

“GE crops are under 5% of global broadacre agriculture, so they have not taken the world by storm,” he added.

According to Mr Phelps, well over 90% of all commercial GE crops are monopoly owned and controlled by Monsanto, which is heavily backed by the US government at home and abroad, with subsidies and favourable policies.

“But Monsanto’s CEO resigned in December after stock price falls, and sharp revenue and profit drops, betraying a fragile, unsustainable company,” Phelps said.

The ISAAA GE crop update, conducted by Dr Clive James, ISAAA’s chairman and founder, claims that biotechnology continues to be a growing choice among farmers worldwide as global acreage of crops enhanced through biotechnology increased by 12%, or 15 million acres in 2002.

The ISAAA report says that for the sixth consecutive year, farmers worldwide adopted biotech crops at a double-digit pace, with 2002 global biotech acreage reaching 145 million acres. Nearly 6 million farmers in 16 countries chose to plant biotech crops in 2002, up from 5 million farmers in 13 countries in 2001.

“This high adoption rate is a strong vote of confidence in biotech crops, reflecting farmers’ need for and satisfaction with the technology,” according to Dr James.

The ISAAA report claims that while biotech cotton maintained its global acreage of 16.8 million acres, biotech corn acreage grew 27% to 30.6 million acres, biotech canola acreage increased 11% to 7.4 million acres, and biotech soybean production grew 10% to 90.2 million acres, exceeding more than 50% of the global soybean crop area for the first time.

But Mr Phelps highlighted the still-limited product range of the GE industry, saying, “the GE industry’s product range has also not expanded, with only four broadacre commercial crops - soy, corn, canola and cotton - available.”

He argued that the range of characteristics in GE crop plants has also stalled, with only two commercial traits available - tolerance to over-spraying with weedicides, and/or inbuilt production of a toxic insecticide.

Mr Phelps also refuted the many claimed benefits put forward by the GE industry, complaining that “the GE industry constantly promises better nutrition, longer shelf life, drought and salt tolerance, and many other claimed benefits, but none of these has come true and there is no evidence in the ISAAA report that they ever will.”

“Several other crops are being field tested but most are up to a decade away from becoming commercial realities, even if all goes well,” he added.

The ISAAA report says that US, Argentina, Canada and China continued to be the leading growers of biotech crops, but claims that other countries are starting to follow suit, with India, Colombia and Honduras growing biotech crops for the first time.

The report also suggests that Bt cotton farmers are seeing social and economic benefits from its use. In China, farmers growing Bt cotton increased their income an additional $200 per acre or $750 million nationally, the report claims. The study reports similar results in South Africa.

Moreover, the study suggests that pesticide usage has been reduced through biotech crops. According to the study, Bt cotton alone is estimated to have the potential to eliminate the need for 33,000 tons of insecticide globally, or 40% of the current global use.

The GE update projects near-term growth in global acreage of biotech crops and predicts that by 2005, the global market value of biotech crops will reach $5 billion, up from approximately $4.25 billion in 2002 and $3.8 billion just a year before.

But GeneEthics points out that “North American farmers’ experiences of patchy production, lower profits and lost markets is a better guide to the future of GE crops than the ISAAA report”. – SUNS5266

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