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Report on the global status of commercialised biotech crops in 2013

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released a report which indicates more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted biotech crops in 2013, reflecting a five million, or three percent, increase in global biotech crop hectarage (ISAAA Brief 46 – Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops: 2013 – by Clives James). 2013 also marks the first-ever commercial plantings of drought-tolerant biotech maize in the United States.
Global biotech crop hectarage has increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million hectares in 2013. During this 18 year period, more than a 100-fold increase of commercial biotech crop hectarage has been reported. The United States continues to lead global biotech crop plantings at 70.1 million hectares or 40 percent of total global hectares.
According to the report, more than 90 percent, or 16.5 million, of farmers planting biotech crops are small and resource-poor. Of the countries planting biotech crops, eight are industrial countries and 19 are developing countries. For the second year, developing countries planted more hectares of biotech crops than industrialised countries, representing confidence and trust of millions of risk-averse farmers around the world that have experienced the benefits of these crops. Nearly 100 percent of farmers who try biotech crops continue to plant them year after year, the report notes.
Given the importance of drought on crop productivity, exacerbated by climate change, drought tolerance is judged to be an important development. In the United States, approximately 2,000 farmers in the drought-prone Corn Belt planted about 50,000 hectares of the first biotech drought-tolerant maize. Also, Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, developed and approved planting of the world’s first drought-tolerant sugarcane (the first biotech sugarcane to be approved globally) and plans to commercialise it for planting in 2014.
Biotech drought-tolerant maize technology has been donated to Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, a public/private partnership by Monsanto and BASF, funded by the Gates and Buffet foundations and implemented through the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Planting of biotech drought-tolerant maize in Africa is expected in 2017.
Biotech crops benefit food security, sustainability and the environment. Between 1996 and 2012, biotech crops have made positive contributions through: decreased production costs and increased productivity (estimated at 377 million tons) valued at US $117 billion; environmental benefits by eliminating the need for 497 million kg (a.i.) of pesticides; reduced CO2 emissions by 27 billion kg in 2012 alone (equivalent to removing 12 million cars from the road for one year); conserving biodiversity by saving 123 million hectares of land from being placed in agricultural production during the period 1996 to 2012; and alleviating poverty for 16.5 million small farmers and farm families, totalling more than 65 million people.
Concerning the status of biotech crops in the European Union, the modest hectarage was up 15 percent between 2012 and 2013. Five EU countries planted 148,013 hectares of biotech maize, up 18,942 hectares from 2012. Spain led the EU with a record 136,962 hectares of biotech maize, up 18 percent since 2012. Romania maintained the same hectarage as 2012. Portugal, Czechia and Slovakia planted fewer hectares of biotech maize than 2012, which the report attributed to burdensome EU reporting procedures for farmers.

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