Against the grain

(Biotech crops increase production and reduce risk for Spanish and other farmers worldwide)

When seen in the context of the global biotech landscape, Europe's continued ambivalence toward genetically modified (GM) crops seems strangely anomalous in what has clearly become a global trend, says Christian Verschueren, director-general of CropLife International, the global lobbying group for the plant science industry.

Just look at the statistics:

  • The year 2005 saw the planting of the one billionth acre of genetically modified crops in the world, and marked the 10th anniversary of the first commercial planting.

  • Last year alone, more than 81 million hectares of the world's arable land were sown with genetically modified seed by over eight million farmers in 17 countries – a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

  • In Spain – the pariah state of the EU when it comes to the cultivation of biotech crops – farmers planted 58,000 hectares of insect-resistant maize in 2004, an increase of 80 per cent on the previous year's level.

    This maize is resistant to the corn borer, a pest known to decimate entire harvests, and has brought great benefits for the Spanish farming community. Not only has it ensured an unusual level of crop and income security for Spanish farmers – increasing their crop yields and contributing to a 12 per cent jump in their gross margins – it has simultaneously allowed them to use pesticides in a more targeted fashion.

    In the notoriously unpredictable business of farming, these results are making big differences – and causing waves among farmers in other European countries who are beginning to look enviously toward the south.

    Economically speaking, GM crops represent a winning proposition. Over the first nine years of commercial biotech crop cultivation, there was an estimated global increase in net farm incomes of $27 billion, says Verschueren.

    Source: Christian Verschueren, Against the Grain, Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2005.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 10 January 2006
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