GMO plantings rise, greens cite environment risks
By Jeremy Smith
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Plantings of genetically modified (GMO) crops are increasingly widespread, a biotech industry body said on Wednesday, despite some public opposition and warnings by environmentalists that they may be unsafe.
"After a dozen years of commercialization, biotech crops are still gaining ground with another year of growth and new countries joining the list of supporters," the biotech industry backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said.
"With rising food prices globally, the benefits of biotech crops have never been more important," it added ahead of the release of its annual report on GMO crops.
International environment lobby Friends of the Earth (FoE) said there was a growing tide of anti-GMO opinion, particularly in Europe.
"Less than 2 percent of the total maize grown in the EU is genetically modified and five EU countries have now banned (U.S. biotech company) Monsanto maize because of growing evidence of its negative environmental impact," it said in a report timed to coincide with the ISAAA data.
FoE said GMO crops had not helped alleviate poverty and their yields were no higher than those of conventional crops -- a claim hotly disputed by the world's biotech companies.
"The vast majority of GM crops commercialized so far are destined for animal feed for the meat and livestock markets in rich industrialized nations rather than for feeding the poor," the FoE report said.
Since biotech crops tended to be "part of the intensive farming model," they contributed to small farmers losing their land and therefore did not alleviate poverty, it said.
FoE also cited government studies saying there had been large increases in the use of the RoundUp, or glyphosate, herbicide in both Brazil and the United States.
"This is resulting in increasing numbers of glyphosate-resistant weeds around the world, leading to higher production costs for farmers as well as concerns about the environmental impact," the report said.
Later on Wednesday, the biotech industry-supported International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) will issue its annual report on GMO crop plantings and is expected to announce another year of area increases with biotech crops sown in more countries.
Last year, ISAAA said the global GMO planted area grew by 13 percent to 252 million acres in 2006. Numbers of farmers planting GMO crops rose 21 percent due to substantial economic, social, environmental, and agronomic benefits, it said.
In Europe, however, attitudes towards GMO foods and crops differ substantially from those in the United States, the world's top supplier of biotech crops.
European consumers are well known for their skepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed as "Frankenstein foods." But the international biotech industry says its products are safe and no different from conventional foods.
That argument has not yet convinced many of the EU's 27 governments into reaching a consensus to speed up Europe's rate of new GMO authorizations.
So far, only one GMO crop is grown in the EU -- an insect-resistant maize type developed by Monsanto.
(Editing by Chris Johnson)