WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 – A report released today that tracks the number of global acres planted each year with biotech crops indicates further growth will depend on smaller countries’ willingness to adopt genetically engineered crops and new crop varieties.

The report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) shows a record 181.5 million hectares (448 million acres) of biotech crops were grown globally in 2014, an increase of more than 6 million hectares from 2013.

Although the growth rate is only around 3 percent, Clive James, ISAAA Founder and report author, noted that this is the 19th straight year with an increase in biotech acreage.

“The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80 percent more than the total land mass of China,” James said. “Global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops,” he said.

Many of the major crop-producing countries that accept biotechnology are already growing bumper crops with biotech seeds. For example, in Canada, over 90 percent of canola is a biotech variety and in the U.S., over 90 percent of corn, soy and cotton and sugar beets are genetically engineered. 

“There’s very little room to expand because the technology has been very successful,” James said. He said the increase of food crops produced through biotechnology will be the key to future growth.

“Even in one of smallest and poorest countries in world, this technology works,” he said, noting that 120 farmers in Bangladesh planted insect-resistant eggplant last year. The country approved the so-called Bt eggplant in October 2013.

“Also, very importantly, Bangladesh has broken the impasse experienced in trying to gain approval for commercialization of Bt brinjal (eggplant) in both India and the Philippines,” he noted in the report.

With the addition of Bangladesh, a total of 28 countries grew biotech crops during 2014. The 20 developing and eight industrial nations represent more than 60 percent of the world’s population. “When we look at growth we see the biggest opportunities in Asia, particularly with China,” which grows biotech cotton among other crops, he said.

Also, Vietnam and Indonesia approved biotech corn and sugarcane, respectively, for commercial cultivation in 2014, but have no recorded acres yet.

While expansion in Asia is key, small countries in Africa are also expected to increase biotech crop plantings, James explained. Right now, South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan grow biotech crops commercially. James says Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda are expected to commercialize small food crops by 2017.

He emphasized that public-private partnerships will be the critical for these smaller countries to commercialize biotech crops. A combination of government cooperation and “political will” made the eggplant possible in Bangladesh, he noted.

Last November, the U.S. approved J.R. Simplot Co.’s, Innate potato, a GE variety with reduced browning, acrylamide and bruising. James said the approval could “open new windows of opportunity for biotech potatoes globally,” adding that the potato is the fourth most important staple food in the world behind rice, wheat and maize.

Simplot expects to plant a limited number of Innate acres this year and will submit applications for the potato in Canada, Mexico and Japan, but the potato is meeting resistance from food companies in the U.S. McDonald’s, a customer of Simplot, indicated it wouldn’t use the new GMO variety. Bill Whitacre, Simplot CEO, said he expects opportunities for the recently deregulated potato on the fresh market in cut and chilled varieties.

James said Simplot may be presenting perhaps more opportunity for biotech growth, with a second-generation Innate potato currently under USDA review. The variety contains resistance to late blight, the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1800s and still plagues potato crops around the globe. Simplot says the petition for deregulation with the USDA is for the Innate Russet Burbank variety. Several additional varieties, with names such as Ranger Russet, Atlantic and Snowden will be submitted for deregulation in the coming months.

James said the historic problems with late blight in Europe should inspire the European Union to change its biotech restrictions. “If Europe is looking for the product that can deliver, it is the potato,” James said. “But they’ve driven the private sector out.”


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