Global cultivation of genetically modified crops grew by seven percent during 2009, according to a new report, with the US leading the way.
With another 134m hectares (330m acres) planted last year, the cumulative area planted to genetically modified, also known as biotech, crops since their introduction in 1996 surpassed one billion hectares for the first time, said the report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
In terms of acreage, the United States is the outright leader, accounting for 64 million hectares, followed by Brazil at 21.4m and Argentina with 21.3m hectares. The US also grows or has grown more types of biotech crops than any other nation, with GM soybeans, maize, cotton, canola, squash, papaya, alfalfa, and sugarbeet.
Despite the climb in acreage planted to biotech crops, controversy about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply has continued.
Germany discontinued cultivation of GM maize at the end of the 2008 growing season, but Costa Rica started growing GM crops for the first time during 2009, exclusively for the seed export market. This left the total number of countries cultivating biotech crops constant from 2008 to 2009, at 25.
Still no GM wheat
One crop that is yet to have a commercially viable genetically modified incarnation is wheat. Monsanto backed down from its plans to introduce a biotech wheat in 2004 in the face of consumer pressure, but the issue of GM wheat traits was stirred up again last year when a group of wheat industry representative organizations from the US, Canada and Australia signed a joint statement vowing to synchronize their efforts to commercialize GM wheat.
This led to a corresponding tri-national statement from organizations opposed to its commercialization, with arguments centering on a lack of consumer acceptance as well as a lack of agronomic benefits from currently available GM crops, such as greater nutritional value or increased yield.
There are currently no GM wheat varieties commercially available.