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World Remains Highly Dependent on Conventionally-Bred Crops Industry Claims Grossly Exaggerate GM Importance

Immediate release (14 Feb 2008)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992/07903 341 065 or Eve Mitchell 07962 437 128

GM Freeze has described the latest biotech industry-funded assessment [1] of the importance of GM crops around the world as a “gross exaggeration”.

Industry data puts the area under GM crops at 114 million hectares in 2007, which represent just 2.2% of global farm and commercial forestry land. GM Freeze point out that this means that nearly 98% of crops grown are non-GM. In addition, the vast majority of crops, such as wheat, barley, rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables, are conventionally bred non-GM varieties.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2007 data included GM poplar trees in China for the first time. These have been planted for many years, and their inclusion goes some way to explaining the increased area of GM planting since 2006 claimed by ISAAA.

A more accurate assessment of the relative proportions of areas grown, if it includes trees, would have to include all commercial forestry land, not just agricultural land, bringing the area grown down to a mere 2.2% globally.

In the European Union, where the market for GM crops is very small, over 99.75% of agricultural land is growing non-GM crops. [2]

ISAAA predicts that the area under GM will reach 200 million hectares in 2015. This means that even by the biotech industry’s own best estimate, well over 95% of crops will still be produced from seeds bred without GM technology well into the future.

The majority of GM crops are herbicide tolerant and insect resistant. Both are beginning to run into agronomic problems because of:

  • Weed resistance to Monsanto’s RoundUp weedkiller [4]
  • Resistance in insect pest the GM Bt crops [5]
  • Secondary pests in Bt crops [6]

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

Industry projections for 2015 are hardly impressive. After 20 years of commercial growing, and 40 years of research and development, GM crops will still be very much a minority technology in agriculture. Their claims are a gross exaggeration. Promises of GM drought-tolerant crops made over a decade ago have not been delivered because these crops will require more complex genetic engineering, which is more difficult to control and predict. Government departments, like our own DFID, would do well to reassess their research priorities and recognise that research, development and training in conventional plant breeding has to be given greater importance in the Global South.

GM Freeze dismisses the ISAAA claims that subsistence farmers are benefiting from GM crops. Most GM crops grow in prairie-type monocultures in the USA, Brazil, Argentina, and Canada. The biotech industry concentrates on developing cash crops for export and not food crops to feed hungry people.


Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992/07903 341 065 or Eve Mitchell 07962 437 128.


[1] Report in The Financial Times, Limited, 13 February 2008, on the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) annual review (see

[2] For global agricultural land areas see

ISAAA claim 114m hectares of GM crops in 2007 out of a total farm land area of 4,803,385,400 ha. In the EU in 2007 around 450,000 hectare of GM crops were grown out of a total of 192,266,000 ha of agricultural land.

[3] An estimated 17-25,000 hectares of the RoundUp resistant weed Johnson Grass have been reported in Argentina (see

[4] Insect pests resistant to Bt pesticides genetically engineered into BT cotton have been found in field surveys. Gunning RV, Dang HT, Kemp FC, Nicholson IC & Moores GD (2005) “New resistance mechanism in Helicoverpa armigera threatens transgenic crops expressing Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac toxin”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71:2558-2563.

[5] Secondary pests, such as aphids, are becoming a pest on Bt cotton in India (see