Science in Society Archive

Global GM Crops Area Exaggerated

Ten years on, and the ‘growth’ in GM crops area is exposed to be more hype than substance as opposition heightens. Sam Burcher

PR masquerading as fact

The biotech industry’s mouthpiece, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agrobiotechnology Applications (ISAAA), has been exposed for grossly inflating the figures of GM crops grown globally. Its latest report [1] lists countries growing GM crops that do not grow them, or that have banned them. For example, Iran is down as having grown tens of thousands of hectares of commercial GM rice in 2006, despite the fact Iran has never approved or grown GM rice on any commercial scale.

Bob Phelps of Gene Ethics Network criticizes the report for making these unsupported claims and ignoring the negative impacts of GM crops [2]: “The report emphasizes that 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 2006, but this is just 0.7 percent of farmers world-wide. And just 600 000 farmers grew 85 percent of all GM crops on industrial farms in North and South America.  Small Third World farmers are misused as fodder in the ISAAA’s PR war.”

India’s bid to ban all GM field trials

The ISAAA launched the report in India, where the Supreme Court has recently banned any new GM crop trials until further notice [3].  However, the exception to the ban, GM mustard developed at Delhi University, involves a genetic engineering “Terminator” technique called a GURT (Genetic Use Restriction Technology) that renders the seeds from the plant sterile. (See [4] Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold, SiS 16). The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) group, which instigated the ban on GM crops in India, are now pursuing a ban even on GM mustard because the University failed to reveal the full scientific facts to the Court.

PIL are also concerned by the conflict of interest with the body that regulate GM crops in India, the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee), whose co-Chair also sits as a Director of the ISAAA. There is deep concern in India from all corners that their agricultural policy is being manipulated by corporate entities that have targeted Third World farmers with the full force of the US Government behind them. The ISAAA report claims cost reductions for Indian farmers growing GM cotton, which is another outright falsehood that should be challenged.  In fact, more than 100 000 farmers in India that became involved in growing GM crops have committed suicide in the ten years since 1993 (See [5] Stem Farmers’ Suicides with Organic Farming, SiS 32.) And on average, a further 16 000 farmers a year have killed themselves since 2003 because of crop failures and debts incurred by buying the expensive GM cottonseed and herbicides touted around Indian farms by Monsanto [6] (India's Bt Cotton Fraud, SiS 26). (To support the ban please see:

Romania reduces GM planting to zero and eight other EU countries have imposed bans

Meanwhile in Europe, Romania has announced a ban of GM soya as of 1 January 2007, that is, a drop to zero planting, and is therefore unlikely to plant the 100 000 hectares listed by the ISAAA.

Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini at Caen University, France, explained on Radio Romania International that, “The soybeans grown in Romania are treated with a very powerful pesticide named Roundup Ready, which has a very toxic effect on human placentas and embryos. Roundup Ready genetically engineered soya is not approved for growing in the EU” [7][8, 9] (Glyphosate Toxic & Roundup Worse, SiS 26; Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds, Allergens..., SiS 28). The ban on GM soya coincides with Romania’s inclusion in the European Union. So far, all GM crops grown in Romania have been unregulated, untraceable and unlabelled. The lack of regulation is also a serious threat to farmers who may find their produce restricted from entering into the EU market.  Furthermore it also hinders the potential for organic agriculture. The proposed decontamination of GM crops in Romania is a process likely to take many years, and may also become a test case of whether such decontamination is possible.

The ISAAA has also glossed over the ban of GM maize in Austria, and in a further seven European countries, including Germany, that have banned one or more GM crop.

Poland pushes for rejection of GM

Poland’s National Seeds Catalogue has already banned genetically engineered seeds from its collection in 2006.  In the European Parliament in January 2007, a resolution towards the use of more GM technology [10] was supported by 22 MEPs, but rejected by 15 MEPs with 6 abstentions.  However, the Polish vice-Chairman of the Agricultural Committee in the European Parliament, Janusz Wojciechowski, announced recently that he fully rejects the resolution and supports a completely GM-free Europe.  The ICPPC - International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside -is therefore hopeful that there is time for more MEPs to be informed of the facts before the resolutions’ final plenary session on 14 March 2007. (For more information and for a letter to send to your MEP to reject the motion, see

GM crops grown mostly in North and South America

Despite the ISAAA’s claims that agrobiotechnology is a global industry, only 8 countries worldwide are growing 99 percent of GM crops commercially.  These are: USA 53.5 percent, Argentina 17.6 percent, Brazil 11.3 percent, Canada 6 percent, India 3.7 percent, China 3.4 percent, Paraguay 2 percent and South Africa 1.4 percent.

The ISAAA figures for China’s planting under GM are 3.4 million hectares, but Kraft Foods, the world second largest food producer has committed to supply China with GM-free foods from 1 January 2007 [11]. The Chinese Biosafety Committee has also stymied GM rice crops approval for another year while more data on safety are assessed.

Brazil is listed as growing 11.5 million hectares of GM soybean and cotton, but it continues to resist the GM industry’s attempts to gain approval for GM maize.

South Africa’s hugely hyped figures called into question

South Africa is hyped up as having a massive increase in biotech crops from 500 000 hectares in 2005 to 1.4 million hectares in 2006. But according to a press release from Monsanto three months earlier, the 2006 area was a much more modest 609 000 ha [12]. As Mariam Mayet of the African Centre of Biosafety points out, it would mean an additional 800 000 ha planted in the space of three months if ISAAA figures were to be believed.

South Africa has already rejected field trials of GM sorghum to protect their own local varieties from contamination. The South African wine industry has also closed ranks against the Biotech companies by opposing two applications for field trials of GM yeasts and GM grapevines in 20 wine producing regions both in the Southern and Western Cape [13] (For more on GM wines, see [14, 15] Self-Cloned' Wine Yeasts Not Necessarily Safe and GM Grapevines & Toxic Wines, SiS 33). 

The true picture emerges

Greenpeace pre-empted the ISAAA’s report with a summary of their own to get a truer picture of the global status of GM crops [16]. Jeremy Tager, spokesperson for Greenpeace International said, “There is irrefutable evidence that governments, farmers and consumers throughout the world recognise that genetic engineering in unreliable, unviable or downright dangerous.” (See GMO Free: Exposing the Hazards of Biotechnology to Ensure the Integrity of our Food Supply [17]; also [18] GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile SiS 33, and [19] GM Crops the Unfolding Nightmare, SiS33, for the latest evidence of serious health hazards inherent to GM technology.)

Elsewhere in the world, rice suppliers in Thailand and Vietnam are committed to keeping rice exports GM free. So is the world’s largest rice processor, Ebro Puleva. This is a strategic move to capitalise on the market opportunities that have opened up after the contamination of US long grain rice stocks with an unapproved genetically engineered variety LLRICE601 [20] (USDA Poised to Deregulate Illegal GM Rice, SiS 32).  The Bayer rice scandal was financially disastrous for US rice producers, as it met with strong disapproval from rice farmers, processors, and governments worldwide. The Rice Producers of California have called for a ban on the cultivation of GM rice, be it for commercial purposes or for field trials.

Basmati farmers burn down GM rice

The All India Rice Exporters Association has lobbied the Indian Government to prohibit field trials of GM rice in many basmati rice growing states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the Punjab.  So strong is the desire to keep their fields GM-free that Indian farmers burnt down the GM test plots that could potentially contaminate their rice fields.

Rakesh Tikait, a national spokesperson for one of the largest farming groups in India, the Bharathiya Kisan Union, explained the extreme reaction of rice farmers. He said, “The threat to farmers’ livelihoods is clear. Examples from across the country of Bt cotton failures show that this technology is unsafe for humans and the environment, and that it can neither be controlled nor regulated.  We consider the threat serious enough to warrant the destruction of test fields of GE rice to stop its introduction and to protect ourselves” [16].

Goodbye biotechnology, hello nature

The ISAAA and the biotech industry may delude themselves with the ‘successes’ of genetic engineering and the constant expansion of acreages planted to GM crops.  The stark reality, however, is that the global market has remained steadfastly hostile to GM crops, as the recent tainted rice episode so amply demonstrates. And far from benefiting the poor as the report claims, GM crops cost the poor at least 3 times more in terms of seed and herbicide, misappropriation of land and precious water resources, and incalculable harm to human, animal, and environmental health.  

Greenpeace [16] concludes that the rejection of GM crops by farmers, processors, consumers and governments alike reiterates the global message to the biotech industry that there is no place in our future for genetic engineering.

Article first published 29/01/07


  1. Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2006. ISAAA Brief 35-2006: Executive Summary
  2. Gene Ethics: News Media Release. Global GM crops a beat up.  January 20 2007,
  3. GM Watch comment  25th January, 2007,
  4. Ho MW and Cummins J. Chronicle of an ecological disaster foretold. Science in Society 18, 26-27, 2003.
  5. Burcher S. Stem farmers’ suicides with organic farming.  Science in Society 32, 42-43, 2006.
  6. Gala R.  India’s Bt cotton fraud.  Science in Society 26, 27-28, 2005.
  7. Christine Lescu. Romania harvests trouble with GM crops.  October 30th 2006
  8. Ho MW and Cummins J. Glyphosate toxic and Roundup worse. Science in Society 26, 12, 2005
  9. Ho MW and Cummins J. Roundup Ready Sudden Death, Superweeds, Allergens...Time to wipe GM off the Globe.  Science in Society 28, 26-27, 2005.
  10. Biowatch South Africa Press report 24th January 2007
  11. Draft report on Biotechnology: prospects and challenges for Agriculture in Europe 2006/2059 (INI) 6 November 2006.
  12. Gene crops bloom in South Africa, says Monsanto.  Reuters, 27 Sep 2006
  13. Yeld J. South Africa: Concerns raised over SA’s GM crop stats.  Cape Argos (Cape Town) January 26, 2007.
  14. Cummins J. Self cloned wine yeasts not necessarily safe. Science in Society 33
  15. Cummins J and Ho MW. GM Grapevines and toxic wines. Science in Society 33
  16. Greenpeace International Press release.  The global status of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops: 10 years of continuing rejection.  GMWATCH 18th January 2007
  17. Ho MW and Lim LC. The Independent Science Panel. GMO-Free: Exposing the hazards of biotechnology to ensure the integrity of our food supply. Vital Health Publishing © 2004 Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network.ISBN 1-890612-36-5.
  18. Ho MW. GM soya fed rats: stunted, dead or sterile. Science in Society 33.
  19. Ho MW. GM crops the unfolding nightmare. Science in Society 33.
  20. Cummins J and Ho MW.  USDA poised to deregulate GM rice. Science in Society 32 6-7, 2006

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