The European Court of Justice has decided: Bees or GMOs?

Wednesday 07 September 2011 on Bee Life

The European Court of Justice today provided its judgement: Beekeeping products contaminated with pollen derived from GM crops are considered “products derived from GMOs”

We now face a profound dilemma: Do we just automatically accept that all honey and pollen is now contaminated with GM products? Or do we demand legislation which orders that safe distances or quarantine zones must be imposed to protect bees and apiaries from toxic GM crops?

In 2005, the honey of an amateur beekeeper, Mr Bablok, from the German region of Bavaria, was found to be contaminated with GM pollen, derived from Bt corn fields (MON810) that this region was testing. According to European legislation (Regulation (EC) 1829/2003), any food-product containing GM material must go through an approval process to prove it is safe for consumers.

Since Mr Bablok believed that the GM test-crops had contaminated his honey with GM material and GM toxins, he initiated legal proceedings before the German Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice has now asserted three critical findings in its judgement, of September 6th 2011, namely:

  1. Pollen derived from GM crops, that is found in the beehive, is not considered a GM organism (GMO)
  2. Beekeeping products containing pollen derived from GM crops are considered as “produce from GMOs”
  3. The presence of GM material in honey, pollen and beekeeping products cannot be tolerated, it is illegal.

Farming was practised in a sustainable manner for centuries, until the arrival of industrialised and chemicalised farming post WWII. Along with industrial farming and monocultures, tools to control pests were developed, such as GMOs, or various forms of pesticide application (e.g. seed or soil treatments). However, the implications for our health, wildlife and our environment remain still unclear.

Recent scientific studies have proved that systemic pesticides and GM plant toxins inflict poisonous effects on the nervous systems of bees[1] and other possible toxic effects on beneficial insects like butterflies and ladybirds[2]. The pollen that Mr Bablok collected from his hives contained both genetic material from GM maize and Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) toxins with insecticidal properties. Therefore, quite apart from the problem that this may pose for consumers, this pollen may prove toxic for bees and other wildlife.

For many years, politicians and regulators have been unwilling to address the problem of coexistence between GM crops and traditional agriculture. But this has now come to a crisis point with beekeeping; the agricultural sector that is crucial for the pollination of a great part of human food-crops.

Bees visit flowers to harvest nectar and pollen, from which they make the honey and pollen which we consume. It is impossible to restrict the areas and flowers which the bees visit, and consequently, if the planting of GM crops in Europe increases, GM pollen and plant toxins will increasingly be found in honey and pollen.

In Europe, however, it may still be possible to avoid this problem, because the area of land planted with GM is relatively small (in Bulgaria, Romania and Spain), despite suspicions of unauthorised GMO farming in some EU member states[3]. The situation is infinitely worse in other countries like USA, Canada, China, Argentina, Brazil or India, where GM crops are now ‘the norm’ rather than the exception. In America for example, over 92 million acres were planted with GM Maize, treated with systemic neonicotinoid pesticides in 2010.

The consequences for the market are undeniable; this is a disaster for beekeepers, for honey producers and for the whole of agriculture.

Europe’s beekeeping industry will clearly be devastated as a result of this judgement. Until last week, Honey and pollen commanded a high retail value, because it was seen as good for people’s for health and wellbeing; it may now be regarded as injurious to people’s health and wellbeing. Beekeepers, cannot possibly control where their bees forage or which crops they visit, and will now be forced to prove that their products have not been contaminated with GM material. Laboratory tests will now be needed on every batch of honey and pollen, to certify that they are “GM free”. This will involve huge financial costs for both large and small beekeepers and will drive the majority of the 600.000 beekeepers in Europe from the market, since small-producers will not be able to bear such financial costs.

Those beekeepers who do manage to remain in business, despite the extra costs of the “GM free” certification, will face dramatically increased costs of production and as a result they will be forced to increase the retail price for consumers.

Lab photo (lab-picture.jpeg) If laboratory tests reveal that there is GM content in the honey and pollen, beekeepers (who cannot possibly avoid contamination), will be forced to market their products with the label “produced from GMOs”. This would prove to be a massive marketing handicap and would probably make their products unsaleable, if not completely worthless.

The European Union imports 40% of all the honey it consumes and the EU countries mentioned above, where GMOs are planted and used, account for at least 20% of EU honey production. The decision of the Court implies the withdrawal from the European market of approximately 50-60% of existing honey, which will cause consumer prices to soar. This could deliver a fatal blow to the entire market for beekeeping products in Europe, since the the average consumer will view them with great suspicion.

The opinion of the Court of Justice has made it clear: GM pollen in agricultural products equals the end for beekeeping products.

It is time for European consumers and politicians to make a decision: Do we want GMOs and GM toxins in our food, or do we want healthy bees, wholesome honey and pollen and bee-products which are free from GMOs?

Notes

[1] Ramirez-Romero R.; Desneux N.; Decourtye A.; Chaffiol A.; Pham-Delègue M.H. (2008) Does Cry1Ab protein affect learning performances of the honey bee Apis mellifera L. (Hymenoptera, Apidae)? Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 70:327-33

[2] http://independentsciencenews.org/n…

[3] http://www.naturalnews.com/033098_H…

 

Bees, Honey and Genetically Modified Crops

Original on Friends of Earth

Introduction

Bees are extremely important to the pollination of UK crops, particularly oilseed rape and beans. In the UK there are estimated to be between 100,000 and 300,000 hives1, working out at one hive per square kilometre. A hive may contain up to 50,000 bees and individual bees may visit up to 100 flowers on each trip out from the hive. The value of honey bees’ services as pollinators in the European Union has been estimated at around £3 billion per year2.

Genetically modified (GM) crops are very near to being grown commercially. GM maize and oilseed rape varieties are in the last stages of the regulatory procedure which will allow them to be grown anywhere in the UK. A farming industry organisation, the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) has developed guidelines for farmers growing GM crops. But there are no provisions within these for protecting beehives from contamination with GM pollen, or even to inform beekeepers if GM crops are to be grown in their area.

In 1999 the Government started a series of ‘farm-scale trials’ of GM herbicide-tolerant crops. Each of these GM crop trials covers ten hectares (25 acres) and it is planned to have at least 25 sites for each GM crop involved – winter and spring oilseed rape, maize and sugar beet. These trials are meant to examine the environmental effects of GM crops, but they have not been designed to prevent pollen escaping from the test sites or to protect nearby beekeepers from contamination of their honey.

GM Crops

Oilseed rape is an extremely important crop for bees and beekeepers. It is the crop to which commercial hives are most often moved3, and pollination contracts for oilseed rape provide an important source of income to many beekeepers. It is very attractive to bees, and has ‘sticky’ pollen, which the bees can get covered in. Most GM oilseed rape in the UK has been engineered to resist herbicides.

GM maize is also close to commercial production and being growing at farm-scale trials. Bees collect pollen for food and in the US it has been found that pollen from maize fields can make up to 20 per cent of the total collected by bees from nearby hives4.

Is GM Honey safe?

Genetic engineering is imprecise and unpredictable. Genes are inserted from organisms which have never been eaten as food, and so new proteins are introduced into the human and animal food chains. There is concern that these could cause allergic reactions or other health effects.

A study by Government researchers found that there are between 20,000 and 80,000 pollen grains in a portion (10g) of shop-bought honey5. There are already cases of people who are allergic to honey, and this has been linked to pollen in the honey6. The novel proteins or toxins produced by GM crops may also be in the pollen they produce. This means that honey containing GM pollen could pose a potential health risk. The researchers who studied this problem concluded that if GM pollen contained novel toxins or proteins it “could pose problems, not only to man who consumes honey as a food, but also to bee populations which rely on pollen as the sole source of protein”7.

As well as this, research into honey has found that bees can pass proteins from nectar unchanged into honey8. If GM crops produce novel proteins or toxins in the nectar as well, this may further threaten the safety of honey produced from GM crops.

GM plants may also contain genes which provide resistance to commonly used antibiotics such as ampicillin. There is concern that these could be passed on to the bacteria that live in humans and animals. DNA from pollen has been found to be able to survive in honey for seven weeks9. It may be that this could be a route for such gene transfer.

In spite of the risks, there has been almost no safety testing of GM pollen, either for humans or for bees. Even the food safety tests of GM crops have been limited to short-term tests on animals. The Government’s advisors on the safety of GM foods rely on results of tests conducted by the GM companies themselves. Recently Dr Andrew Chesson, a leading food scientist from the Rowett Research Institute, expressed concern that current safety tests may be insufficient to detect new, unexpected chemicals in GM foods10. Although the Government is conducting its own independent research into GM food safety, the results will not be ready until 2001.

Bees and gene pollution

Honey bees commonly forage up to two km from the hive, but oilseed rape fields are such an attractive source of nectar that bees may travel at least five km to get to them11. In a recent study, a bee hive was placed 800 m from a field of GM oilseed rape. When the oilseed rape was in flower, it made up 70% of the pollen that the bees carried back to the hive. One bee returning to the hive had 60,000 oilseed rape pollen grains stuck to its body12. As the bees brush past each other in the hive any GM pollen is spread throughout the colony and taken out again by other bees.

In summer 1999, Friends of the Earth commissioned research to study this issue. The researchers put pollen samplers on the entrances to beehives around a ten hectare farm scale test site of GM oilseed rape. The pollen samplers measured how much pollen the bees were carrying into the hive. The bee hives were 150m, 2.5 km and 4.5 km away from the test site. GM pollen was found in all the samples from the different beehives, including the one furthest away. The results show that even if a beehive is 4.5 km from a field of GM oilseed rape, the honey can still become contaminated with GM pollen. This has serious implications for all beekeepers.

Not only are bee hives near to GM oilseed rape fields likely to become contaminated with GM pollen, but the bees may spread GM pollen to non-GM crops several miles away. It is likely that in the future farmers will be growing oilseed rape for the ‘GM-free’ market. In such cases, contamination of the crop could cause financial loss to the farmer. At the moment it is unclear who would be held liable for this, and whether the beekeeper might be held responsible as well as the farmer who grows the GM crop.

Impact on Beekeepers

At the moment, companies or farmers planting GM crops do not have to consult with neighbouring beekeepers, or even tell them that there is a GM crop nearby. Even if the beekeeper finds out that there is a GM crop nearby, it is up to them to test their honey for contamination. Because of this, it is very possible that beekeepers have already unwittingly sold GM honey to the public.

The former Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker stated that honey containing GM pollen would have to be labelled before being sold13. But this only applies to honey containing pollen from GM crops which have gained permission to be sold as food. GM test sites, including at present the farm-scale trials of GM oilseed rape, grow GM crops which have not yet got such permission. In these cases, the law states that any GM material from them cannot be sold in food, including GM pollen. This means that if honey becomes contaminated with pollen from a test site or the farm-scale trials it could be illegal to sell it.

As it stands, GM crops pose a serious threat to beekeepers and honey production in the UK. Honey contaminated with GM pollen will either have to be disposed of safely or sold as a GM product. Either of these options is likely to cause financial harm to beekeepers. Despite this, there is no system to ensure that beekeepers are consulted about GM crops growing nearby nor are there any provisions for compensation in the event of financial losses which might result.

Impact on Wild Bees

Wild bees are vital for the survival of many of our wild plants, as well as being important for crops. Some species of wild plants are dependent on wild bees for their pollination and survival. Several species of bumblebees and solitary bees are also important pollinators for food crops.

Bumblebees are very important in the UK, as they fly around at lower temperatures and in worse weather than honeybees. In addition, bumblebees are best able to pollinate some wild flowers, such as foxgloves. Natural populations of bumblebees are in decline in the UK and across the EU. Solitary bees are bees that live on their own, rather than in hives or nests. There are several hundred species across Europe, but very little is known about them apart from the fact that, like bumblebees, they are in decline.

The decline of bumblebees and solitary bee populations has been linked to modern intensive farming 14. The widespread use of herbicides and the increased intensity of farming has removed the habitats that wild bees make nests in, and reduced the numbers of wild plants which they use for food. There is concern that the introduction of GM herbicide tolerant crops, such as oilseed rape, will reduce still further the diversity and number of wild plants found in UK farmland. Such concerns have been expressed by English Nature, the Government’s own wildlife advisor, as well as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Trusts. The widespread use of GM herbicide-tolerant crops is likely to threaten further wild bee populations.

Summary

It is clear that growing GM crops in the UK will pose a serious threat to beekeepers and honey production in the UK. Issues around food safety, liability, the cost to beekeepers and the threat to wild bee populations have yet to be resolved. Vital questions need to be answered and there needs to be a full public debate on the acceptable uses of genetic engineering.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) is opposed to the untested introduction of GM crops and foods in the UK. We are campaigning against outdoor testing of GM crops, including the farm scale trials. FOE is calling for a full public debate on the future of farming and how our food is produced. A moratorium, or freeze, on the commercial production and importation of GM food and crops is now urgently required.

Emily Diamand, September 1999

The Real Food Campaign
Friends of the Earth
26-28, Underwood Street
LONDON
N1  7JQ
Tel 020 7490 1555
Fax 020 7490 0881
Email – info@foe.co.uk
Website – www.foe.co.uk


1. Williams, I. 1994. “Dependence on Crop Production within the European Union on pollination by honey bees” Agricultural Zoological Review Vol 6 pp 229-257


2.Carreck, NL. Pollination Ecology Research at IACR-Rothamsted


3.Williamson, I. 1996 “Aspects of bee diversity and crop pollination in the European Union” in A Matheson, SL Buchmann, C O’Toole, P Westrich and I Williams (eds) The Conservation of Bees Academic Press.


4.Erickson, EH, Erickson BH, Flottum PK, Wyman JA, Wedberg JL & Page RE. 1997. “Effects of selected insecticide formulations, phased applications and colony management strategies on honey bee mortality in processing sweetcorn” Journal of Apical Research 36(1) pp 3-13


5.MAFF Research & Development and Surveillance Report: 376. Undated. Honey from genetically modified plants: integrity of DNA and entry of GM-derived proteins into the food chain via honey MAFF project No 2B 067


6.Bauer, L et al. 1996 “Food allergy to honey: Pollen or bee products? Characterisation of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Vol 97 1(1) pp 65-73


7.Wilkinson, JE, D Twell and K Lindsey. 1997 “Activities of CaMV 35S and nos promoters in pollen: implications for field release of transgenic plants” Journal of Experimental Botany Vol 48 (307) pp 265-275


8.Coghlan, A. 1999 “Healing Honey: flowers are being turned into vaccine factories” New Scientist 23 June 1999


9. Eady, C, D Twell & K Lindsey. 1995 “ Pollen viability and trans-gene expression following storage in honey” Transgenic Research Vol 4 pp 226-231


10. Daily Express, 4 September 1999. “New GM warning over danger chemicals entering food chain”


11.Ramsay, G, CE Thompson, S Neilson, GR Mackay, 1999. “Honeybees as vectors of GM oilseed rape pollen” in Gene Flow and agriculture: relevance for transgenic crops BCPC Symposium Proceedings No 72 pp 209-214


12.Ibid.


13.Rooker, J. House of Commons Hansard Written Answers 15 April 1999 (Part 6) Col 321


14. Williamson, I. 1996 “Aspects of bee diversity and crop pollination in the European Union” in A Matheson, SL Buchmann, C O’Toole, P Westrich and I Williams (eds) The Conservation of Bees pp 63-80 Academic Press

Contact details:

Friends of the Earth
26-28 Underwood St.
LONDON
N1  7JQ

Tel: 020 7490 1555
Fax: 020 7490 0881
Email: info@foe.co.uk
Website: www.foe.co.uk

 

Biotechnology Issues for Developing Countries

GMOs and Development

Edgar J. DaSilva
Director, Section of Life Sciences
Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences
UNESCO, Paris, France
E-mail: e.dasilva@unesco.org

Important issues such as the conservation of the environment, the energy crisis, expansion and migration of populations, use of agro-residual resources, ocean agriculture, global warming, water security, biowarfare, and emerging diseases have somehow made it to the top of the agenda of international co-operation. The perennial problems of widespread starvation linked to poverty are now back again in the limelight as a result of globalization, biotechnology and summit meetings. Novel agriculture, genetic modified organisms (GMOs), GM crops and products, and bio-based economies have been spotlighted by governmental attention and public action in recent international forums.

The UN Human Development Report 2001 (HDR) “Making New Technologies Work for Development” identified biotechnology as a key avenue for the socio-economic advancement of the developing countries. Considered as the latest frontier of the corporate world, biotechnology enriching the way we do and teach science is full of entrepreneurial opportunities for networking the technological transformation of the developing world. Such opportunities result from simple yet spectacular research in microbiology and molecular biology that closely intertwine with information technology and nanotechnology—i.e. bionanomatics.

The enzymatic machinery of the invisible microbe and genetic tailoring are being harnessed to design solutions to enhance soil fertility, increase crop yield, and engage in molecular farming for the production of new bio-products and novel crops. Use of GMOs will increase in the future to obtain a variety of bioproducts ranging from biofuels, bioplastics, biodiesel, biodetergents, biolubricants, and biopharmaceuticals to bio-ornamentals reflecting new plant and floral architecture (Box 1).

Growth of the gene-based pharmaceutical market, assessed at US$2.2 billion in 1999, for treatment of diseases not possible in the past, is now projected at $8.2 billion in 2004. Edible vaccines administered through GM-foods, and possibly in the future through breakfast cereals, will conserve more human resources at a fraction of current costs. Simply eating a banana or a potato chip with tomato paste could result in a patient receiving a hepatitis B needle-free vaccine for two cents instead of the usual US$15 for an injectable dose. In fact, GMO technology has spurred economic progress in the technically-advance societies.

Traditional chemical, metallurgy, and pharmaceutical industries already are undergoing rapid assessment and adaptation to accommodate the green component into daily production processes. Starch-based polymers have been used for water-retention in calcareous loamy soils for cultivation of mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) in Saudi Arabia; sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) in India, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) in Egypt, and ornamental plants – Rosa cavina, Lotonis bainesii, Indigoferata schimperi, and Hibiscus rosa var. chinensis in Singapore, South Africa and Thailand.

Generally-speaking genetic engineering techniques have been applied to crops of the industrialized world rather than to those on which the world’s hungry depend on. Corporate research activities in agricultural biotechnology, seemingly profit-oriented, should involve resource-poor farmers from least developed countries without adding costs to their meagre household incomes, to better use new knowledge in producing higher yields of pest resistant crops, and in improving local gender and socio-economic conditions. Hunger in these countries, results from a complex situation of interconnected factors –lack of adequate purchasing power, poverty, non-availability of back-up financial facilities, low crop yields, and a deteriorating environment. Some 80 developing countries possess neither the ability to produce sufficient food to feed their own populations nor the foreign-exchange reserves to import food supplies to cover the deficits. President Jimmy Carter said: “Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; starvation is. Without adequate food supplies at affordable prices, we cannot expect world health or peace”. Several of these low-income food-deficit countries are poverty-prone or poverty-stricken (Box 2). Poverty in urban areas in coming decades will overtake rural numbers.

The face of agriculture is expected to change in the next two decades. GMOs are widely used in the European Union (EU). At least 27 distinct plant species have been tested in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK with about 70 field tests per country. Other EU countries conducting field trials were Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Two years ago, a global review by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications of commercialized transgenic crops showed an increase of 21,1 million hectares between 1998 and 1999. Today, almost 45 million hectares of GMO crops are grown worldwide involving especially Argentina, Canada, China and the USA. In China, 13 gene-altered crops (i.e. rice, wheat, beet, potato, tomato, corn, peanut, rapeseed, sweet pepper and cotton) have been released in the agricultural sector, over a 10-year period, since 1986. Currently, some 50 per cent of all crops are engineered genetically.

Introduction of high-yielding, drought tolerant, and early ripening varieties have led to impressive gains in maize production in Central and West Africa. In turn there is development of supplementary and increased food markets in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Zaire. Such gains result from local collaboration in the semi-arid food grain research and development project sponsored by the scientific commission of the Organization of African Unity and the US Agency for International Development. Genetically-modified trees, have several important uses, inclusive of landscape development, and are of value in forest ecosystems and plantation use. A potential new tree crop for cultivation in saline soils, naturally occurring in Morocco, is the argan tree-Argania spinosa.

In developing countries there is widespread use of GMOs. Approximately 150 releases of GMOs have been conducted in these countries. Ten countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru) were engaged in field trials with 7 transgenic crops (cotton, maize, potato, soyabean, tomato, banana and sugarcane); and countries expected to follow with such trials are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Three countries in Africa and the Arab States (Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe), and five countries in Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) are engaged with 5 transgenic crops (cotton, corn, potato, soyabean and tomato). And, in Africa, field trials are expected to get underway in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

The beneficial aspects of GMO crops and foods for developing countries are: improved nutritional quality and health benefits; an improvement in the quantity and quality of meat, milk and livestock production; enhanced market possibilities and agronomic traits; clean and safe methods for production of edible vaccines and drugs; wider environmental impact through development of clean technologies; reduction in dependence on costly fertilizers and herbicides resulting in valuable savings for poor-resource farmers; and no evidence that commercial transgenic crops contain new allergens other than those in normal foods nor have a negative impact on human health.

Allied to such advancement are the issues of biosafety and biosecurity. GMOs have actually been one of the first beneficiaries of biosafety assessment. Guidelines and directives issued by several international and UN agencies, inclusive of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission the universally accepted authority that sets the necessary standards, have been of great help. Nevertheless, the negative rather than the positive aspects have been retained, as is typical of human wont, in the public mind. Loss, of plant biodiversity resulting from economic reliance on a GM species for production of fruit juice; and of landscape diversity arising from demands for more land for public housing and transportation, have little to do with GMO ill effects on human health. As President Carter said: “By increasing crop yields, genetically modified organisms reduce the constant need to clear more land for growing food”.

A World Bank report on Bioengineering of Crops, in 1998, indicated the value of bioengineering in an improvement of 25% in food crop yields in developing countries. A year later the Bank, through a report on Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor, drew attention to biosafety and ethical issues. In July 2000, a report on Transgenic Plants and Agriculture prepared by the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and the Third World Academy of Sciences also emphasized the importance of GMO technology enhancing agricultural benefits in developing countries.

On the other hand, genetically-produced cocoa and vanilla flavours developed elsewhere are eroding export markets in Côte d’Ivoire and Madagascar, and adding to unemployment levels. Sugar biosubstitutes are affecting the export earnings of Mauritius, Cuba, Grenada, and the Windward Islands. Also, the indiscriminate appropriation of the indigenous peoples’ knowledge, and the exploitation of native intellectual property resources without adequate compensation are other negative aspects of the globalizing use of GMOs which are obtained from parent animals, plants and microorganisms. Focus of attention has been primarily with the latter two groups of organisms. In summary, the negative features of use of GMOs are: loss of crop genetic diversity; economic loss of evaluated biodiversity and crop genetic diversity; threat to use of generic medicinal products, inadequate compensation costs, alteration in nutritional quality of foods; prevalence of religious, cultural, ethical issues (i.e. with vaccines and single-cell protein (SCP); and concerns of monopolistic ownership of the 15 major food and non-food crops.

The case of fermented foods in relation to GMOs is of interest. A wide category and range of fermented foods which may contain whole or parts of natural organisms, are prepared and conserved in near-to-safe hygienic conditions. Yet, they are widely ingested world-wide without fear or reluctance in contrast to the doubts and prejudices experienced with release of GM foods into public markets.

Significant promotional, permissive, precautionary and preventive choices; and, policy stances in the areas of biosafety, food safety, consumer choice, public research and trade have been featured for developing countries in the HDR. Public concern and debate in industrialized societies on environmental uncertainties and health risks of use of GMO technology should not discourage the developing world from reaping benefits from using GM crops and GMOs to solve their pressing problems of hunger and malnutrition. Much needed public education and understanding of GM food science through appropriate popularization programmes could help do away with vocabulary like “Frankenstein foods”, monster bugs and genetic pollution which only fuel fear and adverse reaction to GMOs. After all, humankind, unwittingly, has been eating genetically-modified foods since the dawn of agriculture as exemplified in wheat, which from the early days of wild wheat, then through einkorn and emmer wheat, and then through spaghetti wheat and bread wheat has finally resulted in biotech wheat. Controversial or not, GMOs could be the breakthrough technology for economic progress in developing countries.

Countries Growing GMOs

The world’s leading producers of GM crops are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China. In 2006, GM crop production also reached noteworthy levels in Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay and Australia. In the EU, GM crops have remained uncommon. Appreciable GM maize production in the EU only took place in Spain on an area of nearly 60,000 hectares. In Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic, transgenic crops were primarily grown for small-scale field trials.

In 2005, Iran and the Czech Republic were added to the list of countries commercially growing transgenic crops. As of 2006, 38 percent of GM crops are grown in developing countries.

Global Area of Genetically Engineered Crops, 1996 to 2006: By Country (Million Hectares)
Country USA Argentina Brazil Canada China Paraguay
1996 1.5 0.1 0.1
1997 8.1 1.4 1.3 0.0
1998 20.5 4.3 2.8 <0.1
1999 28.7 65.7 1.4* 4.0 0.3
2000 30.3 10.0 3.6* 3.0 0.5
2001 35.7 11.8 5.7* 3.2 1.5
2002 39.0 13.5 6.3* 3.5 2.1
2003 42.8 13.9 3.0 4.4 2.8
2004 47.6 16.2 5.0 5.4 3.7 1.2
2005 49.8 17.1 9.0 5.8 3.3 1.8
2006 54.6 18.0 11.5 6.1 3.5 2.0

*illegal cultivation of gmos: calculated area

Global Area of Genetically Engineered Crops, 1996 to 2006: By Country (Million Hectares)
Country India South Africa Uruguay Aus-tralia Mexico Romania
1996 <0.1 <0.1
1997 0.1 <0.1
1998 <0.1 0.1
1999 0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2000 0.2 <0.1 0.2 <0.1 <0.1
2001 0.2 <0.1 0.2 <0.1 <0.1
2002 <0.1 0.3 <0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2003 0.1 0.4 0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2004 0.5 0.5. 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.1
2005 1.3 0.5 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.1
2006 3.8 1.4 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.1
Global Area of Genetically Engineered Crops, 1996 to 2006: By Country (Million Hectares)
Country Philippines Honduras Colombia Iran  Spain Por- tugal Ger- many
1996
1997
1998 <0.1
1999 <0.1 <0.1
2000 <0.1 <0.1
2001 <0.1 <0.1
2002 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2003 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2004 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 0.5 0.1 <0.1
2005 0.1 <0.1 <0.1 1.3 0.1 <0.1 <0.1
2006 0.2 <0.1 <0.1 <0.1 0.1 <0.1 <0.1

Source: ISAAA, Clive James, 2006.