Genetically Modified Crops Only a Fraction of Primary Global Crop Production

Alice McKeown | Dec 03, 2008

In 2007, farmers planted an additional 12.3 million hectares of genetically modified (GM) crops, bringing the total global area up 12 percent to 114.3 million hectares.1 (See Figure 1.) Genetically modified crops (also called biotech crops) have been intentionally altered through genetic engineering—the elimination, alteration, or introduction of new genetic elements, including from one unrelated species to another. Although they have been on the market for a decade, they currently account for a modest 9 percent of total land used for global primary crops.2 (See Figure 2.) Four cash crops continue to account for virtually all GM production: soybean (51 percent), corn (31 percent), cotton (13 percent), and canola (5 percent).3

Twenty-three countries were growing GM crops in 2007, including 17 high-income and upper-middle-income countries and 6 lower-middle-income countries.4 The global leader by far continues to be the United States, which accounts for half of all GM crop area.5 In 2007, GM crops were growing on 57.7 million hectares of U.S. land, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year.6 Beyond the four standard GM crops, farmers there also grew small amounts of GM papaya in Hawaii, although that has been declining over the past few years, and GM alfalfa, which court rulings have suspended until further environmental review.7

The second and third largest countries for GM crop area are Argentina, with 19.1 million hectares in 2007, and Brazil, with 15.0 million hectares.8 Other primary South American growers include Paraguay with 2.6 million hectares and Uruguay with 500,000 hectares.9 The main GM crop grown in this region is soybeans, followed by corn and cotton.10

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