Farmers around the globe planting genetically engineered crops enjoyed another bumper harvest last year even as political and financial pressure mounted from skeptical consumers in Europe and pockets of the US, an industry-supported group said on Wednesday.
Eight million farmers in 17 countries grew engineered crops on 80 million hectares last year, a 20 percent increase over the 66.8 million hectares recorded in 2003, according to a report released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. The report was paid for by two philanthropic groups.
In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 1.72 million hectares were under biotechnology cultivation.
"The technology is probably poised to enter a new era of growth," said the group's founder and chairman, Clive James.
The group promotes use of the technology in poor countries.
James expects that the number of biotech crop acreage could double by 2010, spurred by China's expected approval to grow genetically engineered rice.
The most popular biotechnology crops contain bacteria genes that make the plants resistant to either bugs or weed killers.
James and other biotechnology proponents argue that genetically modified plants will help alleviate poverty and hunger in developing nations by improving crop yields and cutting expenses through less use of pesticides.
Edwin Paraluman, a farmer in the Philippines who joined James on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, said the planting of genetically engineered corn last year yielded him 40 percent more crop than usual.
"The benefits for the small farmer are great," Paraluman said.
Farmers in the Philippines grew nearly 100,000 hectares of engineered corn last year, the second year altered crops were approved commercially there. Corn, soy, canola and cotton accounted for nearly all commercially available biotech crops.
The three biggest biotech crop producers last year were the US, Argentina and Canada, where nearly all the country's canola is genetically engineered.