For First Time in 20 Years, Global Acreage for Genetically Modified Crops Declines

GMO Dusan Kostic/Adobe Stock

At a time when consumers are demanding more food transparency, especially when it comes to products containing genetically modified organisms, a new report shows the supply of GMO goods around the globe may be declining. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, or ISAAA, reported the acreage used for GMO crops declined for the first time in 20 years during 2015.

In its annual report on genetically modified crops, or what the ISAAA refers to as “biotech crops,” the group said global acreage peaked at about 448.5 million acres in 2014 but fell during 2015 to 442.3 million acres, a decline of about 1%. The drop in land space dedicated to growing GMO crops comes after 19 years of consecutive growth, 12 years of which saw double-digit growth in global acreage used for growing genetically modified produce.

The United States still has more than 195 million acres dedicated to growing GMO crops, more than any other nation. The U.S. also grows the largest variety of GMO crops, including soybean, cotton, sugar beet, squash and potato. Brazil comes in second place for the most space dedicated to GMO crops, with about 109 million acres. Argentina, India and Canada, round out the top five countries with the most land space for GMO crops, with 60.5 million, 28.6 million and 27 million acres, respectively. The report also pointed out that more developing countries planted genetically modified crops in 2015 than industrialized countries.

Despite the drop in acreage for genetically modified goods in 2015, the ISAAA says GMO crops are still the “fastest adopted crop technology in recent times.” The global acreage used to grow these foods and products has increased 100-fold between 1996 and 2015.

This impressive adoption rate speaks for itself, in terms of its sustainability, resilience and the significant benefits it delivers to both small and large farmers as well as consumers,” the executive summary of the report stated.

Nationwide Efforts on GMO Labeling

ISAAA is a nonprofit international organization that touts the benefits of crop biotechnology, especially to farmers in developing countries that may have a lack of resources. The group sees genetically modified crops as a viable solution to feeding the world’s 800 million people suffering from hunger.

The ISAAA also sees GMO labeling as a “Herculean costly effort,” and applauded the states of Oregon and California that voted down legislation in 2014 requiring GMO labeling as well as California and Washington in 2015 that struck down similar bills.

The U.S. Senate also recently voted down a bill that would have created voluntary national standards for how goods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled. This came as good news, however, to GMO labeling supporters as the legislation was seen as a weak attempt to improve GMO labeling standards.

The food industry has also voiced opposition to labeling laws. Food, biotech and agricultural companies reportedly spent $101 million in 2015 lobbying against GMO labeling. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Land O’Lakes and General Mills also reportedly were among the food companies that spent the most on lobbying efforts, according to the Environmental Working Group.

General Mills, however, also recently announced it would start labeling its products that contain GMOs. The move was a response to Vermont’s law that requires companies to label GMO foods. The company also voiced support for national standards around GMO labeling. Mars is another food company that recently began to include GMO labeling on its candy and chocolate. A package of M&Ms, for instance, now says “partially produced with genetic engineering.”

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