Regulations limit expansion of gene-modified crops

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    By PAUL ICAMINA

    Strict regulations and politics have limited the expansion of farms planted to genetically modified crops in Asia and the Pacific, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said in a new report.

    Some 191.7 million hectares (has.) planted to biotech crops have expanded worldwide, 1.9 million has. in 2017 alone.

    Nine countries in Asia and the Pacific grow 19.13 million has. of biotech crops. The Philippines grows corn genetically modified to resist the corn borer pest and tolerant to a weedicide.

    The expansion, however, was made almost even by the decrease in areas planted to genetically modified or biotech crops, according to ISAAA’s new report, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/Genetically Modified Crops 2018.

    This was true in the Philippines where farms planted to gene modified corn decreased by 12,000 has. The decrease was 200,000 has. in Pakistan, 100,000 has. in Australia and 100,000 has. in Myanmar.

    “One of the most important problems in Asia and the Pacific was the delay in approving new biotech crops and traits in China, Vietnam and the Philippines,” the report said.

    “Regulatory guidelines in these countries have been in place and used to regulate biotech products efficiently for more than a decade, but the changing political climate and the loud voice of critics have become a strong barrier for trade and commercialization of biotech crops,” it added.

    New biotech crops and traits are in the pipeline for commercial release, including the staple crops Golden Rice, late blight resistant potato, various biotech traits for wheat and eggplant; biotech soybeans and corn for livestock and poultry feed; and varieties of cotton.

    Still, a total of 70 countries have issued regulatory approvals to genetically modified or biotech crops for consumption either as human food, animal feed as well as for commercial cultivation.

    Since 1992, there have been 4,349 approvals granted by regulatory authorities of these 70 countries.

    Of these approvals, 2,063 were food, either for direct use or for processing; 1,461 were feed use, for direct use or processing; and 825 were for environmental release or cultivation.

    The United States had the most number of regulatory approvals followed by Mexico, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, European Union, Colombia and Brazil.

    Corn, the only biotech crop grown in the Philippines, still had the most number of regulatory approvals (in 35 countries) followed by cotton (27 countries), potatoes (13 countries), soybeans (31 countries) and canola (15 countries).

    The Philippines, growing 630,000 has. of gene modified corn, ranks No. 13 in the top 20 countries growing biotech crops.

    The top 12 are the US (gene modified corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, squash, potatoes and apples); Brazil (soybeans, corn, cotton and sugarcane); Argentina (soybeans, corn and cotton); Canada (canola, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, alfalfa and apples); India (cotton); Paraguay (soybeans, corn and cotton); China (cotton and papaya); Pakistan (cotton); South Africa (corn, soybeans and cotton); Uruguay (soybeans and corn); Bolivia (soybeans); and Australia (cotton and canola).

    Biotech countries in the Asia and Pacific region were led by India with the largest area of biotech crops at 11.6 million has. of cotton, followed by China (2.9 million has. cotton and papaya), Pakistan (2.8 million has. cotton), Australia (793,000 has. cotton and canola), Philippines (630,000 has. corn), Myanmar (310,000 has. cotton), Vietnam (49,000 has. corn), Bangladesh (2,975 has. eggplant) and a returning biotech crop country, Indonesia (1,342.59 has. drought tolerant sugarcane).

    Indonesia planted the new biotech drought tolerant sugarcane that can yield as much as 30 percent higher than the parental varieties during drought conditions. This was developed to close the gap between domestic supply and demand for sugar, as Indonesia is the world’s largest importer of sugar.

    The drought tolerant trait would allow farmers to plant even at periods with low rainfall which seems to become worse and frequent due to climate change.

    Asia and the Pacific planted 19.13 million has. (the same as 2017) of biotech crops, 10 percent of the global biotech crop area of 191.7 million has.

    Increases in Asia and the Pacific biotech areas were obtained in India (200,000 has., at 2 percent), China (100,000 has., 4 percent), Vietnam (4,000 has., 9 percent) and Bangladesh (575 has., 24 percent).

    The favorable global cotton price has positively impacted biotech cotton adoption in India and China, while public acceptance of clean and hazard free production of biotech eggplant motivated more farmers in Bangladesh.

    In Vietnam, the low price of imported corn and overall production trend of switching from corn to other higher value crops has minimally increased biotech corn area.