Biotech groups see modified crop boost

by jeeg 7. March 2011 20:58

The surge in food prices could spur greater acceptance of genetically modified seeds in emerging markets, leading companies have told the Financial Times.

Global food prices rose to a record last month, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The International Monetary Fund warned last week that the world faced a prolonged period of high food prices.

GM seeds, designed to have higher yields, have encountered resistance in emerging economies such as India and China. The debate has intensified as changing diets have driven up demand for grain, principally to feed livestock.

“I see a change in attitudes in many countries,” said Daniel Rahier, from DuPont ’s Pioneer, the second biggest seed company of the US by revenues.

“In Indonesia, for example, it was in recent years very difficult to make progress on biotechnology. Now, the government is actively encouraging companies to file applications to get approvals for biotech seeds. It’s a similar story in Vietnam, Cambodia and Kenya.”

Stefan Marcinowski, head of plant science and crop protection at BASF of Germany, said: “Rising food prices are a wake-up call to use all available technologies we have in order to produce sufficient food, feed and energy for the world’s growing population.”

Hugh Grant, chief executive of Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company by revenues, said: “If you do the ‘temperature check’ in the world in the past 24 months, a lot of the agricultural areas have made significant policy shifts. The gap in yields between the US and other countries gets magnified in times of shortage.”

Developing countries accounted for 48 per cent of GM crop production last year and are expected to overtake industrialised countries by 2015, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications.

Land planted with GM crops rose 10 per cent last year to 148m hectares, a 10th of the global area of cropland, the ISAAA said.

Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, an anti-GM group, said: “There is a danger that the industry will use rising food prices to tempt more farmers, particularly in developing countries, into GM.

The farmers will then find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty as they face spiralling costs for expensive seeds and chemicals.”

Hal Weitzman, Financial Times


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