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Union of Concerned Scientists
Fall/Winter 1998

Around the World

A Surge in Commercial Transgenic Crops
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the global acreage planted in commercial transgenic crops, excluding China, increased 250% between 1997 and 1998 to almost 70 million acres (Table 1).

Currently, the crop biotech industry is narrowly dependent on two engineered traits and two crops (Tables 2 and 3). In both 1997 and 1998, over 99 percent of the transgenic acreage was devoted to just two traits--herbicide and insect resistance. In 1998, herbicide-resistant crops were planted on nearly 50 million acres, about 71 percent of the total while Bt insect resistant crops were planted on 19 million acres or 28 percent. Less than one percent of the acreage was devoted to "quality traits," some of which might be important to consumers. Last season, over 80 percent of the acres went to only two crops: soybeans and corn.

In both 1997 and 1998, the bulk of the transgenic acres, about 85 percent, was planted in industrialized nations. The United States, where acreage more than doubled last year, remained the leader, accounting for nearly three-fourths of the global total (Tables 4 and 5). Among developing countries, only Argentina planted large amounts of transgenic crops.

Though it excluded China for want of reliable data, ISAAA estimates that 250,000 acres, principally in Bt cotton, were grown in China in 1998.

Sources: C. James, "Global review of commercialized transgenic crops: 1998," ISAAA Briefs No. 8, ISAAA, Ithaca, N.Y.; Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Washington, D.C., November 1998; "Genetically engineered potato," Idaho Statesman, 11/24/98, via Internet. [ISAAA report: $10 + 15% s&h from ISAAA at 607-255-1724 ph., 607-255-1215 fax, isaaa@cornell.edu.]


Table 1: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by crop (millions of acres)

Crop 1997
Acres
%1998
Acres
%
Soybean 12.8 46 36.3 52
Corn 8.0 30 20.8 30
Cotton 3.5 13 6.3 9
Canola 3.0 11 6.0 9
Potato <0.3 <1 <0.3 <1
Total 27.5 100 69.5 100
Source: ISAAA, 1998


Table 2: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by trait (millions of acres)

Trait 1997
Acres
% 1998
Acres
%
Herbicide resistance 17.3 63 49.5 71
Insect resistance (Bt) 10.0 36 19.3 28
Insect/herbicide res. <0.3 <1 0.8 1
Quality traits <0.3 <1 <0.3 <1
Total 27.5 100 69.5 100
Source: ISAAA, 1998.


Table 3: Globally dominant transgenic crops in 1998 (excluding China)

Rank Crop % Global
transgenic acres
1 Herbicide-resistant soybean 52
2 Insect-resistant (Bt) corn 24
3 Herbicide-resistant canola 9
3 Insect (Bt)/herbicide-resistant cotton 9
4 Herbicide-resistant corn 6
Source: ISAAA, 1998.


Table 4: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by country (millions of acres)

Country 1997
Acres
% 1998
Acres
%
USA 20.3 74 51.3 74
Argentina 3.5 13 10.8 15
Canada 3.3 12 7.0 10
Australia 0.3 1 0.3 1
Mexico <0.3 <1 0.3 1
Spain 0 0 <0.3 <1
France 0 0 <0.3 <1
South Africa 0 0 <0.3 <1
Total 27.5 100 69.5 100
Source: ISAAA, 1998.


Table 5: Percentage of total US acreage planted in transgenic crops in 1998: by crop (millions of acres)

Crop Acres
Transgenic/total
%
Soybean 27/72 32
Corn 19.6/80 25
Cotton 5.8/13 45
Potato 0.05/1.4 3.5
Sources: BIO and Idaho Statesman.

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