Many people wonder which foods are genetically modified, and in which countries this happens most frequently.
It is estimated that the global area of GM crops in 2003, was 67.7 million hectares grown in 18 countries throughout the world by more than 7 million farmers. Many of these farmers were from developing countries with small, resource-poor farms.
The increase in GM crops has grown exponentially. From 1996 to 2003, the global area producing GM crops increased 40-fold from 1.7 million hectares to 67.7 million hectares.
In 2003, there were six main countries growing 99% of global GM crops. Of these countries, the USA led the field with 42.8 million hectares, followed by Argentina (13.9 million), Canada (4.4 million), Brazil (3 million), China (2.8 million), and South Africa (0.4 million hectares).
The greatest increase in GM crop production with a 33% growth rate was experienced in China and South Africa.
30 000 field trials have been conducted with more than 50 GM crops in 45 countries. If it is kept in mind that more than 300 million hectares of GM crops have been grown commercially over the past 10 years with no documented adverse effects to humans or animals, then the general safety of GM crops has been demonstrated repeatedly.
In 2004, more than 85% of the soya beans planted in the US were genetically modified, while 45% of the American maize crop and 76% of the cotton crop were GM.
The so-called 'first generation' of GM crops include the following:
- Oilseed Rape
- Sugar Beet
It is interesting to note that the first GM crop grown in the US was a long shelf-life tomato, which was produced in 1994.
The following GM products are being developed and may be produced in South Africa in the near future: Other varieties of maize, potatoes, tomatoes, sugar cane, other varieties of soya, wheat, cassava, melons, millet, sorghum, cowpeas, and sweet potatoes, which are resistant to plant pests, fungi and viruses, or have salt or drought resistant properties.
As of 1 April 2004, maize varieties that are resistant to corn borer and other plant pests have been released for animal feed and human consumption. Most of these maize varieties have also been approved in the USA, Japan, and the EU.
South Africa is at present the only country in Africa to plant GM crops commercially, but a number of other African states are already conducting field trials with such crops. (Dr I. V. van Heerden)
(References: (AfricaBio (2004). Agricultural Biotechnology - Facts for Decision Makers, AfricaBio, Pretoria; Robinson C (2001). Genetic Modification Technology & Food, ILSI, Brussels)