THE ANNUAL war of words surrounding the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) report on the amount of hectares sown to genetically modified crops has erupted once again.
ISAAA has reported that global plantings of biotech have risen three per cent to 185.1 million hectares, primarily on the back of significant increases in hectares sown in Brazil and the US.
It comes the year after a slight drop in biotech area planted in 2015, which ISAAA attributed to low grain prices.
“The report confirms the importance of Australian farmers being able to choose innovative, safe and approved technologies to remain globally competitive, meet the requirements of increased food demand and farm sustainably in a changing and challenging climate,” said Matthew Cossey, chief executive of of CropLife Australia.
However Bob Phelps, director of anti-GM lobby group Gene Ethics, said drilling down into the figures showed a stagnation in GM crop production.
"Two countries that grew GM in 2015 planted none in 2016, reducing GM countries to 26. And around 90pc of all GM crops are grown in eight North and South American countries so it is not a global industry," he said.
Mr Phelps also noted Romania, once one of Europe’s major producers of GM crops, was on the verge of implementing a farmer-driven GM food crop ban.
"It's time to accept that GM crops have stalled and to move on," Mr Phelps said.
Tony May, managing director of Monsanto Australia, had a different view and said GM was a winner for farmers and the environment.
“GM technology has been used in the Australian cotton industry for more than 20 years now,” he said.
“We are seeing the industry and the environment reap significant benefits from the use of GM, including reduced pesticide and fuel use and an associated reduction in carbon emissions.”
“Cotton continues to be an attractive choice for a summer crop with more than 200 new or lapsed cotton growers planting cotton this last season.”
In its report, ISAAA noted that the majority of the adoption rate was over 90pc, saying high adoption rates reflect farmer satisfaction with the products.
Mr Cossey said Australia’s regulatory framework needed to support new agricultural technology.
“Modern farming using biotechnology innovation will play an increasingly crucial role in food, feed and fibre production in Australia.
“This report is further evidence that the remaining state moratoria on genetically modified (GM) crops are antiquated and serve no purpose.”
Mr Cossey said the ISAAA report quantified the environmental benefits of GM food crops.
He said since 1996 GM crops have saved 620 million kilograms of pesticide active ingredient from being applied.
Domestically, he said the proof was in the uptake rates.
“Australian farmers continue to embrace crop biotechnology with an increase in GM crop plantings of 29pc, mostly from higher plantings of GM cotton.
Mr May said farmer uptake of Monsanto’s new Bollgard 3 system showed the interest was there for new GM innovation.
“This was the launch year for our new generation Bollgard 3 technology and we have seen significant uptake with 92pc of the area growing Bollgard 3 for the first time.
“We know that due to Bollgard 3, 81pc of Central Queensland growers were able to plant in a window they could not have previously, showing that GM is allowing growers greater flexibility”
But Mr Phelps said scientific advances had stalled, with the vast majority of GM crops produced still featuring traits developed a long time ago.
"Most GM crops - soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugarbeet - still contain only the two GM crop traits first released in 1996 - Roundup weed killer tolerance and Bt insect toxins.”
"More complex traits - drought and salt tolerance; nitrogen fixation in grains; more nutritious foods; higher yields; etc. - were long promised but never delivered.”