In 2015, GM crops were grown in 28 countries and on 179.7 million hectares – that is over 10% of the world’s arable land and equivalent to seven times the land area of the UK. The USA, Brazil and Argentina are the leading producers. There are currently no GM crops being grown commercially in the UK although scientists are carrying out controlled trials.
The GM crops grown commercially included: potato (USA), squash/pumpkin (USA) alfalfa (USA), aubergine (Bangladesh), sugar beet (USA, Canada), papaya (USA and China), oilseed rape (4 countries), maize (corn) (17 countries), soya beans (11 countries) and cotton (15 countries).
GM crops were first introduced in the USA in 1994 with the Flavr Savr tomato, which had been genetically modified to slow its ripening process, delaying softening and rotting.
The farming of GM crops has massively increased since the mid 1990s. In 1996, just 1.7 million hectares (MHa) were planted with GM crops globally but by 2015, 179.7 million hectares of GM crops were grown, accounting for over 10% of the world’s arable land.
The top GM crop grown in 2015 was soybean (92.1 MHa), followed by maize (53.6 Mha), then cotton (24 Mha) and oilseed rape (canola) (8.5 Mha) (Figure 4). This represents 83% of the world production of soybean, and 75% of production of cotton. GM crops made up 29% of the world’s maize produce, and almost a quarter of the world’s oilseed rape that year.
Among the countries growing GM crops, the USA (70.9 Mha), Brazil (44.2 Mha), Argentina (24.5 Mha) India (11.6 Mha) and Canada (11 Mha) are the largest users. Within Europe, five EU countries grow GM maize – Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia. Spain is the leading country (0.1 Mha). In Africa, GM crops are grown in South Africa (2.3 MHa), Burkino Faso (0.4 Mha) and Sudan (0.1Mha), with the main crop being GM cotton.
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Page last updated: May 2016
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