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Catalan farmers keener on GM corn than US peers

Acceptance of genetically modified food in Spain reached such an extent that growers in Catalonia planted a higher proportion of their corn crop with biotech seed than peers in the US.

Spanish growers raised sowings of genetically modified corn by 19.5% this year to a record 116,000 hectares, analysis of Spanish farm ministry data shows.

The sowings, with Monsanto's MON 810 variety, the only biotech seed commercially grown in the European Union, accounted for some 30% of the Spanish corn crop.

And it was particularly popular in Catalonia, where it accounted for 90% of seedings a higher rate than the 88% of US corn planted with genetically modified varieties, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Indeed, Catalan growers planted a greater proportion of their crop with genetically modified seed than farmers in US Corn Belt states including Illinois and Indiana, key markets for biotechnology giants such as DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta.

Insect resistance

The turn to GM seed reflects its modification for insect resistance.

While MON 810 corn is a relatively old product, superseded in many jurisdictions outside Europe less sceptical over GM crops, it offers protection against larvae of the corn borer moth which can inflict heavy damage on crops planted with orthodox seed varieties.

Indeed, the area sown with MON 810 in Portugal expanded by 20% to 9,278 hectares, equivalent to 6.6% of the country's overall corn plantings, thanks to fears over expansion into an area where the larvae have taken a heavy toll in the past.

 "According to local sources, [the increase] reflects in part a precautionary approach by farmers planting corn for the first time in zones covered by the new Alqueva irrigation network, in the Alentejo region, where the corn stalk borer is endemic," the USDA's Madrid bureau said in a report.

Controversial technology

However, the enthusiasm for biotech crops in the Iberian Peninsula contrasts with the antagonism to GM seed elsewhere in the EU, where overall sowings with genetically engineered corn total less than 10,000 hectares.

In France - once a leading proponent of GM corn, with sowings of more than 22,000 hectares in 2007 - farmers have planted none since, thanks to government restrictions imposed four years ago, and enforced since, even in the face of an unfavourable judgement at the European Court of Justice.

The curbs have hampered imports of genetically modified crops too, limiting the origins from which the EU can import grains and oilseeds to meet demand from livestock farmers, although a change last year improved access by allowing trace levels of unapproved biotech feed crops.

The European Commission may be on the verge of approving authorising MIR162, a Syngenta genetically modified corn variety, for use in feed and food in the EU, as well as for import and processing, according to official sources.

A committee on September 27 failed to come up with conclusive vote on the variety, whose approval is seen as improving in particular the access of South American exports to Europe.

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