European Union cultivation of genetically modified corn has fallen
to a three-year low, undermined by lower grain prices and red tape, even as the
bloc's reliance on imports of biotech soybeans are growing.
Of the 180m hectares sown worldwide with genetically
modified seed, only 128,103 hectares have been planted in the EU – all of a
Monsanto corn variety, MON 810, which represents the only biotech crop approved
by Brussels for cultivation.
Sowings at that level would represent a four-year low, and a
decline of 10% year on year, attributed to factors including weaker corn prices,
new European Commission rules encouraging diversification of crops and, in
Romania, a near wipe-out of GM crops fuelled by bureaucracy.
In Romania, the area of corn planted with the lone approved biotech
corn seed is likely to have fallen "drastically" to 2.5 hectares, from 771
hectares last year, according to a report from US Department of Agriculture
"This is mainly due to the fact that feed manufacturers and
livestock farmers prefer to avoid segregation in the warehouses and to reduce
the paperwork associated with the use of genetically engineered corn," the
Romanian plantings of the genetically engineered corn variety
peaked in 2008 at 7,146 hectares in 2008.
In the Czech Republic, "area has gradually decreased due to
difficulties in marketing the corn commercially", the USDA staff said.
Indeed, Spanish farmers remain the only sizeable growers of MON
810, and even here sowings are well down, by some 8-9% to about 120,000
hectares, in line with a drop in plantings of corn overall.
"Low prices, high irrigation costs and, to a lesser extent,
crop diversification established by greening," the EU rules promoting crop
diversity, "are forcing total corn area down", the report said.
Overall, "commercial cultivation of genetically engineered crops
is minimal in the EU, as a result of strong regulatory constraints," which are
being encouraged by a strong anti-GM lobby.
However, the EU's consumption of imported genetically modified
crops remains undiminished, thanks to the difficulty in sourcing conventional
"As the global cultivation of genetically engineered crops
expands, it is increasingly difficult for European importers to source non-biotech
products," the USDA briefing said.
"Their availability is declining and prices are on the rise."
Of the roughly 30m tonnes in soybeans and soymeal that the
EU imports every year, "the share of genetically engineered products… is
estimated at around 90%", despite efforts to source non-GM imports from the
likes of India and Russia.
Ukraine corn claims
For corn, the proportion of imports of genetically modified is
significantly less, likely below 25%, although the 200,000-800,000 tonnes of distillers'
dried grains (DDGs) the EU buys in mainly from the US comes some 80% from GM sources.
However, suspicions surround the non-biotech corn imported
from Ukraine, the primary origin for EU imports.
"No production of genetically engineered crops has been officially
allowed in Ukraine, but there have been reports that around one-third of the
corn grown in the country is genetically engineered," the report said.
European Union officials have attempted to get around the logjams
and contradictions in its GM policy by proposing to defer to individual member
states powers over regulating biotech crops.
However, the USDA report cast doubt on these measures being
enacted, after they were opposed by anti-GM and pro-GM groups alike, largely
over the potential for disruptions in trade in crops and food within the EU.
"Initial reaction from almost all stakeholders was negative,"
the report said.
"The political will to reject the proposal is apparent and
many insiders at the [European] Commission, the Council [of Ministers] and [European]
Parliament are of the view that it will be withdrawn in the fall of this year."