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Update on 1998 Transgenic Crop Acreages

Crop and Soil Environmental News, February 1999

Charles Hagedorn
Professor and Biotechnology Specialist

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), the global acreage planted to commercial transgenic crops, excluding China, increased 250% between 1997 and 1998 to almost 70 million acres (Table 1, ISAAA). Soybean and corn accounted for 82% of the 1998 acreage (57 million acres combined), with cotton and canola planted to some 6 million acres each.

Currently, the crop biotech industry is narrowly dependent on two engineered traits and two crops (Tables 2, ISAAA). In both 1997 and 1998, over 99 percent of the transgenic acreage was devoted to just two traits--herbicide and insect resistance. In 1998, herbicide-resistant crops were planted on nearly 50 million acres, about 71 percent of the total, while Bt insect resistant crops were planted on 19 million acres or 28 percent. Less than one percent of the acreage was devoted to "quality traits," some of which might be important to consumers. Herbicide resistant soybeans alone accounted for 52% of the transgenic acres on a global basis, with Bt corn a distant second at 24% (Table 3, ISAAA).

In both 1997 and 1998, the bulk of the transgenic acres, about 85 percent, was planted in industrialized nations. The United States, where acreage more than doubled last year, remained the leader, accounting for nearly three-fourths of the global total (Tables 4, ISAAA0). Among developing countries, only Argentina planted large amounts of transgenic crops (15% of the total). Most of the acres planted to transgenics in Canada (3.3 million) were canola. Although the ISAAA excluded China for lack of reliable data, it is estimated that 250,000 acres, principally in Bt cotton, were grown in China in 1998. In the U.S. 32% of the total soybean acreage was planted to transgenics, while 45% of the U.S. cotton acreage (13 million acres) was planted to transgenics (Table 5, BIO and the Idaho Statesman). Within five years, virtually all of the U.S. cotton acreage is expected to be in transgenics.

C. James, "Global review of commercialized transgenic crops: 1998." ISAAA Briefs No. 8, ISAAA, Ithaca, N.Y.

Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), Washington, D.C., November 1998.

"Genetically engineered potato," Idaho Statesman, 11/24/98.

Union of Concerned Scientists. 1998. "A surge in commercial transgenic crops." The Gene Exchange. Winter 1998.

Table 1: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by crop (millions of acres)

Soybean     12.84636.352
Total27.5     100     69.5     100     

Table 2: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by trait (millions of acres)

Herbicide resistance17.36349.571
Insect resistance (Bt)10.03619.328
Insect/herbicide resist.     <0.3<10.81
Quality traits<0.3<1<0.3<1
Total27.5     100     69.5     100     

Table 3: Globally dominant transgenic crops in 1998 (excluding China)

RankCrop% Global Transgenic Acres
1Herbicide-resistant soybean52
2Insect-resistant (Bt) corn24
3Herbicide-resistant canola9
3Insect (Bt)/herbicide-resistant cotton9
4Herbicide-resistant corn6

Table 4: Global acreage of transgenic crops (excluding China) in 1997 and 1998: by country (millions of acres)

South Africa00<0.3<1
Total27.5     100     69.5     100     

Table 5: Percentage of total US acreage planted in transgenic crops in 1998: by crop (millions of acres)

TransgenicTotal% Transgenic
Soybean 27 72 32
Corn 19.6 80 25
Cotton 5.8 13 45
Potato 0.05 1.4 3.5

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