Europe’s pest-hit farmers lift sowings of GM corn

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Losses to the corn borer moth have prompted Portugal and Spain, Europe’s top adherents of genetically modified seed, to raise to a record their sowings of biotech corn this year.

Nonetheless, the GM crops represent only a tiny fraction of corn production in the region, limited by, in many countries, "hostile public opinion", a report from US Department of Agriculture attaches across Europe said.

Portugal’s sowings of Monsanto’s so-called "810" variety of genetically modified corn – one of only two biotech crops cleared for production in the European Union – soared by 50% to 7,300 hectares.

In Spain, seedings rose by 4.7% to 80,200 hectares, accounting for more than 20% of total corn area.

The rises were triggered by "last year’s higher pressure of the corn borer", a moth whose larvae chew through grain stems, and against which the Monsanto seed is resistant.

‘Successful intimidation’

However, sowings in some eastern European countries, such as Romania and Slovakia, fell, leaving total EU acreage at 97,000 acres, up 5.7% year on year, and below the high above 110,000 acres reached in 2007 – a decline reflected in levels of research plots too.

"Anti-biotech activists have succeeded in intimidating research groups, both public and private entities, to drop field trial work," the attaches said in a report.

"Field destructions have continued with little or no response from police and judicial authorities. As a result, permit requests to conduct field trials have fallen dramatically since 2007."

Total EU corn sowings this year reached about 8.6m hectares.

‘Marginal acreage’

And plantings of the other GM crop permitted for growing in Europe, BASF’s Amflora potato for use in making industrial starch, are expected to have fallen "significantly" this year – to a "marginal" 20 hectares – following the discovery of an unapproved variety amongst last year’s crop.

Some Amadea potatoes, an unapproved biotech variety, were discovered in Amflora fields in Sweden, with BASF blaming the contamination blamed on "comingling" at its facilities.

"This resulted in stricter control measures for cultivating Amflora, thus making it practically impossible to cultivate larger areas," the report said.

For and against

The attaches also separated out EU states by their acceptance of GM technology, with the likes of Poland and Spain, countries reliant on grain imports for their livestock industries, among the "most open to the technology".

Austria, Greece, Hungary and Italy were viewed as the most hostile to biotech crops.

In Italy’s food sector, "the uncertainty around biotech national policy and the strong opposition from the public opinion, sharply affect supermarket chain marketing strategies", the briefing said.

"One supermarket chain and several brand names have consistently, and successfully, marketed themselves as GM-free."


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