Jaeah Lee

Associate Interactive Producer

Jaeah reports, writes, codes, and charts at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, GuardianWiredChristian Science MonitorGlobal PostHuffington PostTalking Points Memo, and Grist. She is a 2013-14 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism. Her work has been named a finalist in the Data Journalism Awards. In a former life, she researched and wrote about China at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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CHARTS: World's GMO Crop Fields Could Cover the US 1.5 Times Over

| Tue Feb. 26, 2013 6:06 AM EST

Despite persisting concerns over genetically modified crops, a new industry report (PDF) shows that GMO farming is taking off around the world. In 2012, GMO crops grew on about 420 million acres of land in 28 countries worldwide, a record high according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an industry trade group.

If all the world's GMO crop fields in 2012 were sown together, it would blanket almost all of Alaska. As the chart from the report shows, globally GMO farming has been on an uninterrupted upward trend. What's especially noteworthy is the growth of GMO farming area in developing nations (see red line), which surpassed that in industrial nations for the first time in 2012. The ISAAA's report doesn't project into the future, but we may see this upward trend continue as "a considerable quantity and variety" of GMO products may be commercialized in developing countries within the next five years, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forum (PDF).

Clive James/ISAAA

The ISAAA says the area of land devoted to genetically modified crops has ballooned by 100 times since farmers first started growing the crop commercially in 1996. Over the past 17 years, millions of farmers in 28 countries have planted and replanted GMO crop seeds on a cumulative 3.7 billion acres of land—an area 50 percent larger than the total land mass of the United States, the group adds.

"This makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history," ISAAA chair Clive James states in the report. "The reason—it delivers benefits."

What kinds of benefits? According to the ISAAA, GMO farming has reduced use of pesticides, saved on fossil fuels, decreased carbon dioxide emissions, and "made a significant contribution to the income of < 15 million small resource-poor farmers" in developing countries. These small-scale farmers now make up over 90 percent of all farmers growing GMO crops, the group states.

But just looking at the United States—consistently the biggest GMO crop producer in the world by a long shot—there is much reason to doubt on some of ISAAA's claimed benefits. (More after the chart.)

 

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