Figures for the area under MON810, the only transgenic GMO crop authorized for cultivation in the European Union, have just been published. And it’s a downward spiral: a third less than last year. In Spain and Portugal the transgenic area has fallen below 100,000 hectares for both countries combined, Inf’OGM reported.
In 2016, MON810 corn, genetically modified to produce an insecticide against the borer, was grown on 136,338 hectares (ha) in four European countries… That was the last year that Slovakia and the Czech Republic were sowing it. Since then, in Spain and Portugal, the areas have literally collapsed.
These transgenic crops also represent a very small percentage of the overall maize area in these two countries. According to Eurostat, Spain cultivated, in 2022, 314,700 hectares of grain maize and 108,170 hectares of « green » maize (mainly for silage), i.e. a total of 422,870 hectares… and Portugal cultivated 78,190 hectares and 71,060 hectares, i.e. a total of 149,250 hectares. MON810 maize represents 16% of the Spanish maize crop and 1.5% of the Portuguese crop. In 2014, MON810 maize accounted for 32% of the Spanish maize crop.
One GMO’s demise may conceal another one’s success
These figures may partly explain the current debate on new GMOs in the European Union. The European Commission, the agri-seed industry, and the major agricultural unions, such as the (French) FNSEA and its European counterpart Copa-Cogeca, are mobilizing to deregulate gene-edited plants produced with other, so-called ‘new’, techniques of genetic modification (directed mutagenesis, cisgenesis). The stakes are high for them. Under the current regulations that provide a certain transparency, it is difficult for transgenic GMOs to obtain an authorization for cultivation (many are authorized for import). To date, only MON810 corn has been authorized for cultivation. This transparency has also allowed breeders, farmers and consumers, as far as possible, to refuse to cultivate and buy transgenic crops. The figures we mention in this article confirm the lack of enthusiasm for MON810 corn varieties.
But in the absence of evaluation, authorization, labeling… GMOs could spread in the fields of the EU and end up on tables across the bloc more easily, without encountering any opposition.
Currently, some GMOs resulting from random mutagenesis techniques applied to isolated cells cultivated in vitro are already being sown, with the greatest opacity, in European fields. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has declared that these new types of GMOs must be regulated like transgenic GMOs. But the European and national authorities have not taken any measures to regulate them. On the contrary, they seek by all means to prevent the strict application of the 2018 decision of the CJEU.
What about transgenic GMOs internationally?
At the international level, it is more difficult to get a sense of the actual situation in the fields. Curiously, the Isaaa, a pro-GMO organization that has been scrupulously recording the transgenic surfaces in the world since 1996, stopped this work in 2020. Its last report therefore mentions 2019 the surfaces. This report noted a slight decrease, between 2018 and 2019, of 1.3 million hectares (-0.7%), from 191.7 million hectares to 190.4 million hectares.
Inf’OGM strives, within the limits of transparency of figures, to follow this evolution but the authorities and the agro-seed industries are reluctant to answer requests for information. The data collected does not show an global increase in the area cultivated with transgenic GMOs. However, the most notable increase is in Africa. Recently, several countries have authorized transgenic GMOs and are starting to cultivate them. The information that we have managed to obtain, often thanks to the notes of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), can be seen here (in French only).