ISAAA Brief 34-2005: Highlights

Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2005
Clive James, Chair ISAAA Board of Directors*

The Brief, the tenth in an annual series, was released on 11 January 2006. ISAAA Brief 34 characterizes the global status in
2005 of commercialized GM crops, now often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in the Brief. The focus on developing countries is consistent with ISAAA’s mission to assist developing countries in assessing the potential of biotech crops. The principal aim, is to present a consolidated set of data that will facilitate a knowledge-based discussion of the current global trends in biotech crops.

  • 2005 marked the tenth anniversary of the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, now more often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in these Highlights.
  • In 2005, the global biotech crop area continued to soar as the billionth acre, equivalent to the 400 millionth hectare of a biotech crop, was planted by one of 8.5 million farmers, in one of 21 countries. This unprecedented high adoption rate reflects the trust and confidence of millions of farmers in crop biotechnology.
  • Over the last decade, farmers have consistently increased their plantings of biotech crops by double-digit growth rates every single year since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996. Remarkably, the global biotech crop area increased more than fifty-fold in the first decade of commercialization.
  • The global area of approved biotech crops in 2005 was 90 million hectares, equivalent to 222 million acres, up from 81 million hectares or 200 million acres in 2004. The increase was 9 million hectares or 22 million acres, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 11% in 2005.
  • A historic milestone was reached in 2005 when 21 countries grew biotech crops, up significantly from 17 countries in 2004. Notably, of the four new countries that grew biotech crops in 2005, compared with 2004, three were EU countries, Portugal, France, and the Czech Republic whilst the fourth was Iran. Portugal and France resumed the planting of Bt maize in 2005 after a gap of 5 and 4 years respectively, whilst the Czech Republic planted Bt maize for the first time in 2005, bringing the total number of EU countries now commercializing modest areas of Bt maize to five, viz: Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic. In 2005, the 21 countries growing biotech crops included 11 developing countries and 10 industrial countries; they were, in order of hectarage, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia,  Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Spain, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic.
  • In 2005 biotech rice (Bt) was grown commercially for the first time on approximately four thousand hectares in Iran by several hundred farmers. Iran and China are the most advanced countries in the commercialization of biotech rice, which is the most important food crop in the world, grown by 250 million farmers, and the principal food of the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people, mostly subsistence farmers. Thus, the commercialization of biotech rice has enormous implications for the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, not only for the rice growing and consuming countries in Asia, but for all biotech crops and their acceptance on a global basis. China has already field tested biotech rice in pre-production trials and is expected to approve biotech rice in the near-term.
  • In 2005, the US, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops globally, with 49.8 million hectares planted in the US (55% of global biotech area) of which approximately 20% were stacked products containing two or three genes, with the first triple gene product making its debut in maize in the US in 2005. The stacked products, currently deployed in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and South Africa and approved in
    the Philippines, are an important and growing future trend which is more appropriate to quantify as “trait hectares” rather than hectares of adopted biotech crops. Number of “trait hectares” in US in 2005 was 59.4 million hectares compared

*Information about ISAAA and the author

A not-for-profit public charity, cosponsored by the public and private sectors, working to alleviate poverty in developing countries, by facilitating the sharing of knowledge, and transfer of crop biotechnology applications, to increase crop productivity and income generation, particularly for resource-poor farmers, and to bring about a safer environment and more sustainable agricultural development. ISAAA is a small International Network with a global hub in the Philippines and centers in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA. Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, has lived and worked for the past 25 years in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to agricultural research and development issues with a particular focus on crop biotechnology and its contribution to global food security and the alleviation of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Further information about ISAAA can be obtained from its website Please contact the ISAAA Center in SouthEast Asia: e-mail for your copy of Brief 35. You may purchase a copy on-line at for US$50. This includes a hard copy of the full version of Brief 35 and a special Executive Summary which will be expressly delivered to you by courier.  The publication is available free of charge to eligible nationals of developing countries.

(1 hectare = 2.47 acres)