I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
In the last ten years, biotech crops have gone from the laboratory to farms in more than twenty nations.
About one-third of all agricultural land in America is now planted with genetically engineered crops -- about fifty million hectares. Soybeans are the biggest crop. Others include corn and cotton. Millions of hectares are also planted in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China.
Opinions about biotechnology in agriculture are still divided, however.
Over the years the European Union has restricted many biotech crops. It says it wants to guarantee they are safe for humans, animals and the environment. It also requires products of biotechnology to be clearly identified.
The World Trade Organization says the Europeans have been making it too difficult for biotech crops to be approved. Last week, the W.T.O. found that some European actions violated international trade rules. A final report must still be written.
The United States, Canada and Argentina first brought action against the European policies in thousand three. Fifteen other countries later joined the negotiations.
American companies such as Dow Chemical, DuPont and Monsanto hope to enter the European seed market. They have invested heavily in the development of biotech farming.
Some genetically changed crops are grown in the European Union. For example, farmers in Spain, Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic grow a biotech version of maize.
A recent report said that of twenty-one countries worldwide growing biotech crops, eleven are developing nations. The report is from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. That group supports the use of such crops to feed the poor in developing countries.
It says the area of approved biotech crops worldwide reached ninety million hectares last year. It estimates that eight and one-half million farmers now plant them. Most are in China and India.
Asia’s most important crop, rice, is also being bio-engineered. Iran officially released a biotech rice in two thousand four. The report says farmers there are expected to make full use of it this year. China has also been a leader in biotech rice research and is expected to approve a version soon.
This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.