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[RIO DE JANEIRO] The area in developing countries that is planted with genetically modified (GM) crops increased by nearly a quarter between 2004 and 2005.

Brazil saw the largest increase and now accounts for ten per cent of global GM crop production.

The figures are in the latest annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), released on 11 January.

The report shows the area of Brazil under GM crops nearly doubled last year, from five million hectares to 9.4 million.

Although GM crops have been grown in the country for some years, the dramatic increase follows the enactment, in March 2005, of a law allowing such crops to be planted and sold (see Brazil says 'yes' to GM crops and stem cell research).

After Brazil, GM farming increased most in the United States, Argentina and India, which had the greatest proportional increase — from 500,000 hectares planted with GM crops in 2004, to 1.3 million hectares last year.

The report says that in 2005, developing countries accounted for more than a third of the global area planted with GM crops. And between 2004 and 2005, growth in GM cropland was substantially higher in these countries than in industrialised ones (23 per cent, compared to just five per cent).

"Notably, 90 per cent of the beneficiaries were resource-poor farmers from developing countries", said ISAAA president Clive James in a conference call with Brazilian journalists.

"In 2005, approximately 7.7 million poor subsistence farmers benefited from GM crops, 6.4 million in China, a million in India and thousands in South Africa," he added.

The day before the ISAAA released its figures, the environmental group Friends of the Earth published a 100-page report called Who benefits from GM crops?

This questions the safety of GM crops and the role they would play in solving world hunger, and concludes that the spread of GM crops in a limited number of countries is because of aggressive strategies of the biotech industry.

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