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The vast majority of those growing genetically modified (GM) crops are small-scale resource-poor farmers, according to a new study that appears to counterbalance claims that GM technology only benefits large land-owners and food producers.

The report — published by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) — states that over 75 per cent of the world's 5 million GM farmers are located in developing countries and growing GM cotton. Of the 7 million hectares of land cultivated with GM cotton, over half uses the Bt variety (with genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis), which is designed to control the major insect pests of the crop.

"Countries that have introduced Bt cotton have derived significant and multiple benefits," says Clive James, chairman of ISAA, who compiled the study. "These include increased yield, decreased production costs, a reduction of at least 50 per cent in insecticide applications… and significant economic and social benefits."

Critics have questioned whether Bt cotton can sustain these benefits, given evidence that insect resistance appears to be spreading. Anti-GM campaigners are also concerned that Bt technology will enable multinational biotech companies to dominate the seed market in both developed and developing countries.

But ISAAA — which actively promotes the use of biotechnology in the developing world — argues that the Bt variety has the potential to deliver significant benefits on at least half of the world's cotton. The new report identifies 30 developing countries that could be targeted to grow the crop.

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