The growing of genetically modified (GM) corn in Portugal increased by 59 percent last year, being planted in 7,724 hectares of fields, compared to the 4,900 hectares planted in 2010, a study by the Ministry of Agriculture has revealed.
The Alentejo region has seen the greatest increase in GM crops, which rose by 90 percent compared to 2010. In the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region, the increase in GM crop plantations was more than 51 percent. Last year also saw the first plantation of 2.5 hectares GM corn crops on the island of São Miguel in the Azores.
The northern and central regions of Portugal however saw a decrease in the amount of GM corn being planted, from 1,013 hectares in 2010 to 967 hectares last year. The Ministry of Agriculture’s study does not however mention any GM plantations in the Algarve region.
According to the farmers questioned during the study, 71 percent said they had chosen GM corn in order to control insect infestations, while others said they wanted to try a new crop variety and benefit from the increased harvest that GM crops produce. Insect infestations cause a high percentage of corn harvests to be lost, up to 50 percent in some cases.
Francisco Palma, President of the Lower Alentejo Farmer’s Association, believes these advantages to be the reason that GM corn crops are chosen by farmers, as well as the savings they represent in production. He considers that everyday reality will mean GM corn will be more and more favoured by farmers, especially as "consumers want cheaper food all the time."
Luís Vasconcellos e Souza, President of the National Corn and Millet Producers Association has a different opinion: "I don’t know of anyone who will tell me: I want GM corn."
He says that many producers and consumers believe "there could be consequences to eating a genetically modified plant." This fear means that "nobody wants" genetically modified corn in human food and producers "don’t request that variety." GM corn is kept for animal feed.
Despite the Ministry of Agriculture’s study showing the area used for GM crops to be on the rise, it is still a very small percentage compared to the total 138,000 hectares of corn planted across the country last year in total.
On a global scale, according to data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, the area used to plant genetically modified crops last year was 160 million hectares, carried out by 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries. This figure represents an increase of 12 million hectares compared to 2010.
According to data from EuropaBio, the total area covered by GM crops in the European Union last year was 114,600 hectares, between six member countries; Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Poland. This represents a 10 percent increase in the plantation area compared to 2010.