Contamination of traded food and feed with genetically modified crops is on the rise as production increases around the world, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization reported.
Survey results from 75 countries noted 198 incidents of "low levels" of GM crops mixed with non-GM crops between 2002 and 2012, the Rome-based United Nations agency wrote in an online report today. The number of cases jumped between 2009 and 2012, with 138 of the findings reported in that period.
Global planting of genetically modified crops rose 3 percent to a record 175.2 million hectares (432.9 million acres) last year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Modified crops face political opposition in the European Union.
"The incidents have led to trade disruptions between countries with shipments of grain, cereal and other crops being blocked by importing countries and destroyed or returned to the country of origin," the FAO wrote.
Food is the third-most traded group of products behind fuels and chemicals, with exports valued at $1.375 trillion in 2012, according the World Trade Organization. Global exports of all agricultural products were $1.657 billion, WTO data show.
The highest number of incidents involved linseed or flax seed, rice, corn and papaya, the agency said. Shipments of low- level GM crops came mainly from the U.S., Canada and China, according to the report.
China, the world’s second-biggest corn user, in October started rejecting some U.S. shipments of the grain containing MIR 162, a gene-modified corn variety developed by Syngenta, which hasn’t been approved in the country.
EU countries including France, the U.K. and Germany have rejected dozens of shipments of noodles from China in the past four years that contained unauthorized genetically-modified rice. The bloc’s linseed imports from Canada plunged after findings in 2009 and 2010 of an unauthorized biotech variety called CDC Triffid.
"The number of incidents are small relative to the millions of tons of food and feed traded every day," Renata Clarke, a senior food safety officer at FAO who was in charge of the survey, was cited as saying.
The FAO conducted a survey of 193 member countries between February and June last year. Out of the 75 respondents, 55 have a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized GM crops, while 17 don’t have any food-safety, feed-safety or environmental regulations on biotech crops, the FAO said.
Of the countries that responded, 37 said they have little or no capacity to detect GM crops, the agency said.
"We were surprised to see incidents from every region," Clarke said. "It seems the more testing and monitoring they do, the more incidents they find."