Where are GMO crops and animals approved and banned?

[H]ypocrisy rules: Europe imports over 30 million tons per year of corn and soy-based animal feeds, the vast majority of which are genetically modified, for its livestock industry.
If the Americans like to eat GMO products, let them eat it then. We don't need to do that; we have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.

At a Glance

Genetically modified crops are currently grown in 29 nations around the world, while dozens ban farmers from planting GMO crops. Countries that ban GMOs received considerable attention in 2015, when a majority of European Union nations decided to block the cultivation of new GMO crops within their borders, and Russia issued a ban on both cultivation and imports.

But most of the nations that prohibit GMO cultivation still allow GMO products — particularly animal feed — to be imported. European countries, for example, import 30 million tons of GMO grain annually. Russia has recently allowed importation of GMO soy. Many other nations — China, Japan, and Canada, for example — restrict GMO products, but only until they pass regulatory standards.

Research on genetically modified and gene-edited animals continues in many countries around the world, though only two products have been approved for human consumption, AquaBounty’s fast-growing salmon in Canada and the US and the gene-edited GalSafe pig in the US, which can be safely consumed by people allergic to the alpha-gal sugar found in conventional pork.

Science and Politics

The most recent data from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) shows that more than 18 million farmers in 29 countries, including 19 developing nations, planted over 190 million hectares (469.5 million acres) of GMO crops in 2019. This represents a 5.7 percent increase over 2015, and the highest area of biotech crop adoption since cultivation began in 1996.

Countries growing GMO crops are: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Honduras, India (Bt cotton only), Malawi, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Slovakia, Spain, Sudan, eSwatini (Swaziland), United States, Uruguay, Vietnam, and Zambia.

Recently, a number of developing countries have allowed cultivation of GMOs, often on a case-by-case basis. These countries include Kenya (case by case), Zimbabwe (corn), India (Bt cotton), Burkina-Faso (Bt cotton), eSwatini (Bt cotton), Zambia (all crops) and Cuba (corn and soy).

Five biotech crops planted in all these countries occupy 99% of the global biotech crop area, ISAAA reported in 2020. The five major biotech crops planted at more than 1 million hectares are soybeans (95.9 million hectares), followed by maize (58.9 million hectares), cotton (24.9 million hectares), canola (10.1 million hectares), and alfalfa (1.2 million hectares).

screenshot top biotech crops pdf
Click here to view full-size image.

On the flipside, there are dozens of nations that prohibit the cultivation of GMO crops, though estimates vary as regulations change. According to a 2013 analysis, 26 countries had total or partial bans on GMOs, “including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia,” and that “significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about sixty other countries.” In 2015, anti-GMO group Sustainable Pulse said that 38 countries ban the cultivation of GMO crops. The group’s list includes Algeria and Madagascar in Africa; Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, and Saudi Arabia in Asia; Belize, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela in South and Central America; and 28 countries in Europe.

Russia is the most populous country to ban both the cultivation and importation of GMO crops. In 2014, Russia banned the importation of biotech crops, and officially banned their cultivation, with an exception allowed for scientific research. In 2020, Russia reversed the importation ban on soy, and has funded research on the development of gene-edited foods within its borders.

EU regulations give individual countries the right to block farmers from growing GMO crops. Using this opt-out process, 19 members, including Germany and France, voted in late 2015 to prohibit the cultivation of eight new biotech crops awaiting approval from regulators. They also chose to prohibit cultivation of the one GMO crop — an insect-resistant corn variety (MON810) — already approved for cultivation in the EU and grown in Spain and Portugal. The EU’s recent “Farm to Fork” (F2F) initiative, signed by the member states’ ministers of agriculture in October 2020, calls for 25 percent of Europe’s farmland to be converted to organic agricultural. The EU is awaiting council and committee decisions on the use of genetically engineered crops (possibly including transgenics and gene editing).

Related article:  GMO FAQ: Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Although many EU countries do not grow GMOs, Europe is one of the world’s biggest consumers of them. Every EU nation imports them. More than 30 million tons of biotech corn and soy for livestock feed are imported each year, making Europe the largest regional consumer of GMOs in the world.

Countries with GMO prohibitions:

  • Algeria: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.
  • Australia: cultivation prohibited in Tasmania and Kangaroo island. Imports allowed.
  • Austria: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Azerbaijan: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Belize: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Bhutan: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Bulgaria: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Croatia: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Cyprus: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Denmark: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Ecuador: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • France: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Germany: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Greece: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Hungary: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • India: Bt cotton allowed, all others prohibited.
  • Italy: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Kenya: Cultivation prohibited. Imports banned.
  • Kyrgyzstan: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.
  • Latvia: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Lithuania: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Luxembourg: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Madagascar: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.
  • Malta: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Moldova: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Netherlands: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales (United Kingdom): Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Norway: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Peru: Cultivation banned (though increasingly ignored). Imports of soy and corn allowed.
  • Poland: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Russia: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.
  • Saudi Arabia: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Serbia: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Slovenia: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
  • Switzerland: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Turkey: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Ukraine: Cultivation banned (though law is widely ignored). Imports allowed.
  • Venezuela: Cultivation banned. Imports banned.

Regions with GMO prohibitions:

  • Humboldt (+Arcata City), California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Marin, California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Mendocino (+City of Point Arena), California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Sonoma County, California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Trinity, California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Santa Cruz, California, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Boulder County (+Boulder City), Colorado, US: planned ban GMO corn and sugar beets on county-owned land by 2023 & 2025 respectively
  • Jackson County, Oregon, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Montville County, Maine, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed (enforcement officially expired in 2018).
  • San Juan County, Washington, US: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • South Australia, Australia: Cultivation banned on Kangaroo Island only. Imports allowed.
  • Tasmania, Australia: Cultivation banned. Imports allowed.
  • Wallonian Region, Belgium: Cultivation prohibited. Imports allowed.
where gmo crops are grown glp infographic page
Click here to view full-size image.

The Takeaway

When nations ban the importation or cultivation of GMO products, such moves are not generally driven by science, as the independent science organizations in every major country have come out with public statements that GM products are safe. Other factors are trade protectionism, pressure from activists, public uneasiness or a desire to protect a country’s image, such as the French belief that genetic crops could “contaminate” the country’s reputation as a world food capital. The situation in the European Union confirms how divisive and political this issue has become. The EU has witnessed numerous skirmishes between scientists and politically based opposition. Scottish leaders, for example, admitted that their decision to opt out of GMO cultivation was based on marketing concerns, rather than science. In 2014, when the European Commission’s science adviser, Anne Glover, spoke in favor of the science of genetic engineering, she found herself out of a job following intense lobbying by opposition groups. Bans almost always run counter to the advice of scientists and agricultural experts in the nations where they are implemented.

GLP Articles

Additional Resources

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

* indicates required
Email Lists
glp menu logo outlined

Get news on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.