India has overtaken Canada to emerge as the fourth largest country to grow biotech or genetically modified (GM) crops in 2013 as farmers here planted Bt cotton in about 11 million hectares.

In the previous year, farmers in India had planted Bt cotton — the only approved GM crop for commercial cultivation — in about 10.8 m ha.

The global acreages under GM crops continued to expand through 2013, albeit at a sluggish pace of around 3 per cent. Acreage under GM crops increased to 175.2 million hectares in 2013, about five million hectares more than last year, according to the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) that tracks the GM acreages.

The US continued to be the largest country under GM crops, accounting for 40 per cent of the total planted area globally.

The GM acreage in Brazil expanded at a faster pace last year compared to other countries, followed by Argentina.

While Egypt has stopped planting GM crops, reducing the total number of countries to 27, countries such as Canada saw a decline in area.

Of the 27 countries that planted GM crops last year, 19 were developing nations and eight were industrialised countries.

Developing nations planted more GM crops than their developed counterparts the second consecutive year with farmers in Latin America, Asia and Africa accounting for 54 per cent of the 175 million hectares.

Bangladesh approved the commercial planting of Bt brinjal, while the situation in Egypt put planting on-hold, pending a Government review, ISAAA said. Panama and Indonesia were two other nations that approved cultivation of biotech crops.

About 18 million farmers planted the biotech crops in 2013 compared with 17.3 million in 2012. Besides economic gains, farmers benefited enormously from at least a 50 per cent reduction in the number of insecticide applications.

In the European Union, five nations — Spain, Portugal, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia — planted 15 per cent more area than last year at 1.48 lakh hectares under Bt maize.