American farmers will plant more biotech crops this year, with nearly three-fourths of all soybeans and one-third of corn grown from gene-spliced seeds, the U.S. Agriculture Department said last week.
The new USDA estimates showed growers continuing to embrace the new bio-crops which are designed to trim chemical costs and boost yields. The estimates are based on data submitted by U.S. farmers as they purchase seed and prepare for spring planting. The department will fine-tune its forecast for bio-crops in June when actual plantings have been completed.
Critics have urged the government to impose stricter controls and tests to ensure long-term safety for humans and animals. In February, a National Academies of Science report urged the USDA to tighten its reviews of potential environmental effects of new biotech crops before approving them for commercial use.
Although there is an increase in plantings of gene-altered soybeans, corn and cotton in 2002, some green groups say consumer concerns about the safety of such bio-foods have slowed the introduction of new types of crops such as potatoes and rice.
"After more than five years of major marketing of biotech varieties, just two crops still account for almost all of the genetically altered food sold in U.S. supermarkets," said Charles Margulis of Greenpeace.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a pro-biotech group, said the new USDA data showed farmers are convinced of the value of gene-enhanced crops.
"Clearly the benefits of these improved seed varieties help farmers to strengthen crops by making them more resistant to disease, increase crop yields and reduce the use of pesticides," the industry group said in a statement.
BIO-CORN TO BE 32 PCT OF CROP
The USDA said the biggest 2002 jump in engineered crops will be seen in cornfields, where farmers plan to boost biotech varieties to 32 percent of the 79 million acres of corn to be grown in the United States this year. Last year, farmers planted 26 percent of their cornfields with gene-enhanced varieties, the USDA said.
Most will be so-called Bt corn, which is engineered to produce a natural insecticide that repels pests that like to feed on young plants.
All but two of the 11 major corn-growing states – Missouri and Ohio -- will increase bio-corn plantings, the USDA said. Biotech soybeans will rise to 74 percent of the entire U.S. soybean crop grown on nearly 73 million acres this year, up from 68 percent last year, according to the USDA data.
Virtually all of the bio-soybeans are Roundup Ready varieties, which enable farmers to spray their soybean fields with a single chemical to kill a variety of weeds without affecting the soy plant.
All 14 major states which grow soybeans will have increases in biotech plantings in 2002, the USDA said. The new U.S. soybean estimate comes amid concerns from China, a major world buyer, about biotech soybeans. China had previously announced new rules on imports of biotech foods, which it clarified last week and said U.S. exporters did not have to obtain as many safety permits as originally thought. Gene-altered cotton planted in 2002 showed a smaller increase, rising to 71 percent of the entire 14.5 million acres of U.S. upland cotton crop this year, the USDA said. Last year, bio-cotton accounted for 69 percent of total U.S. plantings.
Farmers in Louisiana and North Carolina, however, said they would slightly trim their bio-cotton plantings, according to the USDA report.
U.S. Biotech Plantings (expressed as percent of each crop) 2002 est. 2001 2000 1999* 1998* 1997* Corn** 32 26 25 37 25 n/a Soybeans 74 68 54 47 37 13 Upland cotton 71 69 61 48 45 n/a
* 1997-99 figures from Biotech Industry Organization; 2000-2002 figures from USDA.
** Biotech corn acreage fluctuates with European corn borer infestations.
Written by: Julie Vorman, Planet Ark
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