environmentally benign chemical that degradesrapidly, only days after being applied. Farmerswho use “Roundup Ready” crops don’t have toplow for weed control, which means there is farless soil erosion.
Biotech is the most rapidly adopted newfarming technology in history. The InternationalInstitute for the Acquisition of Agri-BiotechApplications estimates that the global area plant-ed in biotech crops in 2001 was 130 million acres(52.6 million hectares), up 19 percent from 2000.The area planted in biotech crop varieties is up30-fold since 1996.
The first generation of biotech crops wasapproved by the Environmental ProtectionAgency, the Food and Drug Administration,and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in1995. The USDA estimates that in 2002 trans-genic varieties will account for 32 percent of corn acreage, 74 percent of soybean acreage,and 71 percent of cotton acreage in the UnitedStates.
With biotech soybeans, U.S. farmerssave an estimated $216 million annually inweed control costs and make 19 million fewerherbicide applications per year.
In addition,using no-till farming made possible by herbi-cide-resistant biotech soybeans, farmers pre-vent 247 million tons of topsoil from erodingaway.
It is estimated that herbicide-resistantbiotech soybeans, canola, cotton, and corn vari-eties and insect-resistant biotech cottonreduced global pesticide use by 22.3 millionkilograms of formulated product in 2000.
U.S.cotton farmers avoided spraying 2.7 millionpounds of insecticides and made 15 millionfewer pesticide applications per year by switch-ing to biotech varieties. Their net revenuesincreased by $99 million.
Researchers esti-mate that
corn, by preventinginsect damage, increased yields by 66 millionbushels in 1999.
One scientific panel after another has con-cluded that biotech foods are safe to eat, and sohas the FDA. Since 1995, tens of millions of Americans have been eating biotech crops.Today it is estimated that 60 percent of thefoods on American grocery shelves are pro-duced using ingredients from transgeniccrops.
In April 2000 a National ResearchCouncil panel issued a report that emphasizedthat the panel could not find “any evidencesuggesting that foods on the market today areunsafe to eat as a result of genetic modifica-tion.”
Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture
,a 2000 report prepared under the auspices of seven scientific academies in the United Statesand other countries, strongly endorsed cropbiotechnology, especially for poor farmers inthe developing world. “To date,” the reportconcluded, “over 30 million hectares of trans-genic crops have been grown and no humanhealth problems associated specifically with theingestion of transgenic crops or their productshave been identified.”
Both reports concurredthat genetic engineering poses no more risks tohuman health or to the natural environmentthan does conventional plant breeding.As biologist Martina McGloughlin of theUniversity of California at Davis remarked at aCongressional Hunger Center seminar in June2000, the biotech foods “on our plates have beenput through more thorough testing than con-ventional food ever has been subjected to.”
According to a report issued in April 2000 bythe House Subcommittee on Basic Research:“No product of conventional plant breeding . . .could meet the data requirements imposed onbiotechnology products by U.S. regulatory agen-cies. . . . Yet, these foods are widely and properlyregarded as safe and beneficial by plant develop-ers, regulators, and consumers.”
The reportconcluded that biotech crops are “at least as safe[as] and probably safer” than conventionallybred crops.
Even a 2001 review of 81 separateEuropean scientific studies of genetically modi-fied organisms funded by the European Unionfound no evidence that genetically modifiedfoods posed any new risks to human health orthe environment.
Feeding the World’s Hungry
Today, pest resistance and herbicide resis-tance, along with some disease resistance traits,are the chief improvements incorporated intobiotech crops. And most of those enhance-ments have been made in leading commercial
With biotech soy-beans, U.S. farmerssave an estimated$216 million annu-ally in weed controlcosts and make 19million fewer herbi-cide applicationsper year.