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USDA Predicts 25% Drop in GE Corn Harvest
Debate Heightens Over Genetically Modified Foods

Apr. 27 (Chicago Tribune/KRTBN)--The fear of genetically modified foods is
reverberating through the Midwest.

On the front line of the attack on genetically altered crops is an
insect-resistant corn called Bt, which until recently had been a favorite
of Midwestern farmers.

But Bt is falling out of favor among many farmers, both because of
the genetic furor and because farmers believe a decrease in infestation by
a major crop pest makes its expensive, anti-insect properties less necessary.

"A lot of biotech corn is being stacked up in the warehouses," said
Darrel Good, grain marketing specialist at the University of Illinois. "The
seed companies won't be growing as much this summer."

Fear about the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has
resulted in restrictions on imports by European countries and outcry in the
U.S. In the latest sign of the trend, anti-gene engineering groups asked
the U.S. Agriculture Department on Wednesday to improve testing procedures
for genetically altered foods, contending that the products' properties
could be transferred to other plants.

The Japanese government, meanwhile, this week accepted a proposal to
screen foods that contain genetically modified ingredients before putting
them on the market. Last year, Japan bought 76 percent of its soybeans from
the United States and 96 percent of its corn.

Closer to home, a USDA survey of farmers' planting intentions found
that growers would plant only 19 percent of corn acreage with insecticide
corn, down from 25 percent last year, in the major producing states of
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Bt corn contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil
bacterium. The gene helps the corn plant to produce its own insecticide to
fight a major pest, the European corn borer, eliminating the need to spray
the crop with chemicals.

"Certainly the biotech concerns are a factor in cutting back on
insect resistant usage," said Stewart Reeve, a spokesman for the National
Corn Growers Association in St. Louis. "Farmers in the eastern Corn Belt
also were deciding whether it was worth spending $8 more an acre for the
seed when the corn borer hadn't been much of a problem in the last two or
three years."

Spokesmen for the two largest seed producers, Pioneer HiBred
International, now a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Monsanto Co., recently
acquired by Pharmacia Corp., said corn sales were running flat to down,
while soybean sales were flat to up.

The most important biotech soybean is herbicide-tolerant,
specifically able to withstand Roundup, Monsanto Co.'s major all-purpose
weed killer.

According to the USDA survey, farmers in the top eight soybean
growing states--Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio--plan to reduce planting of the
herbicide-tolerant soybeans to 52 percent of planted acreage from 57
percent in 1999.

"It is clear that there has been no penalties in price for growers
sell modified crops," said Good. "But there has been some premium prices
paid for conventional grain--stuff grown on contract for particular
customers."

Most elevators will buy any corn or beans, he said: "Don't ask, don't
tell."

"This season will be an important test of farmer reaction to the
biotech issues in Europe," said Mark Wiltamuth, an agribusiness analyst
with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. "They are looking at grain market behavior
and cost savings benefits."

Good noted that, ultimately, farmers would grow the crops that would
give them the best economic advantage.

Tribune wires contributed to this report.

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