More GE Crops Planted in USA--But Farmers Are Starting to Worry

BIOTECH CROPS GAIN FAVOR ON THE FARM CONTROVERSY
ABROAD HASN'T SLOWED PLANTING
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 05/23/99)


In a flat, fertile field near the fast-flowing Missouri River, Warren
Stemme
is planting genetically engineered soybeans for the third year in a row.

"I won't say I'm the first in line to try something new, but I'm eager to
try something that will help our operation," said Stemme, of Chesterfield,
whose beans tolerate Monsanto Co.'s Roundup herbicide. The Roundup Ready
beans
will cover 250 acres, or half his soybean acreage.

"You can save money on the cost of crop protection, and it gives us more
flexibility," said Stemme, who, like many U.S. farmers, is planting
bioengineered crops like never before.

Thirty-three percent of U.S. corn acres, 44 percent of the soybean crop
and
55 percent of cotton fields this year will be filled with plants that have
been
altered to fight pests and/or tolerate weedkillers. Monsanto's technology
accounts for most of the new crops.

This sharp growth -- there were no commercial plantings in 1995 -- shows
that U.S. farmers believe biotechnology provides an advantage.

"Today's products offer farmers reduced costs and easier management, and
that has fueled the rapid adoption," said Richard Pottorf, chief economist
for
Doane Agricultural Services Co. of St. Louis.

But behind the growth lurk serious issues that experts say could
discourage
fence-sitters from trying the new technology, and send some farmers back to
standard seeds and more chemical treatments.

The reason: Protests against biotechnology in Europe have grown well
beyond
the voices of critics and have spilled into the marketplace.

Some foreign food processors and grocery chains say they won't carry food
containing any genetically engineered material. In Britain, for example,
food
giants Nestle and Unilever say they will avoid foods with any bioengineered
ingredients.

Some countries are passing laws requiring the labeling of foods
containing
bioengineered elements. It can take as long as two years for the 15-nation
European Union to approve a genetically altered U.S. crop.

"You need the approval process in Europe to be streamlined," Pottorf
said.
"As long as consumers are resistant, the European politicians will drag
their
feet."

Trade relations are starting to fray. Last month, Dan Glickman, the U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture, said that if the EU pursues an "arbitrary and
capricious" policy, the United States will complain to the World Trade
Organization.

Europe's protests are causing a ripple effect here. As U.S. farmers
produce
more crops but can't find more markets, economists warn that surpluses will
grow and prices will fall. Commodity prices for major crops now hover at
frighteningly low levels.

"The export market is a very important part in our life," said Stemme,
the
Chesterfield farmer, who also has increased his planting of bioengineered
corn
that repels a major pest. "We have to make sure crops will be accepted
globally
if we want to market globally."

From what he has seen so far, Stemme doubts that he will cut back on
bioengineered crops. "You have to remain flexible in agriculture and go with
the flow," said Stemme, more concerned with today's weather than next fall's
political climate. "You have to plant what the market wants."

The European backlash has become so serious that farm trade groups, which
vigorously support biotech crops, are warning members about the economic and
political facts of life.

"This will be a test year for biotechnology," said Scott McFarland,
director
of industry relations for the National Corn Growers Association. "If we
see a
two-tier pricing system in the U.S. for genetically modified organisms and
non-
genetically-modified organisms, you will see a departure from that
technology."

Giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., for example, says it will pay extra
for a
certain type of soybean created through traditional breeding. At its
processing
plants that produce corn for export, **ADM** won't take bioengineered corn
that hasn't been endorsed by the European Union.

But **ADM** will accept gene-altered corn at plants that serve domestic
markets. Another big processor, A.E. Staley Manufacturing Co., won't accept
any corn that hasn't received approval in Europe.

The National Corn Growers Association has launched a "Know Before You
Grow"
campaign, periodically filling its Internet site with information about
which
grain processors will accept biotech corn and which types of altered corn
have
been approved by the EU.

"We have seen growers return their seed because they don't want to take a
risk," McFarland said. "The companies have been very cooperative in letting
them return the seed."

His group expects U.S. farmers to grow 78 million acres of corn this
year,
including 25 million acres of genetically engineered crops. About 6 million
acres contain biotech corn that hasn't been approved by the EU.

U.S. corn exports to the EU dropped by 96 percent from the 1996-97
season to
1997-98. The EU usually represents 5 percent of American corn exports; now
it
accounts for less than 1 percent.

Monsanto has established toll-free numbers for farmers, alerting them to
U.S. grain elevators that will accept genetically engineered corn for
domestic
use.

Pointing out that 80 percent of U.S. corn is used domestically and 61
percent is devoted to animal feed, Monsanto has identified 1,500 elevators
that
will take biotech corn that hasn't been approved by the EU countries.

Meanwhile, the American Soybean Association isn't taking any chances with
what it sees as a deteriorating export climate for genetically engineered
beans.

For the first time, the ASA is telling farmers to consider segregating
bioengineered beans from traditional beans, which is an expensive and time-
consuming process.

"We believe there may be niche markets available in the fall because of
labeling laws in Europe and some of the Asian countries," said Bob
Callanan, an
ASA spokesman. "The size of the niche market is a big unknown right now."

He said the ASA isn't discouraging farmers from buying Roundup Ready
soybeans, the only bioengineered beans on the market.

"The biggest potential hazard for soybeans is politics," added Kim Nill,
the
ASA's deputy director of international marketing.

"We are much very pro-biotechnology but we are also very much in favor of
respecting laws of other countries," said Nill.

One company, AgrEvo, won't market its biotech soybeans because they don't
have EU approval. Its beans are genetically altered to tolerate Liberty
herbicide.

The EU, which has approved Roundup Ready beans, is the biggest foreign
buyer
of American soybeans. The EU accounted for 32 percent, or $2.3 billion, of
U.S. soybean exports in 1997.

(Copyright 1999)

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