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Genetically Engineered Cotton Suffering from Production Problems

Genetically Engineered Cotton
Suffering from Production Problems

USA: January 11, 2002

ATLANTA, Georgia - The chief executive of top U.S. cotton merchant
Dunavant Enterprises said Thursday American cotton quality remains a
problem, saying the seed produced by biotech companies is to blame.

"No, quality has not improved," William Dunavant Jr. told reporters at
the annual Beltwide Cotton conference here. "I still believe the seed is
a major, major problem and I think a lot of people agree with that."
Earlier Thursday, the chief executive of major mill Parkdale Inc. said
U.S. cotton quality has improved although problems linger in some areas.

"I think our industry is very pleased at the quality (of U.S. cotton),"
Anderson Warlick, President and Chief Executive of Parkdale Inc. in
Gastonia, North Carolina, told Reuters in an interview at the annual
Beltwide conference here. "(But) I don't think you eliminate some of
these problems."

Disputes over seed quality marred the last Beltwide meetings in
California last year when farmers, milling firms and major merchants on
the one hand and seed companies on the other disagreed over the quality
of the genetically modified seeds produced by biotech firms.

Despite the quality issues plaguing U.S. cotton, Dunavant said this has
not hindered the pace of American cotton sales because cotton fiber
which contained some defects were selling at a discount.

He projected U.S. cotton sales in 2001/02 to hit 9.8 million (480-lb)
bales and to rise to 10 million bales in 2002/ 03.

"Everything that had a big discount is selling. It's the good stuff that
is not selling," he said, adding that for the past 2-3 years, American
cotton producers "have made some really faulty cotton."

The seed companies have consistently rejected allegations that GMO seeds
were to blame for quality losses and blamed poor growing weather in 2000
and over the preceding two growing seasons for problems on cotton
quality.

Quality cost losses were placed last year at around $30 million. Figures
for the current season were not immediately available.

In the past year, some 11 million acres of total cotton plantings of
over 16 million acres were sown to Roundup ready seed, part of a variety
of cotton seeds that have been infused with resistance to herbicides or
insecticides.

Most of the issues tied to quality are connected to micronaire and
length problems. Micronaire is a measure of the width and firmness of
the fiber. The textile industry prefers a micronaire reading ranging
from 3.5 to 4.9.

Warlick said, "In certain areas, some of the crops are coming off with
high mikes (micornaire readings)."

Average micronaire readings over the last 10 years have been steadily
rising and were said to be ranging around 4.4-4.5 from 4.1 a decade ago.
The reading may be too high for mills with open-end spinning facilities,
industry sources said.

Another problem is the length of the fiber. The industry prefers an
average reading of 34 (1-1/16 inch). For ring spinning, which represents
about one-third of the spinning in the country, the preference is for a
higher reading.

Warlick said that while length varies from region to region, there are
still some areas where length is an issue. The Parkdale executive
declined to identify those areas where micronaire readings or staple
lengths of cotton presented problems for the textile industry.

Last year, textile mill officials said they were getting cotton lengths
with a reading of 33 (1-1/32 inch).

"We have a serious length problem with Memphis and Eastern growths,"
Stephen Felker, the chief executive of Avondale Mills in Monroe,
Georgia, said, adding cotton length in the key producing state of Texas
was "also deteriorating."

National Cotton Council (NCC) Chairman James Echols, who is also the
chief executive of Hohenberg Bros. Co., said in a speech to kick off the
conference on Wednesday that the NCC's Quality Task Force is continuing
to emphasize yield improvement.

Delta and Pine Land Co., a major seed breeder for the cotton industry,
said in a statement made available Thursday that it has released several
new seed varieties which are apparently aimed at meeting some of the
quality concerns raised by cotton producers and mills.

"Our new improved second generation stacked product...is widely adapted
and has shown increased average yield and fiber length," said Tom Speed,
regional agronomist for Delta and Pine Land.

Story by Rene Pastor


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