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More than 90 percent of 578 U.S. farmers surveyed said corn, soybeans and
other crops consumed by humans should be genetically modified to produce
drugs for ailments such as AIDS, according to a Reuters poll released on
January 2005. By Christopher Doering .
Some U.S. food makers and environmental groups have demanded a ban on new
"bio-pharm" crops until stricter federal controls are put in place to
prevent windblown pollen from contaminating crops for human or animal food.
The biotech industry has turned to a variety of plants, including corn and
soybeans, as a cheaper way to manufacture ingredients to treat ailments such
as Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
In a Reuters straw poll, 91 percent said they favored using traditional food
crops to produce pharmaceuticals.
"If you can grow them to eat, why can't you grow them to use for
pharmaceutical products," said Doug Krieger, an Indiana corn and soybean
The 578 farmers responded voluntarily to the poll from about 4,000 in
attendance at the annual meeting of the nation's largest farm group. The
straw poll did not attempt to weight responses by state, size of farm or
The survey also found 51 percent of growers questioned are interested in
planting pharmaceutical crops, which are expected to command premium prices.
Another 31 percent said they would need more information about costs,
consumer acceptance, and health and safety issues before deciding whether to
BIO-CORN PLANTINGS TO RISE
The United States is the world's largest grower of gene-altered crops,
growing billions of bushels each year of corn, cotton and soybeans designed
to repel pests or to withstand a broadly effective herbicide known as
The Reuters poll found respondents planned to boost their Roundup Ready corn
plantings in 2005 by about 34.7 percent. Total acres of another gene-spliced
crop, BT corn, would increase by 15.9 percent, according to the farmers
In 2004, the USDA estimated that 45 percent of U.S. corn was gene-spliced,
up from 40 percent a year earlier.
The European Union has begun to allow imports of some bio-crops after
lifting a five-year ban put in place in 1998.
Still, European consumers remain largely opposed to the crops with concerns
about long-term impacts on human health and the environment.
"It is safe. Everything the critics are saying is based on speculation, but
the facts show the crops are safe," said Bob Stallman, Farm Bureau
Stallman added that the U.S. agencies overseeing bio-crops - the Food and
Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and USDA - have
research verifying the safety of biotech plantings and have imposed
safeguards such as buffer zones around fields of gene-altered plants.
Roundup Ready is a popular herbicide produced by Monsanto Co., the main
developer of bio-crops engineered to withstand the effects of the weed
killer. Fewer weeds mean higher yields and less price dockage when farmers
sell their grain.
A Monsanto spokesman said two weeds - rye grass and mare's tail - are
resistant to Roundup. In December, a single case of ragweed also was found
to be resistant in central Missouri.
The Reuters poll found that 31 percent of farmers have noticed weed
resistance in their Roundup Ready crops. Many farmers regularly rotate crops
and change the herbicides they apply to reduce the chance of resistance
"I'm always concerned about it... because the potential is there to develop
resistance with any prolonged use of herbicide," said Steve Nelson, a
Nebraska corn and soybean grower who has not seen resistance to Roundup on
Environmental groups worry that increasing amounts of chemicals will have to
be applied to crops to keep up with weeds that become harder to control.
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