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2-Plants: Study from US biotech industry shows benefits from Bt crops

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TITLE:  First-ever study shows biotechnology delivering benefits
        to agriculture
SOURCE: Biotechnology Industry Organization
DATE:   July 13, 1999

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Biotechnology is delivering on promises to make farming more
efficient. Those are the findings of the first-ever analysis
aimed at assessing whether crops genetically modified to resist
pests actually yield benefits. The 98-page study, to be released
today, was conducted by the National Center for Food and
Agricultural Policy in Washington, D.C. It examined the impact of
planting corn, cotton and potatoes modified to ward off
destructive pests. The modification involves taking genes from a
soil bacterium, called Bacillus thuringiensis, and making them
part of the plants themselves.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is an association
representing more than 850 companies, state centers and academic
institutions involved in the research and development of
healthcare, industrial and agricultural biotechnology products.
BIO provided funding to support the NCFAP study.

The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) is a
non-profit, non-advocacy research organization based in
Washington, D.C.

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Dear GENET-news readers,
the study can be downloaded at as word

"The purpose of this paper is to describe and quantify the insect
control benefits provided on the Bt corn, Bt cotton and Bt potato
acreage planted in 1997 and 1998.  The pests that Bt crops
control are described as are the alternative control methods. 
Estimates are made  of yield changes and changes in insecticide
use practices that have resulted thus far from the planting of
the Bt crops."

The summary reads as follows:

"5.	Summary and Conclusions

The insect pests controlled by genetically-engineered crops have
been long term problems for U.S. growers.  The European corn
borer, Colorado potato beetle, tobacco budworm, cotton bollworm
and pink bollworm have been the subjects of enormous, publicly
funded research programs focused on their control.  Attempts to
control these insect pests with biological methods have not
proven successful despite many decades of research.  Many
potential chemical and non-chemical methods of controlling these
pests still are being researched.  

Biotechnology methods have produced corn, potato and cotton
varieties that contain genes for a protein that effectively
controls these highly injurious pests when they attempt to feed
on the plants.  The genetically-engineered plants are highly
effective in reducing populations of these insects.

An accurate assessment of the contribution of a new pest control
technology would require a decade or more of actual field usage. 
Environmental and economic conditions that face U.S. farmers vary
widely from year to year, and only in a long term assessment do
the underlying trends become obvious.  This report's assessment
of the benefits of the introduction of insect control products
produced using modern biotechnology methods relies on analysis of
the first two to three years of field usage.  

A key feature of the biotechnology crops is that the control
technique is carried in the seed that is planted at the beginning
of the season.  A farmer must incur the costs of the technology
before knowing the levels of pest infestation during the growing
year or the price that will be received for the crop at the end
of the year.  Thus, it is to be expected that wide variations in
actual net returns will occur.  

This highly variable situation is perfectly illustrated in the
case of Bt corn.  In 1997, corn growers gained $72 million in
income from the planting of Bt corn.  However, in 1998, with
three times more acreage planted to Bt corn, growers lost $26
million by planting Bt corn because pest infestation levels and
the price of corn dropped to well below average.  An analysis of
the historical pest infestation data suggests that three non
paying years for Bt corn can be expected every decade.  These
average values mask the fact that not all farmers incur the same
result during the same year.  There were corn farmers who faced
high pest pressure during 1998 and derived positive net benefits
from planting Bt corn.

Although the increased corn yield in 1998 was not enough to pay
for the Bt corn technology premium, a significant increase in
corn production did occur as a result of the technology.  An
additional 4.2 bushels per acre were produced on 14.4 million
acres, resulting in an additional 60 million bushels of corn
being produced in 1998 as a result of the planting of Bt corn. 
If Bt corn had not been planted in 1998, those 60 million bushels
(4 billion pounds) would have been lost because of the feeding of
the European corn borer.  If Bt corn had not been planted in
1998, the nation¹s farmers would have grown the equivalent of
450,000 acres of corn that would have been destroyed by the corn

Because farmers have been reluctant to scout for the corn borer,
and because the timing of chemical sprays is difficult,
insecticides traditionally have not been used to control the
European corn borer.  Thus, although 18% of the nation¹s corn
acreage was planted to Bt corn in 1998, a reduction in
insecticide use occurred on only 2.5% of the corn acreage.  On
the 80 million acres of corn that were grown in 1998, the 2.5 %
reduction in acres treated means that 2 million fewer acre
treatments were made with insecticides on corn acreage in 1998
because of the planting of Bt corn.  

A somewhat different situation occurred in cotton in 1998.  Bt
cotton was planted on 17% of the nation¹s cotton acreage in 1998,
primarily in the Southeast, Mid-South and Arizona.  This acreage
would have received approximately 5 million more acre treatments
with insecticides had Bt cotton not been planted.  Cotton growers
saved the cost of the insecticides and produced an extra 85
million pounds of cotton because the Bt cotton plants were more
effective than the insecticides in controlling the target insect
pests.  In the aggregate, cotton farmers gained $92 million in
net income as a result of planting Bt cotton in 1998.

For potatoes, the impacts of the introduction of cultivars that
resist the Colorado potato beetle have been minor.  Potato
growers have effective insecticides to control the Colorado
potato beetle and other insect pests, including aphids.  As a
result, growers have had little incentive to plant the
genetically-engineered crops as they need to apply the
insecticide anyway to control the other pests.  However, the
recent introduction of genetically-altered potato cultivars that
control the Colorado potato beetle and resist virus infections
caused by aphids has the potential to significantly reduce
insecticide use in potatoes."

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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