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7-Misc: U.S.D.A. announces steps to address concerns about biotech crops

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TITLE:  U.S.D.A. announces steps to address concerns about
        biotech crops
SOURCE: The New York Times
DATE:   July 14, 1999

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U.S.D.A. announces steps to address concerns about biotech crops

WASHINGTON - Follow-up coverage of the speech yesterday by US Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who was described as stopping short of proposing that genetically altered food be labeled as such and said distrust of the crops, which is especially strong in Europe, is "scientifically unfounded." But "with all that biotechnology has to offer, it is nothing if it's not accepted" by consumers, he told a National Press Club audience. In addition to establishing regional research centers to study the impact of biotech products, Glickman was cited as saying he would ask an independent panel of scientists to review the Agriculture Department's process for approving new seed varieties. U.S.D.A. also will conduct an internal review to make sure its regulatory and product-promotion functions are kept separate, he said. U.S.D.A. has so far approved 50 varieties of crops that have been engineered to be resistant to insects, herbicides or plant viruses.

Larry Bohlen, director of health and environmental programs for Friends of the Earth, was quoted as saying, "He may as well be on Monsanto's payroll. He's telling the biotech industry's line and ignoring the real environmental alarm bells that we're hearing surrounding genetic engineered products." Rebecca Goldburg, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, was cited as praising Glickman for acknowledging the importance of consumer acceptance, adding, "He certainly admitted that these concerns are legitimate." Glickman was cited as saying that while there is no proof butterflies are actually being poisoned on the farm, the research underscored "the need to develop a comprehensive approach to evaluating long-term and secondary effects of biotech products."

Coverage also focused on follow-ups of the report by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a Washington-based research policy group, which, the stories said, found farmers are having mixed success planting crops that are genetically modified to kill insect pests, because while the altered seeds produce better yields, farmers can lose money on the crops when commodity prices and infestations are low. Corn growers made an extra $72 million by using genetically modified seeds in 1997, but planted three times as much acreage to the crop last year and lost $26 million when grain prices plummeted and infestation levels dropped, according to the report.

A separate study released on Tuesday by Benbrook Consulting Services of Idaho found that GM soybeans may produce lower yields than conventional crops. The study was cited as saying the yields for Roundup Ready soybeans were an average of three bushels an acre smaller than for conventional hybrid soybeans, and that farmers using the GM soybeans used at least twice as much herbicide compared to growers with traditional hybrids.

Roundup Ready soybeans are engineered to tolerate applications of a popular herbicide, making it easier for farmers to spray their fields and manage a variety of weeds. The results were based on more than 8,200 soybean trials at university test fields last year. Charles Benbrook, the author of the study was quoted as saying, "These genetically engineered seeds are increasing farmer cost and reliance on herbicides at a time when many farmers are struggling to stay in business."

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