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AGRICULTURE REPORT – January 29, 2002: Genetically Engineered Crops Increasing - 2002-01-28

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Increasing numbers of farmers are growing genetically engineered crops. A new report also says that the total land area where such crops are grown is increasing. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications reported the findings. The group supports the use of agricultural technology in developing countries.

Genetic engineering is the technology of changing the genes of living things. Genes are parts of cells that control growth and development. A changed gene directs a plant or other organism to do things it normally does not do. For example, a plant may be genetically engineered to resist insects.

There is plenty of conflicting information about genetically engineered crops. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications supports growing such crops in developing countries. So do the United Nations Development Program and other groups.

However, critics of genetic engineering say the technology is a threat to human health and the environment.

The new report estimates that farmers grew genetically engineered crops on more than fifty-two-million hectares of farmland last year. That represents an increase in land area of nineteen percent compared to the year before.

The report estimates that more than five-million farmers grew genetically engineered crops in thirteen countries last year. Four countries grew ninety-nine percent of all genetically engineered crops last year. The United States grew sixty-eight percent of the world total. Argentina grew twenty-two percent. Canada was next with six percent. China had three percent.

The report says soybeans were the most common genetically engineered crop. They were grown on thirty-three-million hectares of farmland. Other common genetically engineered crops were corn, cotton and canola.

In a separate development, scientists report that genetic material from genetically engineered plants can spread across great distances to native plants. The scientists say the genes were found in wild corn growing in the mountains of southern Mexico. The finding is most unusual because the Mexican government has banned the planting of genetically engineered corn since Nineteen-Ninety-Eight.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.