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AGRICULTURE REPORT— Biotech Corn and the EU - 2003-12-08

Broadcast: December 9, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Genetically engineered crops are part of American agriculture. But farmers also have to make decisions based on the markets for their crops. The market for corn, or maize, is a good example. Farmers want to increase their production. But they also want to trade in many different markets. In some cases these two desires conflict.

In nineteen-ninety-eight, the European Union suspended the approval of additional products made from biotechnology. Lately E-U officials have been considering new approvals. American corn farmers are watching closely. As Farm Journal recently reported, European policy has had a big influence on what they plant.

Farmers can buy several kinds of corn that are genetically changed to resist damage from insects or chemical treatments. Such kinds of crops are known as genetically modified organisms, or G-M-Os. Corn farmers who choose to plant these crops, but want to sell to the European Union, must meet E-U conditions.

Sometimes, a farmer plants genetically modified corn next to the fields of a farmer who does not. Researchers have found that wind can carry the pollen up to several kilometers. The corn can partly fertilize the other crop. This gives it some of the genetically modified material. If tests show this has happened, the farmer with the other crop may not be able to sell it to the Europeans.

In November of two-thousand-two, the directors of the Illinois Farm Bureau, a farmers organization, took a position. They urged farmers in the state not to plant any kind of genetically modified corn not approved by the European Union. The reason was simple. Much of the crop corn from Illinois is processed and exported to Europe. Farmers, though, are still free to plant any kind of corn they wish.

The Department of Agriculture says forty percent of the corn planted in the United States this year was genetically modified. That is up from thirty-four percent in two-thousand-two. But the planting rates differ from state to state.

They are lower in states that export a lot of processed corn to Europe. They are higher in states where corn is fed mainly to cattle and other animals. In South Dakota, for example, seventy-five percent of all corn planted is biotech. In Ohio, it is nine-percent.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.