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GENETICALLY-ENGINEERED CROPS TAKE OVER MARKET, RAISE QUESTIONS
Monday, April 19th, 2010 -- 10:25 am
Posted by Riley Hebert-News Director


When we think of technology we usually think of things like computers, cell phones or iPods—but some of the most interesting technological advances have come in the field.

While the upside is hard overstate, there’s growing concern in some corners that genetically engineered crops, like soybeans and corn, haven’t been researched enough.

"Companies are able to take DNA and genes from organisms that previously could not be crossed in nature, and put them into another organism or plant," explains Bill Tracy, a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Agronomy.

While GE crops are relatively new—they’ve only been available for around 14 years—they’ve already claimed an amazing market share.

"Round-Up Ready soybeans are probably the most rapidly accepted technology in the history of agriculture," Tracy says. "They were only introduced in 1996. Right now, they're somewhere in the neighborhood of 90% (of the market)."

Most GE crops are produced by implanting the DNA from a bacteria in the plant. For instance, there’s a bacteria known as BT, which is deadly to the corn borer. It’s genes are injected into field corn. When the pest eats the corn, it dies.

Sounds great, but a growing number of groups are concerned the amazing promise of the technology may have led government regulators to overlook inherent risks in tweaking with nature.

"There are people that are concerned about the research done on food safety, and that sort of thing. There are other people concerned about the research done on the environmental (impact), like whether it affects non-target organisms," he notes.

Here’s an example. Companies are working on a Round-Up Ready alfalfa. Farmers usually rotate their crops every year. There’s concern corn grown the year after alfalfa may be inundated with unwanted alfalfa.

There’s also concern of Round-Up resistant weeds taking over farm fields, and some even wonder if GE crops might be playing a role in the mysterious disappearance of honey bees.

On the web:
USA Today article

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