Genetically modified food crops at our doorsteps

>> Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Home gardeners could see an influx of drought tolerant plants soon. Large biotech firms, such as Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Syngenta AG of Switzerland, are racing to come up with new strains of vegetables that can thrive when water is in short supply.

Of course they are more focused on cash crops, but this could very well affect the home gardener in years to come.

Water shortages cost farmers and major growers billions of dollars a year in crop shortfalls around the world and the coming droughts that are expected with climate change are sure to increase that loss.

Australia is hardest hit by a drought that has lasted since 2002. Last year wheat farmers failed to harvest for the first time in forty years!

Argentina had to delay planting their corn this year, they normally produce 22 million tons a year. These shortages are sure to it the U.S. in cost increases and possible decreases in availability.

Forty percent of the world’s corn crop comes from the U.S. so corn is where researchers are focusing their attention. What is learned in these trials could be used for other crops and maybe we can begin to see a decrease in the amount of water we need for our backyard gardens.

They are leaning heavily on genetically modified crops to help us get through the coming drought but if this is what it takes, then we are going to have to welcome it.

Last year more than 73 percent of U.S. corn acres were planted with biotech varieties, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2006, biotech crop acreage globally reached 252 million acres in 22 countries, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. It’s a sign of the times.

Modifying for drought tolerance could be easier to accept than genetically altered food has been especially when we see that it is what is needed to maintain our food supply.

The dirty side of the biotech firms is that they load extra genetic traits in with the desirable traits that farmers don’t want to pay for, but in order to get the desirable traits they have to accept the whole seed. Much like buying a new car with ‘all the extras’ we don’t really feel we need or want. Plus, biotech firms habit of producing patent-protected seeds tend to gobble up smaller seed companies who cannot afford to compete with these new more desirable seeds.

Monsanto’s “triple-stacked” biotech corn, which protects against pests and is immune to weedkiller, goes for $245 for a bag. The traditional cost is $100 a bag.

The upside is that the home gardener could one day benefit by not having to use as much water, but by then prices for water will probably be higher so there may not be much savings.


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