Foundation Earth promotes biotechnology proactively
Monday, August 21, 2000
By Janet Kubat Willette
Agri News staff writer
KASSON, Minn. -- The president-elect of Foundation EARTH spent Aug. 14
touring Minnesota promoting biotech crops. Mark Berg, a Tripp, S.D.,
soybean and corn farmer and Foundation EARTH president-elect, made stops
in the Twin Cities, Rochester, Owatonna and Kasson to meet with reporters
and tout biotechnology.
Foundation EARTH was formed in 1995 by a group of farmers, mostly past
presidents of agricultural associations. Its mission is to educate farmers
and the public about environmentally sound farming practices. "It's
important to be proactive rather reactive," Berg said. He estimates that
54 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 25 percent of the nation's corn
crop are genetically altered seed, with more than 90 percent of farmers
planting at least some bio-engineered crops. Most are crops that are
insect resistant or that help farmers reduce herbicide use.
Claremont farmer and American Soybean Association board member Gary
Joachim plants biotech crops to reduce his costs and reduce his risk.
His risk is reduced because he has a longer window of opportunity to spray
and his costs are reduced because herbicide prices have dropped since
biotech crops were introduced. Biotech crops allow farmers to control
weeds and pests with fewer chemical applications, Berg said, which
benefits the environment. Biotech crops are another tool to help farmers
produce an abundant and safe food supply to feed an increasing world
population, he said. Even with large carryover stocks in the U.S., Berg
said farmers need to keep producing more commodities. "We can't limit
supply in this country to raise price," he said, because other countries
will increase production to fill the global void.
And corn and soybean exports are increasing, Joachim said. Use and exports
will be up 200 million from what USDA forecast a year ago, he said. There
has been growth in every market, with China leading the pack. "The
interesting thing about technology is the pharmaceutical industry was
using it before the agriculture industry ever was," Berg said. But
protests didn't begin until biotechnology entered agriculture.
Biotech crops are safe, he said, and have been tested extensively by the
Food and Drug Administration and other government regulatory agencies.
"Within the U.S., acceptance of the product is very high," Berg said. He
said as much as 90 percent of the population supports biotechnology. He
praised Zeneca for introducing rice enhanced with Vitamin A to save lives
of those with vitamin deficiencies. Many seed companies are owned by
pharmaceutical companies, so Berg expects more grain seed with
health-enhancing genes to be introduced. "For the end user, a product like
that is very beneficial," he said.
No marketing concerns
Joachim doesn't expect to have any trouble marketing his biotech crops
this fall. Most food companies have made no distinction between biotech
and conventional crops. Novartis, however, is an exception. The company
sells biotech crops, but won't buy them for use in its baby food. "I think
they took the easy way out rather than standing on principle," Joachim
This week Berg will be in North Dakota and Nebraska to promote biotech
crops. He also asks farmers to sign a Petition for Technology Choice,
which shows their support for biotechnology. Berg plans to stop in
non-traditional ag markets like New York after the first of the year.