NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Europe And America Go Separate Ways On Biotech Foods

March 17, 2000

It is somewhat symbolic of the international debate over genetically modified seeds that U.S. executives of the Swiss company Novartis are stumping the country to assure nervous farmers that big grain companies will buy crops grown from their modified seeds. Yet executives of the Gerber Products Company -- which is owned by Novartis -- have announced that they will not use biotech crops in their baby food. Not that the products are unsafe, just that baby food "is a very sensitive area."

It now appears that American farmers are not backing away from genetically modified seeds. In fact, executives at some of the nation's largest agricultural companies say it may be too late to turn back the clock on GM crops. The problem is that it is costly and cumbersome to separate GM from non-GM produce -- meaning that the likelihood of commingling the two is very high.

  • In Europe, the trade in GM seeds and foods has virtually stopped -- while in the U.S. the growth of GM corn and soybeans has exploded.
  • Almost one-third of the U.S. corn crop and about half of soybeans are produced from GM seeds.
  • Biotechnology plantings here increased from 16 million acres in 1997 to 62 million last year.
  • This year, the amount is expected to stay mostly flat, with more than 60 million acres of GM corn and soybeans planted.

About 80 percent of the corn and 60 percent of the soybeans harvested here are used for domestic consumption and animal feed.

In 1996, when American farms began shipping biotechnology crops to Europe, exports of corn and soybeans -- both modified and conventional -- amounted to nearly $3 billion. But as of last year, such shipments had declined to $1 billion.

Source: David Barboza, "In the Heartland, Genetic Promises," New York Times, March 17, 2000.


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