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The BBC's Tom Carver
"The public debate over genetically-modified crops is gathering pace"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 20:00 GMT
GM crop warning for US farmers
Farmers fear prices for GM products will fall next year

More than 30 farm groups in the United States have told their members they are risking their livelihoods if they plant genetically-modified crops.

Food under the microscope
The organisations - representing tens of thousands of farmers - issued a joint declaration saying those cultivating such products were under threat because GM food had become so unpopular with consumers.

"Export markets in Europe and Asia are saying 'no' to foods produced from genetically-modified crops and farmers know they have to respond to consumer demand if they are to survive," Gary Goldberg, head of the American Corn Growers Association, said.

Farmers are moving away from planting GM crops
Gary Goldberg
He predicted that 25% fewer GM crops would be planted next year in US fields, based on conversations held with farmers and local seed company salesmen.

"We believe that farmers in mass exodus are moving away from planting GM crops next year," he said.

Two-tier market

The farmers' main concern is that growing consumer demand for traditional seed varieties will create a two-tier market in which GM products will fall in price.

Many US consumers eat GM foods
"I have heard that one grain buyer may next year slash prices paid to farmers for genetically-altered soybeans," said Bill Christison, a Missouri farmer who heads the Family Farm Group.

Other farmers have said they are concerned about paying premium prices for biotech seeds and then finding they can't sell their crops.

Grain dealer Jerry Bertrand said: "I can't tell them with certainty that I'll take their GM corn and soya next year because I don't know if there'll be a market for it."

Fears of a market impact are nil
Val Giddings
However the Biotechnology Industry Organisation has denied that the market for GM crops is in peril, saying the farm groups' assessment was "grossly distorted".

"Fears of a market impact are nil," Val Giddings, vice-president for food and agriculture, said.

He added that numerous independent studies of bio-engineered foods had proved them to be safe.

Massive law suits

The farm groups also warned that inadequate testing of GM seeds could make farmers vulnerable to massive lawsuits if the seeds were later found to have negative environmental effects.

The US has described the EU ban on its modified maize as a "non-tariff barrier"
The groups called for a comprehensive and independent assessment of the health, environmental and economic impacts of the crops before more GM seed varieties were approved.

Most American consumers eat genetically-modified foods every day - whether wheat, corn, soybeans, cheese or tomatoes.

About 35% of the soybean harvest and 25% of the US corn crop is grown from genetically-engineered seed.

The new, modified varieties were embraced because they offer hardier crops that require fewer chemicals.

But environmental groups such as Greenpeace say they could have unpredictable effects on health and nature.

Some European countries have banned American maize and soya shipments because US authorities cannot guarantee they only contain EU-approved varieties.

The US says this has cost it approximately $200m in maize sales alone over the past two years, and will raise the issue with the World Trade Organisation.

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See also:
11 Nov 99 |  Americas
US begins GM food debate
15 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
US farmers fear GM crop fallout
21 Jun 99 |  Sci/Tech
Global GM crop investigation begins
19 Aug 99 |  Americas
US farmers in GM revolution

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