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Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686

An evaluation of plants protected against insect pests through biotechnology finds that Bt (Bacillus thuringienisis) crops are as safe as conventional plant varieties and provide significant eocnomic, enviornmental and agricultural benefits. The study appears in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.

"Bt crops have been commercially available since 1996," said Dr. Roy Fuchs, director of regulatory science at Monsanto Company, a coauthor of the paper. The evaluation reviewed data on three major Bt crops -- corn, cotton and potatoes -- that have been commercialized in several countries, rapidly adopted by farmers, and studied extensively by scientists around the world. "The combined safety and performance studies combined with years of experience have shown that Bt crops are providing important benefits on many different levels," said Fuchs.

The most significant benefits of Bt crops include reduced use of synthetic chemical insecticides. Bt crops contain a gene that produces a naturally occurring protein that protects plants from specific insect pests and provides a level of insect protection generally superior to conventional chemical insecticides. As a result, Bt crops require fewer applications of chemical insecticides, thereby significantly reducing the overall amount of chemical used on food, feed and fiber crops.

For 1998, the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP) estimated that 2 million fewer pounds of chemical insecticides were used to control cotton bollworms and budworms in six key cotton-producing states compared to the insecticide levels used prior to the introduction of Bt cotton.

The study also found that Bt crop protection against insect damage translates to significant yield increases. In 1997, a year with a heavy infestation of the European corn borer in the United States, NCFAP reported that Bt corn provided a yield premium of almost 12 bushels per acre over conventional corn varieties. The same researchers estimated that the use of Bt cotton in the United States in 1998 resulted in an increased fiber yield of 85 million pounds.

In the United States, where commodity prices are at the lowest levels in decades, Bt crops reduce the total amount of input costs for farming, which translates to direct economic benefits to farmers. NCFAP estimated that in 1998 alone Bt cotton created approximately $92 million in value for U.S. cotton growers.

Environmental benefits include the preservation of beneficial insects. By targeting specific insects through the naturally occurring protein in the plant, Bt crops reduce the need for and used of non-selective chemical insecticides. By eliminating these sprays, the beneficial insects that naturally inhabit agricultural fields are maintained and can even provide a secondary level of pest control. ""The rapid adoption of these products clearly demonstrates that Bt crops are providing very real benefits to farmers in the United States and around the world,"" said Fuchs.

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