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  Environmental Benefits of Food Biotechnology

Some biotech crops are already beginning to improve the environmental performance of agriculture, and future crops may eventually make significant global contributions to the preservation of valuable forestlands in the developing world. Following are anticipated environmental benefits from food biotechnology.

Conservation of natural resources
Hardier disease- and pest-resistant crops can allow greater conservation of resources by requiring less fuel, labor, water and fertilizer. For example, international researchers in Georgia and Israel are exploring ways to produce cotton that can survive in semi-arid conditions, a development that could one day lead to a savings of some 12 billion gallons of water a year.

Less land use
Researchers around the world are developing hardier strains of fruits, vegetables and grains that one day may be able to thrive in extreme growing conditions such as tomatoes that can flourish in high-salinity soils. Other plant varieties that can protect themselves from pests and diseases mean that growers will be able to produce more food on the same amount of land, thereby reducing pressures to clear additional acres for cultivation. According to the National Council on Food and Agricultural Policy, improved farm productivity could result in less impact on prairies, wetlands, forests and other fragile ecosystems that might otherwise be converted for agricultural purposes.

Less pesticide use
Biotech crops can reduce the use of agricultural chemicals such as insecticides and fungicides. Scientists have developed strains of corn and cotton that produce their own protection against specifically targeted pests, thus reducing the amount of pesticides necessary to control them. In addition, herbicide tolerant varieties of many crops have been developed. According to a study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP), U.S. pesticide use was 45.6 million pounds lower in 2001 than it would have been without the use of biotech crops. The use of herbicide tolerant soybeans reduced pesticide levels by 28.7 million pounds, while herbicide tolerant cotton helped cut pesticide levels by 6.2 million pounds. Another report by NCFAP notes several studies finding that growers are achieving higher yields and attaining higher profits by planting Bt varieties of crops, due to the better pest control and decreased pest control costs they provide.