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Environmental Benefits of Agricultural Biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology has many environmental benefits. The same technology that helps make farmlands more productive also reduces the amount of land needed for agriculture. This is particularly important in developing countries where valuable temperate and tropical forestlands are being converted into farmland at a rapid pace.

The use of agricultural biotechnology benefits the environment in many ways, including:

Plants protected from disease and insects. Strains of corn, cotton and potatoes have been developed through biotechnology that are protected from insect damage, thus requiring fewer pesticides and reducing the strain on the environment. Researchers also have developed disease-resistant strains of corn, rice, sweet potato, squash and papaya. These new varieties essentially have been "vaccinated" against crop-destroying viruses, making them more naturally resistant to diseases and thereby reducing the amount of fungicides being introduced into the environment.
Greater tolerance of herbicides. The development of more resilient plants that can tolerate the application of chemical sprays allows farmers to use a specific herbicide or a more effective rotation of herbicides for weed control, thus reducing the overall need for chemical application and promoting reduced tillage. According to Science magazine, reduced tillage has meant less soil erosion for fields planted with biotech soybean crops [Science, vol. 285 16 July 1999].
Greater disease and insect protection means fewer acres that need to be cultivated. Hardier strains of fruits, vegetables and grains mean that growers are able to plant fewer acres to ensure a good harvest, allowing greater conservation of resources through the use of less fuel, labor, water and fertilizer.
Less damage from fertilizer run-off. According to the International Food Information Council, American farmers spend approximately $12 billion each year on fertilizer. Nearly half of the fertilizer used evaporates or is washed away into waterways and estuaries, thus endangering the environment. Biotechnology enables researchers to improve some plants, such as corn, to draw more nitrogen directly from the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers.
Biotechnology enhanced corn has proven highly successful in controlling agricultural pests. According to a report issued July 13, 1999 by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, biotechnology-enhanced crops are effective for controlling insect infestations. The use of biotech seed stock replaced the use of chemical sprays that were becoming more ineffective against the pest population in certain regions. The result was a gain in total corn yields of 47 million bushels in 1997 on 4 million Bt corn acres, and an additional 60 million bushels on 14 million acres in 1998.

U.S. Food and Drug AdministrationIFICEatright.OrgU.S. Department of Agriculture

Grocery Manufacturers of AmericaFarm Bureau U.S. State DepartmentFMINIH

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