Genetically altered crops focus of speech

Tomy Hillers

With wide acceptance of genetically altered crops farmers could apply fewer expensive chemicals to their fields, reducing the cost of products purchased by the consumer.

Sujatha Sankula, research associate for the National Center for Food & Agricultural Policy, presented information about the topic to students who attended a lecture Tuesday in Bessey Hall.

After being introduced by Gary Munkvold, associate professor of plant pathology, Sankula addressed issues about transgenic crops and their benefits.

The lecture, “Agricultural Biotechnology,” was focused on genetically altered crops and their uses in agriculture.

Certain crops can be genetically altered to be resistant to forms of insects, viral infections and herbicides.

If put into use, these crops would increase yields and decrease chemical applications, Sankula said.

One insect-resistant plant is Bt Corn, which is resistant to the European Corn Borer. The insects can cause damage that can cost producers approximately $1 billion per year, Sankula said.

The corn will resist the insect, allowing the producer to apply less pesticide to the field.

“Bt corn could save producers approximately $2 per acre during low infestation years, and up to $12 an acre during high infestation years,” Sankula said.

Another form of genetically altered crops is Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.

Roundup Ready is a brand-name herbicide that kills weeds growing in the same fields as cash crops, Sankula said.

In the past, as crop production increased, so did pesticide use, which threatened the soil and water supply, Sankula said.

When the crops have been genetically altered to resist herbicides, the cultivation and chemical application frequencies begin to decline, she said.

Another concern Sankula discussed was tillage.

“No-till acres have doubled in the past few years, thus increasing the amount of soil that was conserved,” Sankula said. “There is less water runoff and the quality of the soil increases when glyphosate is applied and Roundup Ready crops are planted.”

Sankula said the use of transgenic crops will increase when technology costs decrease and food processors begin to accept it.

“Today a majority of the grocery chains across the nation do not accept transgenic sweet corn,” Sankula said. “In fact pMcDonalds refuses to use transgenic potatoes for their French fries.”

Munkvold said he invited Sankula to help raise awareness for the research, which has been done by her organization.

“It is important for people to realize that this research is taking place, because there is a fear that these crops are being adopted without analysis,” Munkvold said.