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Biotech foods continue to grow.

For many of our favorite foods, the future has arrived. Genetic engineering, long the focus of anticipation and discussion in agriculture, entered the realm of reality in a big way in 1998. If in the past year you've topped a sandwich with cheese, gobbled down a bowl of cereal, or guzzled a soft drink, chances are that you've eaten foods made from genetically-modified crops. Although agriculturalists have been heralding the promise of genetically-enhanced crops for 20 years, few products made it to market. Over the past three years, that has changed quietly but significantly. Economists (Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1145) indicate that many common foods now are processed and produced using techniques that involve biotechnology.

The genetically-engineered enzyme chymosin is used in two-thirds to three-quarters of cheese produced, we're told. Bt-corn, which allows corn plants to resist the corn borer, has found wide acceptance. The use of genetically-enhanced corn has increased from 400,000 acres in 1996 to 3 million acres in 1997 to an estimated 17 million acres in 1998. Each year, overall corn acreage in the U.S. totals about 80 million acres.

Biotechnology is used to produce some of our most common foods. Corn produced through biotechnology is being used in many familiar foods, including breakfast cereals and taco shells. It also is used to make corn syrup. Soybeans are used in hundreds of food products, including cooking oil, candies and margarine. In 1997, about 20 million acres of the soybeans planted in the U.S. were genetically enhanced. Milk makes use of biotechnology. About one-third of all dairy cattle in the U.S. are given bovine somatotropin, a hormone created through biotechnology, to increase each cow's milk production.

Recent well-publicized failures of biotech crops have led some people to mistakenly think that agricultural biotechnology is struggling to gain acceptance. That isn't the case. Biotechnology has had its setbacks recently. Flavr-Savr tomatoes, which were the best-known biotech product, were pulled from the market, and so was a virus-resistant squash. According to Purdue economists, Flavr-Savr tomatoes failed not because of concerns over biotechnology but because of the unexpected requirements of a new product. Introduced in 1994, the Flavr-Savr tomatoes promised the taste of home-grown tomatoes from the grocer's cooler. Typical store-bought tomatoes are picked while they are green and hard so that they will not spoil when they are shipped. The tomatoes then have their red color brought out when they are sprayed with the plant hormone ethylene, but they still have the lackluster flavor of unripe tomatoes. Flavr-Savr was supposed to change that. Because it had a longer shelf-life, it could ripen on the vine and then be shipped to the supermarkets. But the pickers damaged the Flavr-Savrs by using the same equipment to pick and ship the ripe, soft Flavr-Savr tomato as they had the hard, green tomatoes. The loss from damage to the crop was as much as 30%. By the time they tried to adapt peach-packaging equipment to handle the tomatoes, it was too late, we're told.

Further information. Marshall Martin; phone: 765-494-4268; fax: 765-494-9176; email: martin@agecon.purdue.edu.
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Words:521
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