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US Farmers Protest Genetic Corn - 2002-04-18

The United States Agriculture Department says the nation's farmers are expected to plant more genetically-modified corn this year than last. But that is not stopping opponents of so-called GM corn to call for its removal from food products.

At a midday rally outside the Chicago Board of Trade, a few dozen members of a group called the Organic Consumers Organization said they still have doubts about the safety of GM corn, and said it was hurting farmers in some other countries.

Organic farmer Anne Patterson of Illinois says the increased planting of GM corn makes it more likely that non-modified corn in nearby fields could be contaminated, which would make it harder for farmers like her to keep their crops GM-free. "It is becoming increasingly difficult for a lot of grain producers to find uncontaminated no genetic modification, no genetic engineering in the seed corn that they buy," she says.

The GM corn opponents say there are still doubts about the safety of gene-altered corn, and they want it removed from the food supply until it is proven safe and labeled so that consumers know what they are buying. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently wrapped up two years of reviewing the most popular form of modified corn, called "bt corn," and said it is not harmful to people or the environment. The EPA continues to bar another type of modified corn, called "Star Link," from human consumption because of concerns it could trigger allergic reactions in some people. It was removed from the market last year.

Both types of corn plants produce chemicals that make them resistant to a pest called the European corn borer. Farmer Jim Goodman of Wisconsin says the GM corn was supposed to help farmers increase yields without increasing chemical pesticides, which he says has not happened. "Farmers were supposed to make more money," says Mr. Goodman. "That never happened, either. Right now, real farm income is at the lowest point it has been in about 20 years."

Some nations, mostly in Europe, refuse to import any genetically-modified corn from the United States. GM corn opponents say that has resulted in a glut of the grain, which is being sold to other countries at below-production prices.

The federal government says it expects more farmers to plant GM corn than did last year, making about one-third of the U.S. corn crop genetically-modified. At an agriculture forum in Chicago last month, Illinois corn farmer Doug Schroeder said he favored thorough testing of GM crops to make sure they are safe, but added he is not afraid of the modified corn. "Quite frankly, I want to plant what the people want to consume. If that is non-GM, I do not care, I'll plant it. If it is GM's, great, we'll work with that," he says.

The U.S. government first approved GM corn in 1995. It predicts American farmers will plant about ten million hectares of the grain this year.