U.S. farmers are using more and more genetically engineered crops, according to a just-released USDA report.
The crops, known as GM for genetically modified, or GE for genetically engineered, now cover the vast majority of cropland for three staples of the American farm landscape -- soybeans, corn and cotton. Virtually all soybeans and cotton, and a majority of of corn, are grown with genetically-modified seeds designed to create plants that either resist pests or withstand the application of common herbicides, according to "Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.," an annual report by the USDA's Economic Research Service.
Since 2000, use of herbicide-resistant soybeans has gone up from 54% of acreage to 91% in 2007. Genetically modified corn varieties -- both herbicide-resistant and pest-resistant -- rose from 25% to 73% in that time.
For cotton, the increase has been from 61% to 87%.
Concerns about genetically-modified crops abound, though fierce advocates argue for both the benefits and purported dangers of the technology.
Herbicide-resistant strains allow farmers to broadcast pesticides, killing everything but the cash crop -- a convenient but potentially chemically-heavy method that also, some fear, may lead to the creation of "super weeds" resistant to even the market's strongest pesticides. As another example of a concern, the "genetic drift" of genetically modified seeds "contaminates" organic farms, leaving them unable to earn the USDA certification for their organic produce, despite every effort to grow without using chemical pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds.
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