One Billionth Biotechnology Acre and Counting

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The one billionth acre using genetically enhanced crops has been planted this spring. Dean Kleckner, former president of American Farm Bureau and now chairman of a not for profit group Truth About Trade and Technology is a national and international leader in agriculture. Kleckner and the Truth About Trade and Technology organization have developed a sophisticated monitoring system for counting the acres and the one billionth acre is expected to be planted this spring.

Remember how McDonald’s used to boast beneath the golden arches about how many billions of hamburgers it had sold?

Well, it’s time for someone to raise a sign on behalf of agricultural biotechnology, because somewhere in the world this week a farmer planted the 1 billionth acre of genetically enhanced crops.

This is a huge milestone for the world. Just ten years ago, biotech crops became commercially available for the first time. Since then, they’ve been adopted with astonishing speed. In the United States, about 85 percent of all soybeans, 75 percent of all cotton and nearly half of all corn is biotech enhanced.

Just how big is a billion acres? Let’s start by recalling that the traditional understanding of a single acre is the amount of land a yoke of oxen can plow in a day. In German, the word “Acker” means, literally, “a field.”

Today, of course, we need more precise measurements--and so a square acre measures precisely 208.75 feet per side.

A billion acres is a lot of territory. It would take more than 27 land masses the size of Iowa to fill up that much space.

If you lined up a billion square acres, they would circle the planet at the equator more than 1587 times. They would reach to the moon and back 164 times. They would go all the way to the sun and all the way back--and still have some length left to spare.

Some years ago, it was possible to say that biotech crops were a newfangled concept. Today, with a billion acres of them now planted, they are a conventional source of food.

There are those who will continue to hurl insults by calling them “Frankenfood” and the like, but these shrill voices are increasingly out of step with mainstream methods of food production. How many more acres must we plant, harvest, and consume before these radical naysayers admit that biotech enhanced crops are a proven technology? Must we go all the way to the sun and back before they’ll see the light?

The simple fact is this - biotech crops are the latest developments in an ancient line of agricultural innovation. Farmers are the world’s original genetic enhancers--they’ve been crossbreeding plants for thousands of years. In the wild, there’s never been any such thing as a juicy tomato. But there have been little red berries that farmers, across generations, have turned into a staple crop.

Something similar could be said of virtually everything we eat, and biotech crops are a part of this heritage. Farmers have chosen to adopt them so rapidly because they produce more food at lower costs. On a planet populated by over 6 billion people--and the number is growing every day--this is an essential characteristic.

Farmers have also rapidly adopted biotech because we care about the environment. Biotech crops help the environment in a variety of ways. Yielding more food on existing farmland reduces the pressure to cut down rainforests in Brazil and elsewhere. Since 1980, farmers around the world have increased our corn production by 45 percent but it was accomplished by adding less than 5 percent more acres to our fields. That additional corn was produced on the equivalent of 130 million acres of rainforest that has not been cut down!

Moreover, biotech crops protect our environment by allowing us to use farming techniques that save topsoil and use our resources much more effectively.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, biotech crops are approved for commercial use only after regulators at the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency have tested them repeatedly and registered their approval.

The bottom line is that they’re perfectly safe to eat. There’s never been a case anywhere of a biotech plant causing a human being so much as to sneeze.

In the future, it will become increasingly clear that biotech crops aren’t merely acceptable to eat--they’ll be preferable to eat, as plant breeder’s research ways to produce crops that add essential vitamins and nutrients to our diets. The research is going on right now and it promises to transform the ways in which we think about keeping ourselves healthy.

So today, we celebrate a billion acres. At some point in the future, like McDonald’s, so many billions will have been “served” that we’ll quit counting these biotech acres altogether.

Dean Kleckner is chairman of Truth About Trade and Technology, an Iowa farmer and a past president of the American Farm Bureau. Truth About Trade and Technology is a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA, formed and led by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology. Phone: 515.274.0800

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