Product packaging Novartis's new purchase program, called AgriFit, guarantees that all prices for NK-brand seed will remain the same for 2000. Also, options such as early-pay savings, flexible financing and a volume purchase deal supplement the program.

The company is also helping to make crop identification easier. Each seed bag for the 2000 planting season will feature peel-off tags that can be adhered to field ID markers. Tags will be preprinted with the product name, added traits (if any) and planting year information.

Set once, drill any size seed The S.I. Belt Meter is the first change to a drill meter in almost 100 years, according to its manufacturer, and it's a simple solution to an aggravating problem: seed population control. The meter for Deere, Great Plains or Case IH drills keeps seed of any size flowing with just one setting.

Two belts inside the meter press together to form staggered seed "cups" between the belts. Regardless of seed size and ground speed, it maintains an even seed drop of 2,000 to 4,000 seeds/lb. It is designed primarily for soybeans, wheat, sorghum and other small grain. The new meter is similar to those used in planters and employs the same concept as a corn meter. The unit drives off the same shaft used on your grain drill.

Price: not available at press time. Contact S.I. Dist., Dept. FIN, 03221 Barber-Werner Rd., St. Marys, OH 45885, 800/368-7773.

Drats, it's rats It all comes down to rats again. A study to prove that genetically modified (GM) foods may cause health problems was recently published in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. In the study, conducted by Arpad Pusztai at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland, six rats were fed GM potatoes and six were fed potatoes that were not genetically modified. The six rats eating GM potatoes for 10 days had intestines with some thinning and thickening, compared with rats not fed the GM potatoes. The researcher suggested that the gene may have made the potatoes poisonous.

Like the monarch butterfly research, this study is being hotly contested. Even the reviewers for Lancet reported the study was weak but said it should be published to counter criticism that its news was being suppressed.

Most of the criticism centers on the small number of rats used, possibly too few to draw any conclusions. Another criticism was that the rats were fed potatoes. Apparently, both groups of rats disliked potatoes and lost weight. Starvation or known toxins in raw potatoes may have caused the intestinal changes, the critics charged.

This study points out the difficulty in testing toxicity of GM foods in animals. It is nearly impossible to get animals and even rats to eat enough of a food to properly test for differences in modified and unmodified foods.

Eating GMOs If you eat a steak, are you also eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that were in the feed that the cow ate, therefore posing a health risk?

That question may be on consumers' minds. But Bruce Chassy, head of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, says the benefits of the new technology outweigh the hypothetical food safety risks associated with GM foods. He explains that natural toxins and bacteria found in foods pose a far greater health risk than recombinant DNA and added proteins found in GM foods. He adds that the foreign proteins introduced into GM foods are similar or identical to proteins already present in the human diet and they are inactivated by food processing, cooking and the digestive process.

"The safety of GMOs has been affirmed by every professional and scientific society worldwide that has looked at the issue, including the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization," Chassy states.

Customized corn Between 80 and 90% of U.S. domestic corn production including byproducts from grain processing ends up in livestock and poultry, according to Jerry Weigel, director of ExSeed Genetics, Decatur, IL.

"Maybe we ought to think more about the animal [when developing hybrids] than some other things, but not forget the wet millers," he suggested recently at a meeting of seed certifiers.

Corn breeding for feed is an area ripe for improvements. For example, Weigel says Japanese consumers want white pork, which comes from feeding white corn. Hogs do not like white corn because it is too hard and unpalatable. If seed companies developed a feed-grade white corn, the U.S. could fulfill the Japanese consumer demands.

Looking ahead, Weigel believes the business of seed development for livestock is on the verge of a boom. "In the next couple years, we will see hybrids bred specifically for poultry, swine, dairy and beef cattle," he says. And companies will take it even further. Hybrids will be developed for specific livestock producers.

"Will we see a Tyson wanting its own seed corn? Absolutely," he reports. "It is being done as we speak."

Keeping track of the different seeds will be easy, too, because the seeds will be identified with unique colored dots on the actual kernel. Weigel says the industry will see this occur in the next few years.

Bt corn cuts mold A new study shows Bt corn reduces the growth of fungi that produces dangerous mycotoxins and aflatoxins. Some mycotoxins are fatal to hogs and carcinogenic to humans. Aflatoxins can be passed into milk if the dairy cow eats contaminated grain. Bt corn apparently discourages the growth of fungi that produces these toxins, according to a study by Gary Munkvold, plant pathologist at Iowa State University. The researcher adds that hybrids genetically modified to control disease and insects do offer distinct health benefits to the public.