About 71percent of the world's crops are planted with herbicide-resistant varieties, according to Steve Pueppke, University of Illinois associate dean for research. In spite of growing concerns from Europeans, farmers in the U.S. and other countries continue to embrace biotechnology in their crops.
And the love affair with these crops will continue. "In the U.S., the evolution from standard to transgenic soybeans will be completed in three to five years," Pueppke suggests. "USDA researchers predict all corn and soybean crops will be genetically modified in the next few years. Wheat will follow. The transgenic method is just too good."
As a result, Pueppke believes North America may lose some important markets. Although processors promise segregation, he thinks it is impractical on a large scale. "If one tries to segregate and fails, big consequences will occur," he says. "The tolerance is zero."
In a few years, biotechnology will produce even more complex soybean varieties through genetic manipulations. Right now, companies are moving one and two genes. Pueppke predicts that, in the future, the gene transfer will involve many genes to produce products from lubricants and fuels to healthier oilseeds.
Other multi-gene programs already are under way for products such as naturally khaki- or denim-colored cotton. And the palm oil business is working to make its product heart healthy.
Consumer acceptance of transgenic crops will continue to be an issue, however. "When it comes to food, most North American consumers worry only about how cheap it is and how fast it can be prepared," Pueppke says. "But it's not that way in Europe. The consumer confidence in the government's ability to protect them is very shaken."
But in the long run, biotechnology and transgenics will flourish, he predicts. It may take five to 10 years. But when it does, all aspects of agricultural business will be changed, he says.