With the recent United Nations biosafety agreement, you now have even more fodder to help make informed decisions about raising biotech crops.

The protocol agreement, which still requires ratification by some 50 countries, may take up to two years to actually go into effect.

Basically, the agreement says countries could ban genetically modified (GM) crops without full scientific proof that they're unsafe. However, it wouldn't require that corn, soybeans and other crops from GM plants be segregated from traditional produce.

Also, countries could require exporters to supply shipping documentation, noting that shipments "may contain" commodities from GM plants.

"Nothing in the agreement should dissuade U.S. farmers from using biotechnology," says Susan Keith, National Corn Growers Association senior director of public relations. "We don't see this as requiring segregation. Contrary to what some others may be saying, the biotech sky is not falling."

But at the American Soybean Association (ASA), there's a bit of a wait-and-see attitude. "Commodity soybean trade will go on largely as it does today," says ASA chairman Mike Yost, Murdock, MN (see page 53).

"The Biosafety Protocol does not specifically require countries to label biotech crops or to place labels on products containing biotech ingredients," Yost says.

In the meantime, however, we need more proactive efforts here in the U.S. to help educate consumers - and farmers - about biotech's benefits.

For example, Novartis has stepped up to the plate with a glitzy new CD-ROM consumer education program called: "A Short Course on Biotechnology."

The company encourages you to use this program to discuss the merits of biotechnology with community leaders and at civic and service organization meetings.

The non-commercial presentation runs about 20 minutes and is free. To get a copy, call 888-989-4BIO.

Still others, like Pioneer (a DuPont subsidiary), says public relations manager Jerry Harrington, are targeting communications at commodity groups, food companies, legislators and growers to further explain biotech opportunities. Also, an across-industry effort is under way from several other agribusiness companies and industry groups to help educate consumers.

So, let's all see what we can learn and share.