Will a new generation of biotech seed breed a new generation of problems?

I'm all for technology and its benefits. I'm also all for learning from past mistakes. With the recent announcement of a new biotech seed, called Herculex 1, let's not be reckless.

Herculex 1 Insect Protection is the first trait in a new generation of Bt traits for corn. The seed, developed in collaboration by Dow AgroSciences and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., provides resistance to European and southwestern corn borer, black cutworm and fall armyworm. It also shows tolerance to Aventis Crop Science's Liberty herbicide.

Sounds great, right? Well, it will be if it doesn't mysteriously hit the export market until it has full approval from countries like Japan. Currently, its approval has received full registration by the EPA, USDA and FDA for food and feed grade use in the U.S. only. Its approval in overseas markets is still pending.

Both companies say commercial seed could be available for 2002 planting. But Mycogen, (Dow AgroSciences) says it won't make a decision on selling seed until early next year.

“We need to talk to all the commodity groups first,” says Wally Thingelstad, a Dow AgroSciences communications manager. “We also need to have a strong stewardship program in place.”

Pioneer's Jerry Harrington echoes the caution and says “we're optimistic about a spring 2002 approval from Japan.”

The National Corn Growers Association's communications director Stewart Reeve expects the companies will follow industry recommendations and “keep it off the market until they get international approvals. Right now, it's an unknown until we get closer to the planting season.”

Until foreign approvals occur — and if we've learned anything about the channeling process — watch out. Make sure that you're aware of how planting Herculex 1 could affect this country's biotech image overseas and ultimately your foreign markets.

It's too soon to sweat it, but let's hope you won't have to be reading “StarLink-type” stories after next year's harvest.

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