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Conventional choices limited in new offerings...
New GMOs From Novartis

(11 September - Cropchoice News) -- This year's crop isn't even harvested yet; but the big seed companies are already asking for your 2001 seed (and tech fee) dollars. Novartis, the Swiss company that owns NK Seeds, announced 22 new corn and soybean varieties today.

In another few weeks your mailbox will be stuffed with flyers about them. One disturbing aspect for producers may be choice: only a quarter of the varieties are conventional. Most are YieldGard, Liberty Link, or Roundup Ready, all traits Novartis licensed from other big biotech seed companies like Monsanto and Aventis. Many are also "stacked" types that contain more than one genetic modification.

Novartis sells American farmers GMO seed; but it will not buy its own products. Last month the company announced that it has banned GMOs from the foods it makes.

The company knows farmers are upset about the mixed message. Alluding in part to biotech, Novartis corn seed manager Marc Hennen suggests farmers act like Novartis on biotech - go both ways. Hennen says "Just as a financial manager encourages investors to spread risk across a variety of stocks, we encourage farmers to take a portfolio approach to their seed selections."

But farmers might not be too happy about filling their "portfolio" with GMOs whose market is uncertain. Groups like the American Corn Growers Association find evidence that the market for GMOs won't quickly improve. Just last week, the Italian Prime Minster personally decided to tighten that county's seed laws against biotech seed, specifically including Novartis Bt corn.

More than half (5 of 9) new hybrid corn offerings are GMO (all are stacked YieldGard and LibertyLink), and a whopping 11 of 13 soybeans are biotech, mainly Roundup Ready.

While the super-sized companies squeeze their customers into biotech through a reduced offering of new conventional seeds, others see an opportunity. Several smaller seed producers that aren't too restrained by agreements with the biotech giants, like Fielder's Choice and NC+ Organics, are upping their non-GMO offerings for next year.

2001 will also see a dramatic expansion in the number of certified non-GMO varieties available, which may offer options to farmers who don't see what they want in Novartis and other big company's catalogs. [Stay tuned to Cropchoice for more news on biotech and non-biotech seed for 2001.]

Source: Novartis, Europe Agri