Super Soybeans

Genetically altered soybean plants AP

It's by far the most commercially successful product of the biotech revolution. As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, today 75 percent of all U.S. soybeans are a gene-altered biotech variety called the Roundup Ready soybean. This one seed, one innovation, has changed the farming of America's $12 billion dollar soy crop.

What is this revolution?

Neal Bredehoeft, who farms a thousand acres of soybeans, says the Roundup Ready bean is just that -- a soybean "ready" to withstand the weed killer every home gardener knows as Roundup.

Bredehoeft says, "We just sprayed this morning."

But even though round up kills everything that's green, Bredehoeft says, "It will not affect the soybean."

The technology allows Bredehoeft to literally carpet spray these beans with Roundup -- and thanks to the genetic alteration, the beans will all live while the weeds all die.

But the real breakthrough of Roundup Ready soybeans isn't just the technology, it's the claim these soybeans require LESS herbicide. You heard that right. Even though farmers are blanketing these fields with Roundup, they say they use fewer chemicals.

"That is what the scientific evidence is beginning to show," says Harvey Glick, of Monsanto, the company that developed Roundup Ready technology.

He also says that most soy farmers save on herbicides by spraying fields once a year. On traditional soybeans, he claims, most farmers spray twice.

According to Glick, "The net result in many cases is there's an overall reduction in the amount of herbicides used."

However, Chuck Benbrook, a biotech analyst says, "It would be great if it was true but it's not."

He says herbicide use on soybeans is actually up 15 percent -- because more Roundup is being used. He doesn't criticize Roundup's safety -- the chemical breaks down quickly on contact -- he just believes Monsanto is guilty of hype.

"There's a lot that's good about this technology and obviously farmers like it a lot," says Benbrook, "but it just isn't true to claim that it reduces herbicide use as everyone traditionally measures it."

But the verdict is in on this technology: farmers overwhelmingly accept it. With round up ready corn and cotton, and 60 million acres of soybeans now in the ground, biotechnology on America's farms has taken root.
  • Sue Chan

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