Biotech giant Monsanto has insisted that an unapproved genetically engineered soybean variety had never been sold to US farmers despite a survey of growers that indicated some 1,775 acres of the beans were planted last year.
"Bt soybeans are not commercially available and they are not being planted in the United States," said Kimberly Magin, Monsanto soybean director for industry affairs, who added that the variety was still in an experimental phase.
A poll by Reuters found eight farmers who said they intended to plant 1,515 acres of Bt soybeans for the 2002 crop, down from 1,775 acres the previous year.
The confidential poll questioned 321 farmers at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Reno, Nevada.
Bt soybeans, engineered to help a growing plant resist a harmful pest, were being planted by the company in a controlled environment following strict federal guidelines, Magin said.
"Maybe the farmers thought the products would be available this year," she said. "But they are not."
Bt cotton and corn seeds are commercially available to farmers.
Another type of biotech soybeans - known as Roundup Ready - is available to growers. It has been rapidly adopted by US farmers during the past three years because it allows growers to use a single herbicide to reduce weeds in fields.
The biotech issue is an especially important one for the soybean industry, which it says exports about half of all US soy products. Nearly 70% of US soybeans are grown from genetically modified seeds.
Bob Callanan, spokesman for the American Soybean Association, said US soybeans would be shut out of many export markets if an unapproved biotech soybean variety, like Bt soybeans, were detected in a shipment.
"Japan and Europe would bar our exports if we tried to ship soybeans that are not approved," Callanan said.
The US agricultural sector is still feeling the aftershocks of the federal government's discovery in September 2000 that an unapproved biotech corn variety had seeped into American food products and exports.
StarLink corn, made by the European drug giant Aventis, was found in taco shells, sparking the recall of hundreds of food products and hurting US corn exports overseas. Unit Aventis CropScience has since been sold to Germany's Bayer.