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Seeds of Opportunity

Column by Congressman Nick Smith - April 30, 2000

On April 13, I released a Chairman's Report examining the issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology and "genetically-modified products." The report, Seeds of Opportunity, is the culmination of a series of hearings held by the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research, and visits with scientists and research facilities across the country. In my remarks I noted biotechnology's incredible potential to enhance nutrition and health, feed a growing world population, and help protect the environment.

Biotechnology has already led to the development of more than a thousand products. These products include human insulin for diabetics, growth factors used in bone marrow transplants, products for treating heart attacks, diagnostic tests for AIDS, hepatitis, and other infectious agents, and enzymes used in food production. In agriculture, new biotech plant varieties will offer foods with better taste, more nutrition, and longer shelf life. Crops designed to resist pests and tolerate herbicides, freezing temperatures, and drought will make agriculture cheaper and more sustainable by reducing the use of synthetic chemicals and irrigated water, promoting no-tillage farming practices, and reducing pressure to convert valuable ecosystems to agriculture.

Set against these real benefits are hypothetical risks. The weight of the scientific evidence, however, suggests that plants developed using biotechnology are not inherently different or riskier than those developed through conventional breeding. In fact, modern biotechnology is so precise, and so much more is known about the changes being made, that biotech plants may even be safer than traditional crossbred plants.

I was pleased to be joined at the press conference by Members from both sides of the aisle who realize the promise of agricultural biotechnology. Reps. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and Tom Ewing (R-IL), from the House Agriculture Committee, spoke in support of the report and our efforts to examine this new technology from a science-based perspective. House Speaker Denny Hastert and Rep. George Hall (D-TX) also expressed their support.

Just as importantly, the report has garnered significant support from the scientific community. For example, Dr. Deborah P. Delmer, a professor at the University of California at Davis and President of the American Society of Plant Physiologists, said, "[The Report] provides a very clear description of the goals and benefits of genomics research as well as a very sound risk/benefit analysis relating to the development and use of agricultural biotechnology. One hopes it will be widely-read by all those interested in obtaining a serious analysis of these complex topics."

Judging by the responses I've received so far, people in the U.S. continue to have faith in science and science-based regulation. Our food continues to be the safest, least expensive, and, I believe, the best tasting in the world. Our continuing examination of the science behind plant breeding will help insure it not only stays that way well into the next millennium, but becomes even better.

Click here to read the report, Seeds of Opportunity

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