At yesterday’s Agricultural Outlook Forum, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that the record high export numbers predicted for this year demonstrate the success of science in improving agricultural productivity globally. Affirming his commitment to promote science-based farming methods and reduced trade barriers, he said,
“We need to do a better job of working with scientists and farmers and political leaders to make sure there is a consistent message that comes from this country about the importance of biotechnology as a strategy for meeting world demand.“
He further explained, “It’s one of the reasons why we put together a specific effort to do a better job of educating folks about the benefits about technology, the capacity of that science to be able to reduce the reliance on chemicals in fertilizer, the ability to produce food in areas that today may not be as productive, the opportunity to use less water, and potentially conserve our natural resources as a result of the science.” Read more.
Science Wins Again: USDA approves partial deregulation of sugar beets
The USDA approved partial deregulation of genetically modified sugar beets while they complete a full environmental impact statement, marking the second regulatory victory for biotech crops in a week, Reuters reports. Following the approval of GM alfalfa last week, the USDA has agreed to allow the commercial planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets under closely controlled conditions. “After conducting an environmental assessment, accepting and reviewing public comments and conducting a plant pest risk assessment, APHIS has determined that the Roundup Ready sugar beet root crop, when grown under APHIS imposed conditions, can be partially deregulated without posing a plant pest risk or having a significant effect on the environment,” said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for APHIS’ biotechnology regulatory services. Read more.
Top Government Official in India Supports Biotech to Improve Ag Production
According to Food & Beverage News, a top government official at the ‘AgBio’ 2011-Global Summit, India urged scientists to explore biotechnology solutions for improving the country’s agricultural production. He highlighted the potential for biotechnology to help address environmental challenges and resource scarcities. “Besides developing new technologies for wise and judicious use of water sources, there was also the need to develop new varieties capable of withstanding droughts and floods,” said Dr. P. Rama Mohana Rao, Principal Secretary and Agriculture Production Commissioner, Government of Tamil Nadu. Dr. Rao also discussed the role of biotechnology in helping to improve crop yields. Read more.
This morning the House Agriculture Committee held a public forum to review the biotechnology product regulatory approval process. Discussion focused on the USDA’s pending decision on biotech alfalfa which considers three options: no deregulation, total deregulation, or partial deregulation with isolation standards to prevent contamination of non-GM crops.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack affirmed that the USDA will make a decision driven by science. He expressed his support for the role that biotechnology plays in increasing productivity and helping to feed a growing world population. “We believe that biotechnology stands to play a significant role in our effort to support our drive toward energy independence, conserve our natural resources, and meet the world’s growing demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel,” he said. The USDA has approved 75 biotech products. He estimates that deregulation with isolation conditions could mean that close to 20% of land would be off limits for growing GE alfalfa.
Charles Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, pointed out that biotech crops are an important source of income for farmers and ensure that productivity keeps pace with demand. In 2008, before biotech alfalfa was withheld from the market, he said that farmers benefited from higher productivity and a $110 increase in profit per acre. Based on his assessment of the USDA’s pending decision, Mr. Conner said the USDA should have no authority other than to deregulate the product since scientific review under the Plant Protection Act has confirmed its safety.
The Economist Magazine is hosting an online debate discussing whether biotechnology can be used to advance sustainable agriculture. CBI Expert and author of Tomorrow’s Table Dr. Pamela Ronald of University of California - Davis has provided the opening statement on behalf of the motion that biotechnology can contribute to sustainable agriculture. Dr. Ronald writes, “Well-documented benefits of GE crops include massive reductions of insecticides in the environment, improved soil quality and reduced erosion, prevention of destruction of the Hawaiian papaya industry, proven health benefits to farmers and families growing GE crops as a result of reduced exposure to harsh chemicals…”
Vote in the Economist Magazine’s debate: are biotechnology and sustainable agriculture complementary?
You can weigh in with your view and vote in the debate. Voting ends November 10. Vote and read more here.
Several Leading Environmentalists voice support for agricultural biotechnology
In recent years well-known environmentalists such as Mark Lynas, Stewart Brand and Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of Greenpeace, have reversed their unfavorable positions towards genetically modified (GM) crops and have voiced support for GM Crops as a result of data that demonstrates the environmental benefits of agricultural biotechnology. According to a piece in the UK Telegraph, “Mr. Lynas, who along with other activists ripped up trial GM crops in the 1990s, said that GM food had now been consumed by millions of people in the US for more than 10 years without harm, and this had convinced him to change his views.” Read more.
USDA announces plans to re-approve genetically modified sugar beets
The USDA announced plans to move forward with approving genetically modified (GM) sugar beets for a second time this week. A recent federal court ruling has called for an additional environmental assessment of the crop before it can be planted again, despite it having been approved by the USDA five years ago. Genetically modified sugar beets currently account for 95 percent of the U.S. crop and according to an estimate by the USDA, if farmers cannot plant it next spring, U.S. sugar production will be cut by about 20 percent. Read more.