We are happy to announce a new blog series - the Weekly News Round-Up! Each week, we’ll share our favorite biotech and agriculture stories from the week.
The New York Times reports on why farmers need disease-resistant cassava
This week, Donald McNeil wrote a piece for The New York Times that reported on the virus that is ravaging cassava crops (known elsewhere as manioc, tapioca and yuca) throughout Africa. This is especially alarming because many Africans are dependent on this crop and this could lead to famine and economic disaster. Scientists and agricultural experts are currently researching the virus and hoping to develop strands of cassava that can withstand the disease. Case studies such as this show why agricultural biotechnology is crucial; a disease-resistant cassava crop would not just help farmers economically, it would save lives. READ MORE »
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s remarks at this year’s Agriculture Outlook Conference discussed the approach of the USDA under his leadership. He is committed to propping up rural America and supporting American farmers so they can grow more crops in a healthy, sustainable manner. Sec. Vilsack, a supporter of ag biotech, also discussed the role agricultural biotechnology should play in our future. Below are some quotes from Sec. Vilsack’s speech about ag biotech.
Sec. Vilsack shares the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and why his agency supports an approach that includes the technology:
“Our new trade strategy also has to focus on biotechnology and developing a way in which we can do a better job of using that science, a better understanding of the environmental benefits that could occur from biotechnology — less pesticides and less chemicals, less damage to the environment, greater productivity at a time when the world’s population continues to expand and the available land for productivity shrinks because cities are expanding.”
Sec. Vilsack also talks about biofuels and agriculture’s potential in leading America towards a better and safer energy future.
“There is an enormous opportunity for this country in the area of energy. I have seen it in my home state of Iowa. It can be replicated across the country, which is why we have put a lot of time and effort into developing the biofuels task force report for the president, a discussion of how we might be able to use agriculture’s power, either in terms of production of crops or production of crop residue, or production of forest and biomass, that can create new opportunities for this country to make us far less dependent than we are today on foreign energy sources. It is time for America to take back its energy destiny. It can do this through the farmers and ranchers and rural communities of this country. Every sector of our nation, every geographic area of our nation, can contribute to this.”
You can read Sec. Vilsack’s full remarks here. You can watch the video of his speech here.
Last Friday Pat Hill from DTN blogged about this year’s USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum, an annual event since 1923 that is meant to provide farmers and ranchers, government, and agribusinesses with sound information for decision-making. This year, the theme for the forum was “Sustainable Agriculture: the Key to Health and Prosperity.”
Pat Hill reported on the panel “Sustainability, Stakeholders and Customers: Achieving a Healthier 21st Century.” The panel featured speakers with very different backgrounds, from Dr. Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, to Richard Schniedres, retired CEO of Sysco Corp, and Walter Robb, CEO of Whole Foods. Dr. Fedoroff discussed the potential effects a changing climate will have on agriculture and food supply, and stressed the need for crops that can withstand a lack of water or increased salinity. According to Dr. Fedoroff, these steps will promote sustainable agriculture and feed the world.
Walter Robb came in with a different perspective, arguing that the popularity of his store Whole Foods, known for its commitment to organic foods, signals a “food revolution.” According to Robb, his customers want labeling on GM food and equate sustainability with organic foods.
Roger Beachy keynoted the forum, and used his role to emphasize that the future of agriculture needs a unified approach that draws on many different methods to achieve sustainability.
Roger Beachy, long-time head of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, has agreed to join the Obama Administration as director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the new research funding arm of the US Department of Agriculture. As the head of this organization, Beachy aims to fund studies that answer agriculture’s most pressing challenges, including “sustainable food production and nutrition, readiness for climate aberrations that will impact productivity and developing renewable options like biofuels.”
Under Roger Beachy’s leadership NIFA will prioritize education in its grant-making in order to “ensure that the knowledge we gain from research reaches farmers and consumers; from the lab to the field to the fork.” He also hopes to fund innovative and exploratory projects, including looking into additional areas of ag biotech development.
Roger Beachy will be speaking at the 2010 Biotechnology Industry Organization Annual Convention at a summit organized by the Food & Ag and Industrial & Environmental sections of BIO.
You can read a full interview with Mr. Beachy in Nature and Biotechnology here.