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Commentary: American innovation drives agricultural biotechnology

Issue Date: August 24, 2011
By John Hart

John Hart

Throughout history, a spirit of innovation has characterized the United States of America. From the Lewis and Clark expedition to the space race to the computer age, Americans have always been innovators. And innovation has always found a home on the American farm.

Take a look at a modern combine or tractor, and you will see American innovation at its best. But innovation on the farm doesn't end there. It can be found in the seeds farmers plant and in the products they use to protect their crops and nurture their livestock. However, the hallmark of American innovation may well be found in agricultural biotechnology.

Thanks to the wonder of biotechnology, more farmers now plant insect-resistant seeds that require far fewer chemical inputs than conventional varieties. Because of the use of biotech seeds, farmers can increase productivity per acre and reduce the need for pesticides. In addition, the adoption of biotechnology has encouraged the use of no-till cultivation, which reduces both herbicide use and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, biotechnology ensures a more affordable and reliable supply of food and fiber for consumers.

The evidence is clear that biotech crops currently on the market are safe to eat and pose no environmental harm. In testimony in June before a House Agriculture subcommittee reviewing the opportunities and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, Roger Beachy, president emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo., drove home the point that biotech crops are safe.

"Since regulations were first put in place for the products of agricultural biotechnology in 1987, more than 2 billion acres of crops have been grown and harvested in at least 29 countries around the world," Beachy testified.

"These crops have been grown by 15.4 million farmers, 14.4 million of whom are small, resource-poor farmers in developing countries. The harvests of these crops have been consumed in billions upon billions of meals by humans and livestock around the world for the better part of two decades now. In all this vast experience, we have not a single consequence of a novel, negative consequence for health or the environment—not one."

Many scientific bodies attest to the safety of biotech crops. Studies by the National Research Council confirm that there has not been a single instance of harm to human health or the environment due to the use of biotech seeds. In Europe, the Joint Research Centre has concluded that biotech products currently on the market in the European Union are safe.

Based on the evidence to date, the benefits of commercialized biotech crops far outweigh the risks. After a thorough and rigorous safety and environmental review, U.S. regulatory agencies have proven that biotech sugar beets and alfalfa are safe for commercialization, yet the use of these valuable products has been challenged in court.

The potential for feeding a hungry world through biotechnology is nearly limitless. Agricultural biotechnology is safe, sustainable and serves consumers by ensuring an abundant food supply. It is time to invigorate America's innovative spirit by renewing our commitment to agricultural biotechnology, removing the regulatory hurdles that stand in the way and continuing to make consumers aware that biotech crops are not only safe but desperately needed.

(John Hart is director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation. )

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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