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Date:

April 18, 2000

Subject:

Corn Growers Support US AID funding of Agbiotech Research in LDCs

 

From: Kellye Eversole <


ArialStatement of the
American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers
Association Regarding Funding for the US Agency for International
Development Submitted to the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations,
Export Financing, and Related Programs Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate


April 7, 2000



ArialThe
American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers
Association appreciates the opportunity to provide the Subcommittee
with our recommendations regarding fiscal year 2001 funding for the US
Agency for International Development (US AID). Our testimony is
focused on the need for additional funding for the agriculture and
child survival programs of the US AID.


Over two billion people suffer from malnutrition and dietary
deficiencies. More than half of all child deaths, worldwide, are due to
malnutrition. Approximately 500 million women suffer from iron
deficiency anemia. At least 400 million people have Vitamin A
deficiency and of that number, more than 100 million are young
children. As many as 3 million children die annually as a result of
Vitamin A deficiency and 14 million suffer from clinical eye problems.
Some 40,000 people die from malnutrition and hunger related causes
every day. Every year, almost 12 million children die before they are
five from preventable causes. Much of this human suffering can be
alleviated if we were to (1) increase US AID funding for plant genomics
and plant biotechnology research to enhance micronutrients in food and
to create "edible vaccines", and (2) if we were to target funding for
the training of scientists and plant breeders from developing countries
in biotechnology.


In the past few years, there have been significant advances in basic
plant science, primarily in plant genomics and biotechnology. These
advances will allow us to create new hybrids and varieties that will


WingdingsArial
Improve human and animal health;

WingdingsArial
Reduce worldwide malnutrition by increasing yields and developing more
nutritious crops; and

WingdingsArial
Reduce environmental problems for crop and livestock growers.

The industrialized world has benefited primarily from these advances so
far. Any technology to feed the world must be available to the
developing countries.


On April 4, 2000, a major breakthrough in plant genomics occurred when
Monsanto announced that it had completed a "working draft" sequence of
rice. More importantly, Monsanto announced that it would make the
entire sequence available to the International Rice Genome Sequencing
Project. Releasing this information will accelerate the development of
improved varieties of rice and other crops. This was an important
"first step" towards bridging the gap between the industrialized and
the developing countries. However, much more research remains to be
done and we need a significant public effort to build upon the "working
draft" sequence of rice.


If biotechnology is ever going to reach its full potential, the
developing world must have complete access to the technology and have
the ability to use it to solve local problems. US AID should play a
lead role in bringing this technology to developing countries. Since
one of the major goals of US AID has been to improve child survival, a
principal component of US AID's efforts to achieve sustainable
improvements in child survival should be the use of biotechnology to
enhance the micronutrient value of foods and to deliver vaccines and
medicines through food.


We believe that the agricultural program of the US AID should work with
the international agricultural research centers, universities, and the
private sector to develop crops that will improve infant and child
health and nutrition and reduce infant and child mortality. Using
biotechnology to increase the yields and the nutritional value of key
food staples of the poor in developing countries can provide an
affordable and effective means of reducing malnutrition and increasing
child survival in a sustainable manner.


Many of the efforts to improve child survival have not been
self-sustaining. Providing vitamin and mineral supplements, increasing
detection and treatment abilities, and providing nutrition education do
not solve the problems or establish a means by which the problems can
be addressed on a continuing basis without the need for huge infusions
of cash. We can create a self-sustaining program by using
biotechnology to increase critical micronutrients (e.g., Vitamin A,
iron) in food crops and alleviate dietary deficiencies. The crops can
then be grown on an annual basis and ensure constant access to the
essential vitamins and minerals.


For example, providing capsules has been the emphasis of the US AID
programs to reduce Vitamin A deficiency. While laudable, this approach
will require annual expenditures in perpetuity. A better approach
would be to attack the problem at its root, modifying the diet by using
today's technology, plant biotechnology, to develop food that has
enhanced Vitamin A. This past year, rice varieties were developed that
contained enhanced levels of Vitamin A and iron. These varieties
contain enough beta-carotene to supply all of a person's Vitamin A
needs. They are called "golden" because the high beta-carotene level
turns the grain a yellow color. This was only a first step and much
more research must be done before golden rice will be available for
farmers to grow. In addition, we can also use this same process to
create high beta-carotene maize, cassava, wheat, banana, canola, or any
other crop that is preferred by the poor in developing countries. Once
the research is completed and the varieties are in the fields, a
self-sustaining program will be in place and scarce resources can be
devoted to other high priority needs. Increasing Vitamin A intake is
recognized as one of the most cost-effective interventions for child
survival. Golden rice and golden maize can provide self-sustaining
methods for addressing Vitamin A and iron deficiencies. A critical
component of all efforts aimed at incorporating nutrition into child
survival activities must include the truly sustainable approach of
increasing the micronutrients in food to address specific and general
nutrition needs.


In the area of child immunization, US AID focuses on traditional
delivery mechanisms that, in turn, require refrigeration, sterile
atmospheres and equipment, syringes, vaccine vial monitors that
indicate whether the vaccine has been overexposed to heat, and safe
injection practices. In many areas, these requirements cannot be met
in a satisfactory manner or they are prohibitively costly. In
addition, biohazards are created and dealing with bio-hazardous waste
becomes a problem. Finally, these methods of delivering vaccines are
not self-sustaining as costs associated with handling will continue to
rise.


We have opportunities with plant biotechnology to deliver "edible
vaccines" without the need for any of these complicated handling
procedures, without the need for refrigeration or sterile equipment,
and we can deliver them in a sustainable manner through the
regeneration of plants. For example, the use of plant biotechnology
has made it possible for significant advances to be made in delivering
the Hepatitis B vaccine in bananas and corn and the cholera vaccine in
potatoes. Research is underway in a wide range of areas, including
edible vaccines for bacterial tooth decay, lung infections, and
sexually transmitted diseases. Robust research in these areas will
allow us to have self-sustaining programs for vaccine delivery. US AID
immunization efforts should include using plant biotechnology for the
delivery of the vaccines.


Finally, we recognize that only the scientists and plant breeders
working in the developing world understand the specific needs of the
poor and local farmers. It is critical that they have the skills in
biotechnology to develop varieties and hybrids that meet the needs of
the local populations. With sufficient training, in their own country
and, perhaps, training in the U.S., they will be able to help meet the
needs of the local farmers and the poor in their own countries.



With the significant advancements made in plant genomics and
biotechnology, we believe that the US AID should focus on achieving
sustainable improvements in agriculture and child survival by using
biotechnology to develop sustainable solutions to malnutrition,
micronutrient deficiencies, and delivery of vaccines. Specifically, we
urge the Subcommittee to include additional funding in the FY 2001
foreign operations appropriations bill the following, managed through
the agriculture program at US AID:


WingdingsArial
$30 million for plant genomics and plant biotechnology research grants
to international agricultural research centers, universities, and
private entities to develop crops with increased content of critical
micronutrients aimed at alleviating micronutrient deficiencies and to
use biotechnology to enhance yields of local varieties;

WingdingsArial
$10 million for the international agricultural research centers to
develop golden rice (i.e., Vitamin A enhanced) and begin work on golden
maize for long-term, sustainable solutions to Vitamin A deficiency;

WingdingsArial
$5 million for competitive grants to develop "edible vaccines" where
the vaccines are genetically incorporated into food plants; and

WingdingsArial
Target funding for training scientists and plant breeders from
developing countries in biotechnology to ensure that the full benefits
will be available in developing countries.


Biotechnology in medicine has given us the tools to treat heart
disease, multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, and acquired immune deficiency
syndrome. We believe that foods enhanced with biotechnology will
enable the poor in developing countries to receive the proper level of
essential vitamins and minerals and much needed vaccines. The US AID
should enhance, significantly, its role in ensuring that the developing
countries have access to and reap the full benefit of plant
biotechnology.


Thank you for this opportunity to present our views.