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Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 11:32:57 -0700
From: "Desh Pal S. Verma"
Senate Panel Approves Biotechnology Research To Help
A Senate spending committee has approved $30 million in new
funding for biotechnology research projects
that tackle issues such as malnutrition and hunger in
developing countries - a move hailed by promoters of
genetically engineered foods.
The money was the biggest chunk in pet projects that
lawmakers from Missouri and Illinois squeezed into
federal budget bills now making their way through Congress.
It was secured by Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., a
member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The committee approved the money Tuesday - a key step in the
budget process. The biotech money was
included in legislation that funds foreign operations. The
legislation must still pass the full Senate and House
and be signed by the president.
An aide to Bond said the senator fought for the funding in
part to address criticism that too little biotech
research helps the developing world. At Bond's request, $9
million of the $30 million in biotech funds were
earmarked for specific projects. If the bill wins final
approval, researchers at the International Rice Research
Institute in the Philippines will get $5 million to develop a
strain of genetically altered rice. The so-called
"golden rice" contains genes that researchers hope will help
combat Vitamin A deficiencies, the world's
leading cause of blindness.
In a letter to Bond, Ronald Cantrell, head of the rice
institute, said the money would likely cut the development
time for the rice to three years, down from a five-to-eight
year estimate. "For too long, the developing world
has been bypassed by the latest technological breakthroughs
in the developed world, [but] your funding
would allow us for the first time to reverse this trend,"
Closer to home, the University of Missouri-St. Louis would
get $1 million for its International Laboratory
for Tropical Agriculture Biotechnology, where researchers are
looking for ways to fight diseases that threaten
rice, tomatoes, cassava and other crops. And the new Donald
Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis
County would receive $1 million to teach Thai researchers how
to protect plantains and other tropical plants
Biotech promoters hailed the prospect of new money. "You have
24,000 people a day dying from chronic
malnutrition," said Dr. Clive James, board chairman of a
non-profit group that transfers biotechnology to
poor countries to alleviate poverty and malnutrition. "I
don't want to say that biotech is the silver bullet, but it
is a central component in a food security strategy," he said.
The Senate appropriations committee also approved an
agriculture spending bill on Tuesday that includes
funding for other biotech research. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,
worked to get $2.8 million to fund animal and
plant biotech projects at the Biotechnology Research and
Development Corporation in Peoria, Ill.
The agriculture bill includes $600,000 for University of
Missouri researchers to study genetic improvements
of soybeans. And the committee approved $1.3 million for a
biotechnology partnership between MU and the
University of Illinois. In all, MU would get $14 million from
the agriculture spending bill, including
$500,000 for researchers who are trying to combat a bug that
attacks soybean crops and $2 million for a joint
agroforestry research project with the University of Arkansas.
D. P. S. Verma FRSC
Professor, Molecular genetics
Ohio State University
Columbus OH 43210