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Date:

July 6, 2000

Subject:

Scientists urged to join campaign backing GM crops

 

AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

Scientists urged to join campaign backing GM crops

MELBOURNE, July 6 (Reuters) - Scientists researching genetically modified
crops needed to be more vocal supporting a technology that could avert
thousands of deaths due to hunger, the organiser of a global petition said
on Thursday.

Tuskegee University Center for Plant Biotechnology Research director
Channapatna Prakash said a global petition he instigated had around 2,700
signatures. It was expected to be presented later this year with 3,000
signatures from scientists.

"We are planning to present it to a lot of world leaders, opinion makers
and
agencies responsible for food and agriculture around the world," he told
Reuters.

"We are trying to create a more positive awareness about what we are doing.
We can't just be in isolation and in ivory towers any more. We need to be
speaking up."

Prakash said scientists needed to build trust in their research because
consumers remained uneasy about the technology, notably in Europe where
there is strong resistance to GM crops.

Prakash, also a member of the newly-formed USDA Advisory Committee on
Agricultural Biotechnology, was in Australia this week collecting more
signatures for the petition.

He earlier told a media lunch that concerns about GM crops reflected
similar
uncertainty when changes such as pasteurisation and immunisation were
introduced, and health concerns about GM crops had proved unfounded.

HISTORY OF TAMPERING WITH FOOD

Prakash said all food eaten today had been modified over centuries and
biotechnology was just a continuum in the tools used to improve food since
the first seeds were planted and crops were taken out of the wild.

"We have always been tampering with food," he said. "It is just we have
been
doing it with much cruder methods."

Prakash said said GM foods had the potential to avert some of the 40,000
deaths each day due to hunger and malnutrition by providing crops that had
resistance to pests and diseases, could be grown in poorer soils or more
easily stored and transported.

"There are not going to be big dramatic changes, but small changes that
might go a long way," he said.

"I don't think we can afford to ignore any solution in this just on the
basis of ideology or pure scepticism."

He said international agencies would need to work with scientists in
developing countries to bring the new technologies to areas where they were
needed most.

But Prakash said fears about corporate involvement in the GM industry
taking
power away from farmers were overstated.

He told the lunch there was often a notion that farmers had to protected
from "the greedy hands of the capitalists."

"Agriculture is also benefitting from the increasing dynamism the private
sector and the corporations can bring in terms of investment and
development," he said.