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Date:

August 11, 2000

Subject:

4,000 Member Genetics Society Endorses GMOs

 

Dear Colleague:

The Genetics Society of America has developed a statement in support of
research and development of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The statement reflects the assessment by Society leadership that this is a
crucial moment in the debate over GMOs in the US, as activism previously
concentrated in Europe has emerged in Seattle, Boston and Washington. In
Congress at least two bills have been introduced in opposition to GMOs
and/or calling for federal labeling of these products.

In parallel to the public debates on recombinant DNA in the 1970s, the
current public attention to GMOs appears to an alarming degree to be
guided by factual misunderstanding. The statement is intended to provide
scientific guidance to Members of Congress, the Clinton Administration and
the public.

"The ability to move individual genes into crops presents an enormous
opportunity for improving the quality and nutritional value of the food we
eat. Moreover, because plants are capable of performing diverse chemical
reactions, we anticipate that this technology will improve the production
and availability of pharmaceuticals, prevent environmental damage through
cleaner and safer chemistry, and facilitate environmental cleanup with
plants designed to detoxify hazardous waste," the position states.

Daphne Preuss, a plant biologist at the University of Chicago and member
of the GSA Board of Directors, says that "the fear over genetically
modified foods threatens not only important research in the field of plant
biology, but potentially our ability to feed the world." The position of
the Society is that the federal government is already appropriately
regulating GM products and that additional labeling could serve to
escalate unsubstantiated public fears.

Judith E. Kimble, PhD 2000 President

Elliot Meyerowitz, PhD 1999 President

Marian B. Carlson, PhD <>2001 President
-------------------------------
The Genetics Society of America Fact Sheet on Genetically Modified
Organisms1

The Genetics Society of America supports research and development in the
area of genetic engineering, including the development of what are
commonly termed genetically modified (GM) crop plants. The ability to move
individual genes into crops presents an enormous opportunity for improving
the quality and nutritional value of the food we eat. Moreover, because
plants are capable of performing diverse chemical reactions, we anticipate
that this technology will improve the production and availability of
pharmaceuticals and will reduce environmental damage through cleaner and
safer chemistry. Traditional breeding experiments over thousands of years
have genetically modified nearly every crop species. More modern
approaches that utilize genetic engineering have many advantages: they are
faster, more precise, and can introduce genes tailored to confer
beneficial properties.

In the United States, the FDA, EPA and USDA adequately regulate the
introduction of new plant products. Agency approval requires testing for
human and environmental toxicity whether a product is produced
conventionally or through genetic engineering.

Some new products from GM crops that promise significant improvement in
human health include:

1.Soybeans that make more monounsaturated fatty acids and fewer
polyunsaturated fatty acids, providing healthier sources of vegetable oil.
2.Rice and corn that express vitamin A and promise to reduce blindness in
many developing countries. 3.Vaccines that can be delivered through food,
providing a safe and effective method for disease prevention. 4.Soybeans
that produce compounds useful as plasticizers, paint, and lubricants,
eliminating the need for chemical
modifications that produce toxic byproducts.

The use of genetically engineered plants will improve our environment.
Genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans that are resistant to
insects have substantially reduced chemical pesticide use in the U.S. This
may also minimize the exposure of workers and neighboring communities to
harmful chemicals, while increasing profits for farmers. Although these
plants may prove harmful to some beneficial insects, the primary
alternative is large-scale spraying of pesticides, a process that
indiscriminately eliminates all insects, from fields.

We further believe that GM crops will be instrumental in enabling farmers
to locally produce and provide food throughout the world. The world's
population will grow significantly in the coming decades, requiring
dramatic increases in grain production. Conventional breeding, however,
cannot meet this need. The use of GM crops will make farmland more
productive, reducing the need to bring additional forest acreage into
production, again leading to environmental benefits.

Despite the promise of this new technology, fear and concern both in
Europe and the U.S., fanned by media coverage, have halted or severely
slowed the investment of the agricultural industry in genetically modified
products. In the past, the fate of recombinant DNA technology was
determined by the dispassionate consideration of scientific facts - a
decision that led to numerous health benefits including the production of
new drugs and the diagnosis of genetic disease. Likewise, agricultural
biotechnology policy should be not dictated by unfounded fears. For
example, there are difficult problems surrounding the proposed mandatory
labeling of products derived from GM crops, which could impede the
development of this technology. Such labeling would merely specify the
technology used to create the product without providing information on its
contents. Further, such labeling would impose significant production
burdens on farmers and manufacturers, who would be required to separate GM
and non-GM goods from the field to the factories to the marketplace. It is
often argued that labeling provides consumers with a choice. In Europe,
labeling has had the opposite effect - those who do not object to
purchasing GM food can no longer find suppliers bold enough to sell it.

The GSA believes it is important to protect research with GM crops from
unnecessary restrictions. This research could have far-reaching benefits
for human health. In view of the current regulatory controls with regard
to GM products, it is critical to avoid legislation that would slow the
development of this important technology.

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) represents about 4,000 genetics
researchers across the country and throughout the world.
------------------
The Genetics Society of America Statement in Support of Research on
Genetically Modified Organisms

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) represents about 4,000 genetics
researchers across the country and throughout the world.

The ability to move individual genes into crops presents an enormous
opportunity for improving the quality and nutritional value of the food we
eat. Moreover, because plants are capable of performing diverse chemical
reactions, we anticipate that this technology will improve the production
and availability of pharmaceuticals, prevent environmental damage through
cleaner and safer chemistry, and facilitate environmental cleanup with
plants designed to detoxify hazardous waste. Traditional breeding
experiments over thousands of years have genetically modified nearly every
crop species. More modern approaches that utilize genetic engineering have
many advantages: they are faster, more precise, and can introduce genes
tailored to confer beneficial properties. The GSA vigorously supports
research and development in the area of genetically engineered organisms,
including the development of what are commonly called genetically modified
(GM) crop plants.

In the United States, a regulatory network of multiple agencies controls
the introduction of new food products, whether they are produced
conventionally or through genetic engineering. The USDA regulates meat and
poultry products, the FDA regulates other foods, and the EPA regulates
pesticides. Agency approval requires testing for both human and
environmental toxicity. If the contents of a food product can affect
health risks or if they are likely to promote allergy, labeling is
mandatory. If companies wish to add additional labels to promote their
products, they bear the burden of proof to ensure that those labels are
accurate. The approval process includes evaluation of the following:

The uses of the food, including both human and animal uses The sources,
identities, and functions of introduced genetic material The purpose or
intended technical effect of the modification, and its expected effect on
the composition or characteristic properties of the food or feed; The
identity and function of any new products encoded by the introduced
genetic material, including an estimate of its concentration; Comparison
of the composition or characteristics of the bioengineered food to that of
food derived from the parental variety or other commonly consumed
varieties with special emphasis on important nutrients, anti-nutrients,
and toxicants that occur naturally in the food; Information on whether the
genetic modification alters the potential for the bioengineered food to
induce an allergic response; and, Other information relevant to the safety
and nutritional assessment of the bioengineered food.

New products from genetically modified crops promise significant
improvement in human health and the environment. Some examples include:

Soybeans that make three-fold higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids
and ten-fold lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, providing
healthier sources of vegetable oil. Soybeans that are even more likely to
reduce harmful cholesterol levels than ordinary soybeans, due to increased
levels of particular isoflavones.Rice and corn that express high levels of
vitamin A and promise to significantly reduce blindness in many developing
countries. Vaccines that can be delivered through food to provide safe and
effective methods for disease prevention in much of the developing world.
Soybeans that produce compounds useful as plasticizers, paint and
lubricants, eliminating the need for chemical manufacturing processes that
produce toxic byproducts harmful to the environment.

These are just a few of the many ways by which, far from threatening
public health, GM crops will in fact improve it.

The use of genetically modified organisms can also improve our
environment. The use of GM corn, cotton, and soybeans has dramatically
reduced the use of chemical pesticides in the U.S. This is the result of
the introduction of crops expressing the BT protein, which is specifically
toxic to certain insect larvae. Many individuals and groups have raised
concerns about the safety of transgenic BT crops despite the fact that the
bacteria that naturally produce BT have been applied directly to crops as
a form of organic pest control for over 40 years. Transgenic BT crops have
passed rigorous testing in the US, Canada, and Japan, and they have been
found to pose no threat to other insects, animals, or humans. The primary
alternative to BT is large-scale spraying of pesticides which kills both
beneficial and harmful insects and has other harmful environmental
consequences. Increased use of GM crops promises to further reduce
chemical pesticide use, minimize the exposure of workers and people in
neighboring communities to harmful chemicals, and increase profits for
farmers.

Furthermore, GM crops will be instrumental in enabling farmers, for the
first time in history, to literally feed the world. The world's population
will likely grow by one to two billion over the next decades. In order to
feed this many people, grain production must dramatically increase,
perhaps by 40%. Traditional breeding methods are too slow to meet this
increased demand; instead, the rapid production of disease resistant crops
through genetic modification can enable rapid increases in crop
productivity. This use of GM crops will make available farmland more
productive, reducing the need to bring additional forest acreage into
production. Hence, an additional benefit to the environment, curtailing
the loss of the world's forests, is anticipated from the development of GM
crops.

Despite the promise of new food production technology, fear and concern
both in Europe and the U.S., fanned by media coverage, have halted or
severely slowed the investment of the agricultural industry in genetically
modified products. In the past, the fate of recombinant DNA technology was
determined by the dispassionate consideration of scientific facts - a
decision that led to numerous health benefits including the production of
new drugs and the diagnosis of genetic disease. Likewise, agricultural
biotechnology policy should be not dictated by unfounded fears. The
consequences of the recent fear campaign are evident in Europe, and are
threatening to spread in the U.S. Ultimately, all biotechnology may be
targeted, as many are becoming fearful of all recombinant technologies. As
with recombinant DNA, the GSA supports the continued monitoring for any
possible adverse consequences and recommends appropriate responses should
they be detected; to date, none have been.

Some in the U.S. support special labeling of food that is derived from
genetically modified crops. But many, experienced in public policy, as
well as those who have witnessed recent events in Europe, caution that
labeling may unnecessarily inflame public fears. Further, such labeling
would merely specify the technology used to create the product without
providing information on its contents further setting the stage for fears
based on too little information. This form of mandatory labeling would
also impose significant production burdens on farmers and manufacturers
who would have to separate GM and non-GM goods from the field to the
factories to the marketplace. Farmers and food producers strongly oppose
this, as it would require costly storage and processing facilities and
equipment to be added at all stages of production. In many cases, there is
no test that can discern if a product, such as corn syrup, is derived from
modified plants. Consequently, the cost of complying with mandatory laws
could be so prohibitive as to invite dishonesty at several levels.
Finally, some argue that labeling provides consumers with a choice. In
fact, in Europe, labeling has had the opposite effect - those who do not
object to purchasing GM food can no longer find suppliers bold enough to
sell it.

The GSA has a strong commitment to educating the public about science in
general and genetics in particular. We believe that better public
education will help allay many unfounded fears of non-existent dangers
associated with genetic modification of food sources, as well as educate
the public on realistic assessments of risks based on scientifically
obtained knowledge. We recommend investments in resources in supporting
such educational efforts.

The GSA believes it is important to protect research with GM crops from
unnecessary restriction. This research has the potential for far-reaching
benefits for human health and the environment. In view of the current
regulatory controls with regard to GM products, it is critical to avoid
legislation that would slow the development of this important technology.