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Date:

October 11, 2000

Subject:

Give Biotech a Chance to Feed World, Ag Chief Says

 

TUSKEGEE - Despite fears of genetically altered soybeans, corn and other
crops, people will have to rely more and more on genetic engineering and
other advances in science and technology to feed the world, U.S.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Tuesday.

He said some critics want to stop research on genetically altered foods,
but such a halt would be dangerous.

"When you try to stop the mind from working because you may not think it's
the politically correct thing to do, you have really hurt the future of
the human race," Glickman said at the International Food and Nutrition
Conference at Tuskegee University.

"The simple fact is that world population will reach 9 billion by the
middle of this century. That's 3 billion more mouths to feed," he said.
More than 800 million people are chronically malnourished now, Glickman
said. "How are we going to cope with 3 billion more people in this world?

"I am of the belief that promoting new technologies - biotechnology,
advances in irrigation, water management, pest management, soil treatment
and more - will continue to be the cornerstone of our efforts to feed a
growing world population."

Biotechnology includes transferring genes, the building blocks of
heredity, from one plant to another to boost resistance to pests or
drought or to change other characteristics.

Critics say scientists haven't proved that genetically altered crops are
absolutely safe to eat or won't somehow hurt the environment, maybe by
pollinating other plants to create super weeds, for instance.

Glickman said continued research is vital.

"Some of my friends in the environmental movement, not so much in the U.S.
but elsewhere, don't even want the science to go forward. That is a real
dangerous perspective," he said. "My suggestion is, try to keep the
politics out of it."

He said biotechnology such as genetic engineering could increase yields,
increase resistance to drought, diseases and pests, and boost the
nutritional value of crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soybeans.

"It's one of the technologies I think we should explore fully to see how
it can help farmers and ranchers produce food in a more sustainable way
and reduce water use, reduce pesticides and lower costs," Glickman said.
"It is wrong to tell scientists not to look into it."

Hails U.S. safeguards

He said the recent creation of genetically engineered golden rice someday
could prevent blindness in 100,000 children a year in Asia, where many
people don't get enough Vitamin A, an essential aid to eyesight and the
immune system.

Scientists put two genes from a daffodil into the genetic material of
white rice. The result: golden rice that contains beta carotene, which the
human body converts into Vitamin A. White rice has no beta carotene.

Glickman said Europeans may especially fear genetically altered food
because they don't have a good system of food safety regulation. The
United States has the Food and Drug Administration, he said, but Europe
doesn't have similar agencies.

"I think to a large extent the fears of these new technologies, such as
biotechnology, are unjustified. However, they are a reality. So we just
can't accuse them of being foolish and that they should just adopt our
standards," Glickman said in an interview.

"What we have to do is convince them there are ways you can regulate these
products to protect the public interest and to protect food safety,"
Glickman said. He has been head of the agriculture department since March
1995.