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7-Misc: Monsanto has supported fair regulation of biotechnology

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Jan. 8 column by Molly Ivins is an excellent example of Will Rogers' 
assessment of profound opinion: "It's not what people don't know that 
gets them in trouble; it's all the things they know that ain't so."
During the early 1980s and continuing to 1989, I was chairman of [ 
Monsanto Co. ] 's Biotechnology Strategy Committee. Monsanto had clearly 
identified biotechnology as a major corporate objective. We believed we 
had more than the usual scientific and marketing issues to manage. More 
important, we recognized that the largest potential stumbling block was 
lack of freedom to operate because of a flawed regulatory situation that 
could occur.
Monsanto concluded that we could lose the freedom to operate because of 
one or both of two possible situations. The first was that products could 
turn out to have an adverse impact on the environment or the public. The 
other situation would be a perception that there were adverse effects. 
Unless both were addressed, we would not be able to capitalize on our 
biotechnology efforts.
History had taught us that we could go from no regulation to punitive 
regulations in a short time, especially if some problem appeared, either 
real or perceived. In the early 1980s, vigorous, aggressive opponents of 
biotechnology were creating doomsday scenarios daily. Our approach was to 
ask for good, tough, science- based regulations well in advance of 
products. This would create a win-win situation. First, it would be the 
best way to protect the public and the environment as well as making sure 
that the public had the perception that the protection was there. The 
second benefit was that it would give industry a predictable regulatory 
environment in which to operate.
Congress determined that no new laws or agencies were needed. The three 
regulatory agencies did end up with an acceptable regulatory system. 
There were the usual frustrations and debates about specifics, but 
compared to other regulatory issues and considering the magnitude of the 
subject, it was handled better than most.
Another aspect was that of legislative and regulatory actions of the 
individual states that affected the biotechnology industry. There was a 
flurry of activity at the state level. Bills were introduced and 
regulations and agencies were created. If this had continued, there could 
have been a patchwork of state regulations that would have caused major 
problems for the industry. However, with initiative by the federal 
agencies, the state regulatory issues essentially went away.
It is fascinating that Bill Lambrecht, who wrote a Dec. 27 article on 
Monsanto, and Ivins both were able to ignore the fact that every 
science-based organization, ranging from the National Academy of Science 
to the medical profession, has addressed the issue of biotechnology and 
has supported the concept of agricultural biotechnology. Moreover, the 
regulatory approach being used has been supported by both Democratic and 
Republican administrations and Congress for 16 years.
The speculative issues raised by Ivins about "jumping species" is very 
similar to the demagoguery of Jeremy Rifkin in the 1980s. If she had 
bothered to check, that issue is addressed in the regulatory 
requirements. If Ivins and Lambrecht can quote from those who destroy 
property and those who cannot provide data to substantiate their claims, 
why not quote from the world-renown scientists, as well as those who now 
have the possibility of sufficient food because of biotechnology?
The non-scientific barriers that are preventing the benefits of 
biotechnology from being brought to bear are deplored by all reputable 
people. There have been no mishaps, no cries for new agencies or laws. 
There is science-based regulation in place. Do we deserve an "A+"? The 
answer is "No." However, I'll claim at least a "B+" rather than the "F" 
that Ivins and Lambrecht would give us.
(Copyright 1999)

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