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7-Misc: Speech of US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on Genetic Engineering



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USDA Millennium Speaker Series Remarks by Secretary of Agriculture Dan 
Glickman

http://www.usda.gov/news/releases/1999/03/0117>http://www.usda.gov/news/rel
eases/1999/03/0117
Release No. 0117.99

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman
USDA Millennium Speaker Series
Washington, DC -- March 19, 1999

"Thank you very much, and welcome to our first installment in the 
Department's Millennium Speaker series. Thank you, Eileen, for those kind 
words. And thanks to our panelists for taking the time today to share 
their insights.
"As all of you know, we are in the middle of a farm crisis. Falling 
commodity prices and shrinking incomes are putting the squeeze on farmers 
and ranchers around the country. Naturally, I spend a lot of my time and 
this Department devotes a lot of its resources to addressing and 
mitigating this crisis. "But even as we are caught up in the dealing with 
the immediate situation, it's critical that we not lose sight of the big 
picture. We can't let the dialogue on ag issues become all trees and no 
forest. Prices, I am confident, will rebound. The global economic 
recession will give way to recovery. The farm economy will bounce back. 
But then we will still have to answer vitally important questions about 
what agriculture will look like in the next century. That's why I 
launched this speaker series...so that we could examine broad issues and 
developments affecting the long-term future of American agriculture.
"Our subject today is biotechnology, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an 
issue that has more far-reaching implications for agriculture in the new 
millennium. It presents both great challenges and enormous opportunities 
in just about every issue confronting this Department -- research, 
regulation, global competitiveness, conservation, concentration, and 
inspection.
"Biotechnology is a powerful tool in ensuring global food security. The 
last fifty years are replete with stories of revolutionary innovations 
that increased productivity and helped fight hunger. The wheat gene Norin 
10, for example, helped developing countries like India and Pakistan 
increase their wheat harvests by 60 percent. At the wheat research center 
in Mexico that conducted some of the Norin 10 research, there is an 
inscription on the wall that reads: "A single gene has saved 100 million 
lives." "Today, in a world of growing populations and shrinking farmland 
and forests, biotechnology becomes that much more important. We have more 
and more people to feed...more and more fiber to produce...and a limited 
amount of arable land to put into production. But biotechnology can allow 
us to generate higher yields, while putting less of a strain on our 
natural resources.
"But some people, when hear the terms "biotechnology" and "genetic 
engineering" associated with things they put in their mouths, they get a 
little nervous. And all of us -- public policy leaders, the scientific 
community, and the private sector -- have an obligation to take their 
concerns seriously.
"Sound science has demonstrated time and again that many biotechnological 
advances are safe and reliable. But if consumers at home and abroad don't 
share our confidence, they will reject genetically-treated products, and 
we won't be able to get a return on the enormous public and private 
investments we've made in biotechnology.
"In Europe, there has been real reluctance to open their markets to our 
biotech corn varieties and other similarly-treated products, in part 
because their people are still reeling from the mad cow scare and other 
public health crises. We must continue to argue in multilateral forums 
like the WTO that our biotech products have withstood the strictest 
scientific scrutiny. But we also have to keep this in mind: market access 
isn't enough if, when it comes right down to it, many European consumers 
fundamentally don't trust and won't buy the products. "What we need is 
some kind of public information and consumer education effort 
domestically and internationally -- that will separate the myths from the 
realities and reassure people that our regulatory process is sound...that 
bioengineered food products are rigorously tested and deemed safe before 
being brought to market. "On the other hand, we also need to understand 
that biotechnology raises a number of policy issues that the agriculture 
community needs to consider. We must acknowledge that we are dealing with 
a new technology, and we must continue to demonstrate our vigilance about 
safety and public health.
"To ensure that there is an open dialogue on all aspects of 
biotechnology, I'm announcing today the formation of an Advisory 
Committee on Biotechnology, which will examine the impact of 
biotechnology from every conceivable angle -- its creation, application, 
marketability, and so on. My goal is for everyone who has a stake in the 
future of biotech research scientists, social scientists, farmers, and 
consumers to be represented on the 25-member panel.
"One of the things the advisory committee will explore is the impact of 
biotech on the small family farmer. In an increasingly top-heavy and 
concentrated farm economy, some worry that biotech might further tilt the 
playing field against the small operator. "The ownership issues are very 
tricky. There is a legitimate case to be made that farmers own the seeds 
they buy and are free to replant them as they choose. But those rights 
are at loggerheads with the legitimate proprietary interest of the 
company that pumped millions of dollars into the research that developed 
that seed. And while we respect their rights, I think we're all a little 
concerned when we read about agribusinesses filing law suits against 
small farmers, generating such an atmosphere of mistrust that small 
farmers are actually turning each other in. Somewhere, there's got to be 
some room for common ground.
"We have to ask: Will the next generation of biotechnology products lead 
to greater contracting practices between companies and farmers? And 
should the government have a role in ensuring that farmers are treated 
fairly under those contracts? "What is the role of public research? Are 
we doing enough to promote public access to germplasm and maintain seed 
diversity? "Let's remember too that there are people who have other food 
preferences, and USDA must be responsive to them. Last year, we heard 
from 280,000 organic consumers who do not want any genetically modified 
organisms in their food. Are we at USDA doing enough to serve that 
market? As we discuss biotechnology issues, are we giving adequate 
consideration to biodiversity as well?
"We're not going to answer all these questions today. But what we can do 
is have a frank dialogue, which will continue on our Advisory Committee 
and well into the new millennium. Working together, we can harness the 
potential of biotechnology to produce the greatest good for the greatest 
number of people. Thank you."
"Now it's time to hear from the real experts. Let me kick off the 
discussion by posing a very general and open-ended question: What are the 
biggest challenges you see for the future in biotechnology?


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