GENET archive


7-Misc: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on GE and future US farming

mailinglist genet-news
-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on genetic
        engineering and the future of US farming
SOURCE: USDA, Press Release 0187.99
DATE:   April 29, 1999

----------------- archive: ------------------

Dear GENET-news readers,
this speech of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman on the situation of US farmers gained international interest because its remarks on genetic engineering showed for the first time that the high political level in the US reacts in a new way on the world-wide anti-GM movement. Glickman compares the enthusiasm in genetic engineering of our days with the early years of nuclear power supply: "Then, Three Mile Island happened.". For the full text, please go to

Hartmut Meyer


Release No. 0187.99

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman
Purdue University, West Lafayette, in April 29, 1999

"Thank you very much, Vic, for that kind introduction. And thank you for the expertise that you're lending to USDA, as Chairman of our Advisory Board on Research, Extension, Education and Economics. It's a great honor to be at one of the most prestigious land-grant universities. Touring your new Food Science Center and getting a glimpse of some of your biotech research just confirmed what I already knew -- that this is a school with a rich tradition of accomplishment and innovation in the field of agriculture. That's one of the reasons I'm here. The other reason is that I wanted to visit the home of the 1999 NCAA Women's Basketball Champions...even if the Boilermakers are a Big Ten rival of my alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Those of you emerging from Purdue's agriculture program will be tomorrow's leaders in farm production, agribusiness and science. You will be the ones to steer the ship at a time of staggering change in the structure and composition of the farm economy, but also the national economy and the global economy. So this seemed an ideal place to have a forward-looking discussion about the place agriculture may occupy in American life in the 21st century. All of us involved in agriculturestudents, faculty, researchers, farmers,  community leaders, and those of us in governmentmust work together to deal with the monumental changes taking place in agriculture and we must make our decisions and set our priorities accordingly.

Producing For The Market
We also have to help farmers learn to thrive in a consumer-driven environment. What we have had in the past -- although I think it's changing now -- is a kind of "if we grow it, they will come" mentality. The Big Three automakers found out what happens when you defy the consumer. They used to forcefeed cars to a closed-mouth public, and they got left in the dust by Japanese and German competitors. But they learned their lesson, and now they tailor their production to the needs and demands of their consumers. Many farmers are doing this. But to be successful, agriculture must always stay ahead of the consumer curve. And it just so happens that, when it comes to food, we're living in a time when consumer tastes and preferences are becoming more and more sharply defined. Who would have thought forty years ago that grocery shoppers would be asking for turkey bacon, veggie burgers or tofu ice cream? Americans and people around the world are more knowledgeable about food and nutriti!
on and more discriminating about what they put in their mouths. In addition to the traditional foods that most consumers buy, many people are now looking for leaner beef, organic foods, free-range chicken or foods that are "natural".

There is a heightened consciousness about food labeling. People want to know where their food comes from and what goes into it. They're worried about their cholesterol levels and their recommended daily allowance of folic acid. These are the kinds of consumer dynamics that farmers must learn to read and respond to or else ignore them at their own peril. And there are even more consumer dynamics to consider when it comes to our overseas customers, who represent the greatest potential growth market for American agriculture. 

We can't talk about agricultural challenges for the 21st century without some discussion of science, and specifically biotechnology. Science and technical progress are certainly to be celebrated. For hundreds of years, the physical and life sciences have helped make agriculture
safer, more efficient and more productive. It has increased yields and reduced production costs. Science is everywhere in our shopping carts -- from frozen dinners to low-fat cheeses to seedless grapes. Our new science-based food inspection system at USDA, to give just one example, is improving our ability to protect consumers from deadly pathogens.
Biotechnology can be an indispensable tool as we try to serve global agricultural demand in a sustainable manner. The world is growing, and it's growing in developing nations, which have experienced the greatest food insecurity. We have more and more people to feed more and more fiber to produce...and a limited amount of arable land to put into a time when water is becoming a more and more precious and scarce commodity. Biotechnology can help us generate higher yields, while lessening the strain on our natural resources. It can also help farmers produce a new generation of specialty products, which the market may demand in the future.
We cannot be science's blind servant. We have to understand its ethical, safety and environmental implications. Our testing has to be rigorous. We have to be as vigilant as ever. And we have to make sure that those involved in determining the safety of genetically- engineered products are staying at arm's length from the people who stand to profit from them. At USDA, for example, we took our food safety division out from under the umbrella of our marketing programs, an important step that has avoided even the appearance of impropriety in this area. We also can't force these new genetically engineered food products down consumers' throats. While people around the world have embraced biotechnology's twin, information technology, the fact is that they're still quite cautious about biotech. My belief is that farmers and consumers will eventually come to see the economic and health benefits of these products. But dismissing the skepticism that's out there is not only arrogant, it's!
 also a bad business strategy. My confidence in biotech -- or industry's confidence in biotech -- is ultimately irrelevant. Only when consumers have confidence -- and when they express that confidence at the grocery-store checkout line -- will we be able to see the return on the enormous public and private investments we've made in biotechnology.

This is an important challenge for those of you in the research community. Innovations may be born in the laboratory, but they find success in the marketplace. So it's not enough to celebrate science for science's sake. Technological progress must always be accompanied by public information and consumer education efforts that address concerns and allay fears. Scientists should always remember that there's another kind of research -- market research -- without which all the patents and all the ingenuity in the world add up to very little. When it's all said and done, the public opinion poll is just as powerful a research tool as the test tube. Just yesterday, two of the largest grocery chains in the United Kingdom said that they will work to eliminate GMO ingredients, just another sign that the biotech issue remains a highly explosive one. I think these grocery chains need a little bit of educating, but I don't think we can just sit here and berate them. We've got to work with !
them, so they understand -- and consumers understand -- what the benefits are.

Also, we have to be careful about ratcheting up the expectations on some of these technologies. There is no one silver bullet that will allow us to meet all of tomorrow's agricultural and food security challenges. We have a way in this country of latching on to solutions, pursuing them to the exclusion of others, and then watching them sometimes backfire. We did it in the late 70s when we embraced nuclear power as the primary solution to our energy needs. Then, Three Mile Island happened. Now, nuclear power is till a part of our energy grid, but it's not the only part. Just in the past few years, we looked at the growth of emerging markets and decided that trade was the panacea. Before we knew it, Asian financial markets collapsed, setting off a chain reaction that has led to recession in just about half of the world. So, yes, let's be enthusiastic about these technologies and pursue them. But let's not put all of our eggs in the biotech basket. Just as the securities industry!
 tells us to diversify our investment portfolios, so must our agricultural science portfolio be rich and diverse.
We have to start with a recognition that America is no longer a predominately agrarian society. It's naive and just plain unconstructive to wax nostalgic about some kind of pre-industrial Jeffersonian model. In 1900, farmers represented 38% of the labor force. By 1950, the number of farms had decreased only by a few hundred thousand, but farmers dropped to only 12% of the labor force. By 1990, there were barely 2 million farms, and farmers made up 2.6 % of the workforce. Sixty years of aggressive farm programs have not been able to reverse this trend.
If we work together -- if we all keep jumping -- we can seize those opportunities and preserve for our farmers and ranchers and our rural communities their share of the American Dream in the 21st century.

Thank you very much."


-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

Genet News