GENTECH archive


Report of U$ Ambassador spin on GM foods--"Don't be scared"

As published by the INDEPENDENT, this story lacks the speaker's name,
and the date of his speech. Without that info. I'm afraid this
may be just a rumor about U$ policy !!


INDEPENDENT (London) January 20, 1999

Podium - Don't be scared of modified food

Felix Rohatyn - From a speech by the American ambassador in Paris to the
Federation du Credit Agricole, Paris

Agriculture is at the heart of the US economy. It employs some 20 million
people. Agricultural products are our biggest export. The last few years
have seen a major shift in American agricultural policy - the greatest
change since the Thirties - due to the globalisation of agricultural

American farmers have seen their income suffer as a result of the Russian
and Asian financial crises, the abundance of global supply, and the
resulting drop in commodity prices. This situation has been exacerbated by
recent drought conditions in the United States.

To respond to these hardships, the US government is seeking ways to
strengthen the social safety net for American farmers, while preserving
the market freedoms gained from reduced government intervention.

France faces a similar challenge: how to encourage dynamism in the
agricultural sector and reduce government subsidies, while at the same
time providing a safety net for farmers whose livelihood is often
threatened by conditions that are beyond their control.

The proper role of biotechnology in agriculture is a particularly delicate

In the United States, we consider the results of biotechnology used in
farming to be extremely promising.

Insect-resistant plants and drought-resistant corn are two such examples.
In each case, biotechnology has increased output. It has also lowered
production costs and reduced the use of pesticides and water, bringing
environmental and health benefits to both farmers and consumers.

If we can use biotechnology to increase food stocks and permit crops to
grow in harsh climates, we may begin to eliminate the scourge of famine
and hunger in the world.

Given this positive point of view, the use of biotechnology in agriculture
has expanded rapidly in the US. More than 30 transgenic crops have been
approved for sale, including such staples as soybeans, corn, potatoes and
canola oil [from oil-seed rape]. Three years ago, not a single genetically
engineered crop was planted for commercial use. This year, an estimated 65
million acres world-wide were planted with transgenic seeds, including
about a quarter of next year's US corn and one-third of the soybean crops.
Experts predict that within 10 years an estimated 95 per cent of America's
plant-derived foods will be genetically engineered.

Research is under way on the next generation of foods enhanced by
biotechnology that could have real health benefits: meat without
cholesterol, oils with less fat, wheat with more protein, to name but a

The safety of biotechnology is widely discussed in the European press.
Confidence in biotechnology in the United States is due largely to our
confidence in the government agencies responsible for food safety. No
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be used in the United States
without meeting strict government requirements. In fact, three federal
agencies must review and approve the use of GMOs in the United States.
Scientists for regulatory agencies in the European Union, Canada, Japan
and Australia, plus the World Health Organisation, have also studied any
possible risks - and have determined that the GMOs that are on the market
today are safe for human health.

Another reason why American consumers have generally accepted these
products is that they aren't really anything new. All plant breeding
involves the genetic manipulation of plants. Virtually all of the
agricultural products sold and consumed have been altered by this kind of
cross-breeding. Genetically modified foods are as safe as the original
plants from which the genes were taken. Every country has the right and
the responsibility to establish a policy of food labelling.

Since May 1998, the European Union has required the labelling of GMO
products as such. However, for the reasons I have just outlined, the
United States has taken a different position. We believe, for example,
that a type of corn that has been genetically modified to resist drought
is no different from a hybrid corn developed to give higher yields, and
therefore requires no special label. The difference of opinion on these
issues may result from historical and cultural factors, but one thing is
clear: American, French and European consumers must have confidence in
what they consume, and producers must be responsible for what they

As we seek to meet this common goal, we should open channels of
communication, share our scientific findings and isolate our decisions
from politics and emotion.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
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