Approps Amendment Sets a Dangerous Precedent

AquaBounty's AquAdvantage Salmon

A number of media outlets including the New York Times reported on the June 15 vote on the House floor to deny funding for authorization of the genetically engineered AquAdvantage salmon.

In response, BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood admonished the action for setting a dangerous and inappropriate precedent.

“This amendment does a grave disservice to our Government’s science-based regulatory system. President Obama has called for America to lead on new technologies so as to foster new industries, more jobs and enhanced economic benefit. This amendment would present new barriers to achieving that goal.

“Allowing politicians to substitute their judgment for that of scientific experts within the Food and Drug Administration circumvents a comprehensive and well-established approval process, and sets a dangerous precedent for the development of any policies related to food production and human health.

“When it comes to the food we eat and serve our families, accredited scientific experts – not politicians – need to make all determinations about safety and health.”

Dr. Ronald Stotish, President and CEO of AquaBounty Technologies said that the House action is “wrong on facts, policy and process.”

“This outrageous action is wrong on the facts, wrong on the process and wrong on the policy. A handful of representatives has chosen to subvert the FDA’s rigorous 15-year plus process. It completely ignores the results of a rigorous scientific review. This sort of political gamesmanship undermines the science-based system that protects the nation’s health and safety. It is astonishing that Young and a few colleagues would try to game the system in this way.”

Whether or not you support this transgenic salmon, we should all agree these types of shenanigans have no place in a complex scientific debate. These actions threaten the fundamental basis of a science-based regulatory process. Americans deserve better from their elected representatives.”

Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine and posts on his blog, “Damn Science and Consumer Interests!”

“The ridiculously hypercautious Food and Drug Administration has slowly inched towards approving the sale of farm-raised biotech salmon developed by AquaBounty. The biotech salmon have a gene from other fish species installed that enables them to grow faster using about 10 percent less feed than regular farm-raised salmon. Already aquaculture provides 50 percent of the fish that people eat around the world. Enhancing farmed fish production could relieve pressure on the world’s already way overfished wild fisheries.”

Bill Gates: Innovation is Key to Helping Poor Farmers

Bill Gates Addressing Health Ministers at Meeting on Polio Organized by the Gates Foundation

“I’ve never been a farmer,” Bill Gates confessed at The Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security. “Until recently, I rarely set foot on a farm.”

Yet, through the Gates Foundation, he is one of the world’s most powerful advocates for poor farmers and he is helping them gain access to technology that will help them grow their way to self-sufficiency.

Right now, the average farmer in sub-Saharan Africa produces just over a ton of cereal per acre, Gates explained at the event. An American farmer? Seven times that. The difference? The American farmer has tools and techniques that an African farmer does not – including access to genetically modified seeds.

The Gates Foundation funds the International Rice Research Institute’s Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. Through this project, farmers are gaining access to advances in agricultural biotechnology and are helping to develop high-yield rice varieties with tolerance for droughts, floods, and saltwater.

“One farmer told me he planted this new variety [Swarna Sub 1] next to the old one he used to plant,” Gates explained. “When the rains flooded his fields for 10 days, the old variety was totally destroyed, while the new rice yielded more than 3 tons a hectare. That’s twice the yield that farmers get from the old rice variety without floods.”

A record 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries are using biotech crops – and the trend continues to grow. Ninety percent of these (over 14 million) are resource-poor farmers in developing countries and farmers have earned higher incomes in every country where biotech crops are grown. Read BIO’s FAQs about biotech crops.

Helping poor farmers access the latest technology, grow more crops, and get their surplus to market is, quite possibly, the most effective way to reduce global poverty and hunger.

Face of a “Giant Agribusiness”

The Huffington Post ran on May 13 a very articulate piece authored by Minnesota corn farmer Noah Hultgren: 

According to some, I am a giant agribusiness — the worst kind of factory farmer.

What qualifies me for this dubious distinction? Nothing except that, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures, my farm falls in the biggest six percent of U.S. farms. And these farms account for the bulk of federal farm policy support.

It sounds pretty damning, which is why it is the top talking point used by opponents of farm policy looking to dismantle a system, they say, is too tilted to agribusinesses and oppresses small, family farms.

But there’s a lot more to this story than a 10-second sound bite would let on. For example, the USDA considers anyone with sales of more than $1,000 to be a farm, so that six percent figure is a little misleading.

The weekend grower on the side of the road selling tomatoes from her garden would be a farmer in the government’s eyes. Ditto for the young retiree trying his hand at wine-making.

Ironically, my business is probably more in line with what most of us consider a farm. It is family-run. It was passed down to me from my father and grandfather. It is a full-time effort to support my wife and kids.

And, in order to make it my livelihood, it has sales exceeding $500,000.

Again, that figure can be spun to sound really bad, since most people don’t know the difference between revenue and profit. But remember, the $500,000 represents gross sales, not how much money the farm or farmer is making.

A farmer may produce half-a-million dollars worth of goods but might have to spend just as much to grow the crop, making it a break-even proposition and sometimes a losing one.

Seems odd to call these farms corporate titans, especially when you consider that the Small Business Administration classifies most businesses as “small” if their gross sales are under $7 million a year.

How much profit could a “giant corporate farm” like mine hope to generate? The USDA puts profit margins in agriculture at 10 to 15 percent.

So under favorable circumstances — Mother Nature cooperates, market prices are fair, oil doesn’t spike and you don’t run into any problems like equipment breaking down and needing expensive repairs — that $500,000 in sales could generate between $50,000 and $75,000 in profit a year, according to the USDA’s estimates.

No corporate executive in his or her right mind would get into such a risky business with such little profit upside. That’s why 97 percent of U.S. farms are still owned by families, not by corporations like Cargill, or ADM, or Kraft.

I recognize that some may construe this article as a complaint about farm profits or an attack on smaller farm operations, but that is not my intent.

Farm prices are way up right now and near an all-time high — and as a result, federal spending is way down. And I know that if America is going to meet tomorrow’s food and fiber needs it will take farms of all shapes and sizes.

Smaller, organic growers are part of this puzzle, as are larger, conventional operations like mine, which supply more than three-quarters of our country’s food and fiber.

As Secretary of State Clinton said this weekend, “We must redouble our commitment to sustainable agriculture and food security.”

She’s right. If this nation is going to keep pace with an exploding global population, and if it’s going to do it in a sustainable way, then responsible farmers of all sizes have to come together in supporting and encouraging technology and best management practices.

In addition, America needs to urge the next generation to to get involved in farming, despite the low profit margins and risk, to replace aging growers who are retiring.

Our farmers and ranchers are a thin green line standing between a prosperous nation and a hungry world. It’s time to refocus on holding all parts of this thin green line instead of tearing it apart with manipulated numbers and disingenuous spin.

Ag Biotechnology Playing Bigger Role in Food Output

CNBC published an online article on April 26 about technology’s role in meeting global food demand. 

Industries of all stripes typically look to technology to improve safety and cost efficiency. With both global food prices and concerns about food safety on the rise, technology is playing a more important role in the economics of the world’s food supply.

Agricultural biotechnology is gaining traction worldwide as a method for improving crop yields. And thanks to new federal regulations dealing with food safety, information technology is becoming an increasingly important part of the equation.

Traits for Sustainability

Amid a rising global population, increasing the availability and sustainability of crops is a challenge for the farming industry. 

In 1960, on average one farmer fed 26 people per year. Now, a farmer feeds about 155 people per year,” says Jack Boyne, a spokesman for Bayer’s CropScience unit. “The fact that the farming industry has risen to this challenge gives us room for optimism. But we know there will be 3 billion more people on this planet by 2050, and it’s no sure thing that that trend will continue.”

 That’s why governments are embracing agricultural biotechnology, particularly insect-resistance traits and herbicide tolerance for crops, to help farmers improve their crop yields while keeping costs low.

On average, about 35 percent of the global crop production is reduced by diseases and pests,” says Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, executive vice president, food and agriculture, at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. “Through the adoption of insect resistance, you reduce that damage caused to the crops. Through herbicide tolerance being incorporated into the plant, farmers can kill weeds more easily and still have a healthy crop.”

A new development involves incorporating drought tolerance into plants, a crucial issue for many regions in the world where water is in short supply. Drought-tolerant corn developed by Monsanto in collaboration with Germany’s BASF is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 The analogy is that instead of the corn gulping water it takes sips of water, and it still produces at the same yield potential as corn that has the normal amount of water that’s needed conventionally,” Lauritsen says.

 Along with industry giants such as Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, and Syngenta, some smaller companies are leading the way in new agricultural biotechnology methods.

Arcadia Biosciences has been working technology that helps plants use nitrogen more efficiently, enabling farmers to use less nitrogen fertilizer — cutting costs and reducing the environmental impact — while generating the same yield.

Lauritsen notes that as of 2007, biotechnology has improved soybean yields by 30 percent per acre worldwide, while corn and canola yields increased 7.6 percent and 8.5 percent per acre, respectively. From 1996 to 2008, biotech crops have produced $52 billion of farm-level economic benefits, according to PG Economics, an agricultural industry consultant.

 Much of the concern regarding the world’s food supply involves developing nations. While biotechnology has largely been adopted by developed Western countries, albeit with a fair amount of controversy, it is beginning to gain traction in the rest of the world.

 Lauritsen points to golden rice as an example, which is being touted as a solution to some childhood health problems in developing regions. Beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, is created naturally in the stalks and leaves of the rice plant, but not in the grain. With so-called golden rice, the beta carotene is expressed in the grain itself. It’s expected to be introduced in the Philippines in 2013.

There’s a lot of optimism that this will do a lot to help prevent blindness,” Lauritsen says. “It’s estimated that there are 6,000 deaths per day globally due to vitamin A deficiency, so that is really looked upon as a real potential.”

Earth Day 2011: Five Ways Biotechnology is Earth-Friendly

As the world celebrates Earth Day 2011, the biotech industry is doing its part to make the food we eat and the products we consume more environmentally sustainable – from reducing carbon dioxide emissions to preserving endangered species. Here are five ways that biotech is making farming earth-friendly.

1.       Protecting Soil, Air and Water:  Farmers have found that the use of biotech crops can reduce the need for plowing to control weeds. No-till agriculture, in limited use prior to 1996, has enabled farmers to shift to simpler, more effective methods means of control since biotech crops are able to tolerate herbicides with low environmental impact. This has led to improved soil health and water retention, reduced pesticide runoff, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

For one year alone, fuel savings combined with biotech crop-related carbon sequestration eliminated nearly 39 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in 2009 – equivalent to removing 7.8 million cars from the road in one year. Watch a video about American farmers.

2.       Conserving the Environment:  Biotechnology can help produce environmentally friendly farm animals. Animals and their feeds have been improved through biotechnology to reduce animal wastes, minimizing their impact on the environment. Watch a video about genetically engineered animals.

3.       Preserving Endangered Species:  Today’s reproductive and cloning techniques offer the possibility of preserving the genetics of endangered species. In addition, studies of endangered animals can also result in increased genetic diversity which can result in healthier populations of the species. Watch a video about endangered species.

4.       Promoting Energy Security:  Biotechnology is at the heart of biofuels. Biofuels are made from everything from corn to soybeans to sugar beets to wood and grasses – even algae. They are also cleaner burning than petroleum-based fuels and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent or more! Learn more about the potential of algae.

5.       Saving Plants from Disease and Pests:  Biotechnology is helping food plants resist disease and pests. For example, a genetically enhanced papaya literally helped save the Hawaiian papaya industry for farmers who suffered devastating losses from the ringspot virus – there was no other effective treatment. Learn more about the biotech papaya.

To learn more about how biotech is making farming earth-friendly, download BIO’s 2011 Earth Day fact sheet!

Keep Biotech “Risks” In Perspective

The StarPheonix ran a commentary authored by Saskatoon-based farmer and agrologist Kevin Hursh about the perceived “risks” of biotech foods:

A good scientist will never say there is zero risk, only that risk is minimal or negligible. Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for consumers when it comes to the food supply.  It’s now been 15 years since the introduction of genetically modified crops. A lot of consumers don’t even realize that GM crops have been part of their diet for more than a decade. If you ask them, they’d prefer not to have any GM crops because it sounds scary.

Worldwide, the main GM crops are corn, soybeans and cotton. So far, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance have been the traits commercialized. Both have been a boon to production while helping to preserve the environment.

We’re just at the cusp of GM traits that will more directly benefit consumers – drought tolerance, special food quality attributes and nitrogen use efficiency. Those benefits may never be realized if the consumers of the world grow more risk averse.  There are 100 million farmers growing GM crops, most of them in developing nations, but major opposition to the technology still exists, particularly within Europe.

After 15 years of growing GM crops, there is not a single credible health concern. The term genetic modification is actually a misnomer. We’ve been doing that for centuries through various plant breeding methods. The new technology is better described as genetic engineering. If anything, it provides more precise control over the outcome.

The technology is intensely regulated. Approval of new traits requires exhaustive research. Is the risk zero? No, but it’s extremely low and the risk isn’t zero under conventional plant breeding methods either.

Affluent Canadians, Americans and Europeans can afford to reject technology. In fact, many reject all aspects of intensive agriculture. Go ahead and buy organic vegetables and free range chickens if it makes you feel better.

But we can’t feed the world without the continuing application of biotechnology. There will be seven billion people on the planet by the end of this year and nine billion by 2050. World food production is falling behind the growth in demand.

Throw in climate change or at least climate variability. Add in the fact that we want to reduce the use of pesticides. We don’t want to take more land out of its natural habitat, but we pave over good farmland every day to expand our cities. And many nations are running out of the water they need for irrigation.

We can accept biotechnology as a tool to improve yields, food quality and the nutrient utilization or crops. Or we can let the food supply become ever more precarious and expensive and deal with the ramifications of starving people.  Let’s choose the path with the lower risk.”

Debating Technology’s Role in Alleviating Hunger

The blog Plenty to Think About focuses on the issues surrounding global food production and world hunger. Although the blog is sponsored by Elanco, its purpose is to serve as an online forum where many voices can share their perspectives on what it will take to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. 

By 2050, the world will need to produce 100 percent more food, and according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 70 percent of the increased production must come from efficiency-enhancing agricultural technologies,” says Jeff Simmons, President, Elanco Animal Health. 

The white paper, “Making Safe, Affordable And Abundant Food a Global Reality” addresses how highly efficient food production can help alleviate hunger and exposes consumer perceptions about technology use.

This easy-to-read report explains technology’s role in increasing agricultural production around the globe, and how we can better grow more food crops for more people in more enivonmentally sustainable ways. 

Technology defined:
1. Practices – Doing it better
2. Products – Using new, innovative tools and technologies
3. Genetics – To enhance desired traits in plants and animals

We must call a truce to the debate about the role of technology in the sustainable production of safe, affordable and abundant food if we are to protect the Three Rights:

1. Ensuring the human right of all people around the world to have access to affordable food. 

2. Protecting all consumers’ rights to spend their food budget on the widest variety of food choices.

3. Creating a sustainable global food production system, which is environmentally right.

The challenge of world hunger is complex and multifaceted. Allowing the entire food chain access to safe, efficiency-enhancing technologies is an essential component of a comprehensive solution to the challenge – both locally and globally. In addition, protecting the right to choose these technologies can make the dream of safe, affordable and abundant food a reality worldwide.

For more information, visit