Despite recent high-profile measures in California counties and in the Vermont legislature to ban or heavily regulate genetically enhanced crops, most state legislatures are following the federal government’s lead in rebuffing the opponents of biotechnology.
Most State Laws Support Biotech
In 2002, 130 bills and resolutions addressing biotechnology were introduced in state legislatures, according to a May 2004 study conducted by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. Fifty of the 130 measures were in support of biotechnology.
State legislatures approved only 21 bills and six resolutions of the 130. Most were in support of biotechnology. While biotech proponents are concerned about the anti-biotech victories in Vermont and California, they are generally confident that state legislatures, like their federal counterparts, are not being misled by scare tactics designed to steer attention away from the current benefits and future promises of biotechnology.
U.S., U.N. Endorse Biotech
In Iowa, the state legislature has passed legislation encouraging pharmaceutical development in crops and animals by allowing life science corporations to own land for agricultural production. As Mike Rodemayer, executive director of the Pew Initiative, told the Associated Press, such “bills include biotechnology with other high-technology areas and try to stimulate economic growth. Iowa farmers are very eager to find new ways to make agriculture pay, whether it be corn as biofuel or corn as a platform for making pharmaceuticals. It’s just another example of looking for ways to diversify rural incomes.”
Biotech opponents are strongest in Northeast states, where bills are more frequently introduced to support organic crops and impair development and use of genetically enhanced products. “They’re making more efforts to require labeling, propose bans, or otherwise trying to make rules of the road,” said Rodemeyer.
Such efforts to impede genetic enhancement at the state and local level run counter to federal and international recognition of the real-world benefits of biotechnology. United Nations agencies addressing world hunger frequently plead with member nations to encourage genetic crop enhancement as a way to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. The U.N. position is frequently and consistently bolstered by scientific studies documenting the benefits of biotechnology and discrediting activist groups’ scare tactics.
Science Aids Debate
Two high-profile studies confirming the benefits of biotechnology were released in May and June 2004. On May 17, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its annual report, which stated, “More than 70 percent of the world’s poor still live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival. Agricultural research including biotechnology holds an important key to meeting their needs.”
The FAO report also noted biotechnology “can provide farmers with disease-free planting materials and develop crops that resist pests and diseases, reducing use of chemicals that harm the environment and human health. It can provide diagnostic tools and vaccines that help control devastating animal diseases. It can improve the nutritional quality of staple foods such as rice and cassava and create new products for health and industrial uses.”
Another study, authored by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published in the May issue of the Journal of Food Protection, concluded crops grown with the benefits of biotechnology are far less likely to induce human illness than are organically grown crops. The study reported, for example, that organically grown produce is 600 percent more likely to test positive for the presence of potentially deadly E. coli bacteria than conventionally grown produce, which benefits from biotechnology. The study reported similar results regarding other human health threats, such as salmonella.
Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, called the avoidance of biotechnology “a crap shoot” potentially resulting in “diarrhea, typhoid fever, and Reiter’s Syndrome, which causes joint pain and painful urination that can last for years after the initial salmonella infection.”
Added Avery, “Organic food activists, which include many activist researchers entrenched in university halls, have claimed the superiority of organic food for years in their efforts to mold society and scare consumers into buying their politically correct fare. Now their facade is crumbling.”
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The annual report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-2004,” is available online at http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/y5160e/y5160e00.htm.
The Journal of Food Protection is available online at http://www.foodprotection.org/publications/JFP.htm.