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Leading experts address safety and economics of biotech crops

August 27, 2001

CHICAGO -- In the seven years since the first genetically modified food product, the Flavr Savr™ tomato, was approved for sale in this country, agricultural biotechnology has been a catalyst for both public debate and research. A special three-day symposium, "Agricultural Biotechnology," with sessions on food, feed and environmental safety assessment, analytical methodologies, and benefits, is on the agenda August 27-29 in Chicago during the week-long 222nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Scheduled papers include:

Detecting biotech grain -- Steven Tanner of the USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration in Kansas City, Mo., will describe guidelines and procedures for sampling, testing and detecting biotech grains. His agency is responsible for establishing the official U.S. standards that buyers and sellers use to evaluate grain quality and type. (AGFD 54, 2:05 p.m., Monday, August 27, McCormick Place South, Room S505A, Level 5.)

Biotechnology's contribution to global food security -- C. S. Prakash, Ph.D., of Tuskegee University in Alabama, believes transgenic crops can improve agricultural productivity, minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers, protect against diseases, pests, drought and spoilage, and improve food quality and nutrition. But, Prakash notes, "The integration of biotechnology into agricultural research in the developing world is fraught with many hurdles that must be addressed." One of the first things that must be done, he says, is to develop adequate biosafety regulations for development, testing and release of new crops. (AGFD 99, 8:40 a.m., Tuesday, August 28, McCormick Place South, Room S505A, Level 5.)

Improving wheat -- Ann Blechl, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., is working to improve several characteristics of wheat. These include better resistance to scab (a disease that has cost U.S. wheat farmers billions of dollars in losses), increased dough strength and a better protein balance in wheat flour. (AGFD 101, 9:40 a.m., Tuesday, August 28, McCormick Place South, Room S505A, Level 5.)

The economics of biotechnology -- Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri in Columbia, poses the question, "Will agrobiology live up to the high expectations?" He will discuss emerging economic and trade trends and what they mean to the future of agricultural biotechnology and America's national competitiveness. (AGFD 102, 10:25 a.m., Tuesday, August 28, McCormick Place South, Room S505A, Level 5.)

Assessing the allergenic potential of biotech foods -- Steve Taylor, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will describe processes currently used to determine if proteins in genetically modified foods are likely to cause allergic reactions in people. He believes these tests will assure that the novel proteins in biotech foods have been soundly evaluated for their allergenic potential. (AGRO 89, 9:15 a.m., Wednesday, August 29, McCormick Place South, Room S505B, Level 5.)

Little difference between conventional and biotech crops used for animal feed -- Jimmy Clark, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will discuss research that, he says, indicates biotech crops being used for animal feed are "substantially equivalent" to conventional feed in terms of digestibility and feeding value for livestock. (AGRO 91, 10:45 a.m., Wednesday, August 29, McCormick Place South, Room S505B, Level 5.)

Bt crops can dramatically reduce pesticide use -- Janet Carpenter, M.S., National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, Washington, D.C., says Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) crops have the potential to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Already, pesticide use in cotton has been reduced by 14% in just six southern states since the introduction of Bt cotton, according to Carpenter. Bigger reductions are on the horizon, she says. Carpenter projects that Bt potato varieties could reduce chemical pesticide use by 95 percent -- about 1.9 million pounds -- in the Pacific Northwest. (AGRO 107, 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 29, McCormick Place South, Room S505B, Level 5.)

International researchers dispute claim that Bt corn threatens monarch butterfly -- Mark Sears, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, in collaboration with scientists in several states in the central U.S. Corn Belt region, found that "the impact of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn pollen on monarch butterfly populations is negligible." The finding sharply contradicts previously published reports. "Inflated and unsubstantiated claims by environmentalists calling for the ban of transgenic corn crops in North America because of the risk of impact to non-target organisms, such as the monarch butterfly, can now be shown to be false," according to Sears. (AGRO 108, 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, August 29, McCormick Place South, Room S505B, Level 5.)
-end-

-- by Marvin Coyner

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American Chemical Society


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