Scientists Launch Petition To Support Biotech Foods

February 18, 2000
Reuters

More than 1,000 scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, have endorsed genetically modified foods as safe, environmentally-friendly and a useful tool to help feed the developing world.

The new declaration is one of the first organized attempts by academics to defend bioengineered foods which have come under growing attack from consumer and environmental groups.

Several major food companies and retailers around the world have already halted sales of genetically altered foods in response to consumer demands. The European Union, Japan, South Korea are among the nations adopting mandatory labels on foods containing ingredients, such as soybeans, corn, or potatoes, that have had genes artificially inserted to resist pests.

The declaration, prepared by C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee University, describes agricultural biotechnology as a way to help enhance the quality of life.

Signers of the petition included more than 1,000 scientists from India, Australia, Israel, Denmark, Canada, the United States and other countries.

Most signers identified themselves as researchers in plant pathology and breeding and included several dozen scientists employed by biotech companies Monsanto Co., Novartis AG , DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co.

Two Nobel Prize winners-James Watson and Norman Borlaug-also signed the declaration.

Watson shared the 1962 prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA and Borlaug was recognized in 1970 for his work developing hybrid wheat to boost food production in developing nations.

The scientists said existing government regulations for the approval of new genetically modified crops have worked well, and encouraged the development of plants that require fewer pesticides and herbicides.

"Through judicious deployment, biotechnology can also address environmental degradation, hunger and poverty in the developing world by providing improved agricultural productivity and greater nutritional security," the declaration said.

"We also urge policymakers to use sound scientific principles in the regulation of products produced with recombinant DNA, and to base evaluations of those products upon the characteristics of those products, rather than on the processes used in their development," the document said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently mulling what changes, if any, should be made in how genetically altered foods are regulated.

The scientists’ declaration was published on the Internet at http://www.agbioworld.org.

Prakash, who heads Tuskegee’s Center for Plant Biotechnology Research, has been involved in projects to engineer improved qualities into sweet potatoes, melons, peanuts and other crops grown widely in the developing world.

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