Secretary Madeleine AbrightÕs Remarks to the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Excerpts pertaining to biotechnology
February 21, 2000

Of course, diplomacy and science are not negotiated in a vacuum. Governments respond to many forces, including economic and trade interests, as well as the values and fears of their people. That has certainly been the case with recent international differences about the perceived risks and benefits of biotechnology.

Biotech crops have tremendous potential to produce more and better food while using less land, water and pesticides. For example, vitamin A-enriched rice could reduce blindness and disease among the more than 100 million children in the world who suffer from a deficiency in that vitamin.

At the same time, science tells us that biotechnology -- like all technologies -- may present risks. If improperly managed, some biotech products could harm "non-target" species or increase the resistance of weeds.

But science does not support the "Frankenfood" fears of some -- particularly outside the United States -- that biotech foods or other products will harm human health. So it is unfortunate that unsubstantiated fears about biotech products exerted significant influence on the recently-concluded Biosafety Protocol.

We fought and succeeded in basing that agreement on good science. That small victory could yield big benefits for Americans and consumers worldwide. But we know that the biotech controversy has not fully been resolved.

The Biosafety negotiation shows that simply having good science is not always enough. The science must be part of a larger long-term strategy to educate publics and work with governments to address concerns and find practical solutions to specific problems. In fact, on many of the issues where my field intersects with yours, this may be the closest thing we have to a working formula for success.

This formula certainly accounts for our advances in the area of global climate change. Don't get me wrong: the Kyoto Protocol remains a work in progress. And we have many skeptics yet to convert on Capitol Hill.

But on this issue more broadly, the United States has not only been out front in doing the science; we have been out front in communicating the science publicly, and in a coordinated and energetic way. So that whatever international disagreements there are about how to deal with this challenge -- and there are plenty -- almost all of them concern how to address it, not whether a problem exists.

For that we can thank the S&T community, working through such bodies as the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. This Panel is a model of how governments and scientists can work together to develop international consensus.

Of course, scientists need the support of political leaders to foster popular understanding and change public policy. I am proud of the effort that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have invested in the climate change issue. And I am convinced it will make all the difference in the end.


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