Fact Sheet: Healthy Harvests: Growth Through Biotechnology

March 21, 2000
U.S. Department of State

"Neither politics nor protectionism should deny the world's consumers the right to benefit from technological breakthroughs in the production of food."

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

1. Biotechnology is employed all around us in many everyday products, from the clothes we wear to the cheese we eat. For centuries, farmers, ranchers, bakers and brewers have been using traditional techniques to make and modify plants and food products -- wheat being an old example and the nectarine being a recent example. Today, biotechnology employs modern scientific techniques to allow us to improve or modify plants, animals and microorganisms with greater precision and predictability.

2. Consumers should have the opportunity to choose from the widest possible array of safe products. Biotechnology can offer consumers a wide array of choices -- not just in agriculture and food production, but also in medicine and fuel resources.

3. Responsible biotechnology can offer enormous potential benefits. It is in the best interest of developing and developed countries to support additional research to help biotechnology achieve its full potential.

-- Biotechnology helps the environment. By allowing farmers to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides, the first generation of biotechnology products is helping to reduce herbicide and pesticide use, and future products are expected to yield more environmental benefits. Reduced herbicide and pesticide use means a smaller risk of toxic contamination of both surface and groundwater. In addition, herbicides used in conjunction with genetically engineered plants are often safer for the environment than the herbicides they replace. Bioengineered crops also may reduce the need for farming practices, such as tillage, that result in soil loss.

-- Biotechnology has tremendous potential to help fight hunger. Biotechnology developments offer significant potential benefit for developing countries where almost a billion people live in poverty and suffer from chronic hunger. By increasing crop yields and making crops disease- and drought-resistant, biotechnology could reduce food shortages for a world population expected to exceed 8 billion by 2025

-- an increase of more than 30 percent from our current population. Researchers are developing varieties of staple crops to enable them to survive harsh conditions such as droughts and floods.

-- Biotechnology helps combat diseases. By developing and improving medicines, biotechnology helps fight diseases. Biotechnology has given us new medicinal tools to treat heart disease, multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, hepatitis, and AIDS, among other illnesses. Biotech foods are being developed that may enable the world's poor to receive low cost and widely available important vaccines and vitamins.

-- Biotechnology could yield significant benefits to health. By boosting the nutritional value of foods, biotechnology can be used to improve the quality of basic diets. For example, rice and corn varieties with enriched protein contents are in development. In the future, consumers will be able to benefit from cooking oils with reduced saturated fat content derived from genetically engineered corn, soybean, or canola plants. In addition, genetic engineering may be used to produce foods with enhanced levels of vitamin A, which would help address a major cause of blindness in developing countries. Genetic engineering can also offer health benefits beyond nutrition, as techniques have been developed that can be used to remove specific allergenic proteins from food products or to delay spoilage.

-- Biotech products, reviewed by U.S. regulatory authorities, are safe. In fact, information available indicates that biotech products currently on the market are as safe as conventional foodstuffs - both for human health and for the environment. U.S. regulatory authorities are constantly evaluating their procedures for ensuring the safety of biotech products. If there were scientific evidence that biotech food posed a threat to human health, such foods would not be on the market in the United States.

4. Blocking trade in safe agricultural biotech products reduces consumer choice, forces consumers to pay higher prices for basic products, and discourages research on future beneficial products.

5. Sound science remains the best foundation for food safety and environmental decisions. Legitimate concerns about possible environmental impacts must not be ignored. The United States is committed to an open dialogue, backed by science, with all interested parties in the biotechnology debate. At the same time, the public should not be denied the right to choose new products because of misinformation that has raised unfounded fears.

6. Accurate information regarding the safety of biotech products should be publicly available. Transparency is central to increasing the level of public trust in sound science. The United States believes that it is important to respond to the public's concern about biotechnology and urges all countries to provide accurate information regarding the safety of these products. We invite you to visit our website at http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/global/biotech/.


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