Governors Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa) and Ed Schafer (R-N.D.) as co-chairmen today announced formation of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership to support scientific advances in agriculture.
Thirteen governors so far are supporting the effort, Governor Vilsack said, with more expected to join the new bipartisan campaign to increase public understanding and support for the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.
Addressing a National Press Club luncheon, Governor Vilsack said the Governors Biotechnology Partnership will work to help meet "the enormous challenge of our ability to feed the world."
"Great nations, great peoples, respond to great challenges," he said.
The present world population of six billion people will increase to seven billion in just l2 years, Governor Vilsack said, and then the population will grow by an additional billion each successive decade. Because most growth in population will come in nations that need to grow more food on lands that have been unproductive, "we have to grow more on less," he said.
Governor Schafer, just returned from a trade mission to China, said China's burgeoning population will require huge amounts of food in coming years, and that biotechnology promises to help fill that need. He said the U.S. must pursue agricultural trade with China if reforms are to progress there. If such trade is denied, he said, China's "Old Guard" will strengthen its grip and defeat promising reforms.
Governor Vilsack said there are 790 million chronically hungry people in the world, most in Africa and Asia, and that l00 million children face potential blindness because of inadequate nutrition. Biotechnology is producing a new type of rice, he said, that will fight threats of blindness in deprived regions of the world.
"The security of the world is as much based on feeding the world as it is on protecting the world," Governor Vilsack said. "We have the responsibility of creating the required food in an environmentally responsible way."
The Iowa governor said he "recognizes that there are critics of biotechnology," but that many people are unaware that federal agencies are closely involved in regulation and inspection of food products. He cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as effective watchdogs.
"How are we going to respond to these critics?" Governor Vilsack asked.
"First, I believe that the science community has to be more engaged than it has been." He noted that 1,000 scientists recently authored a public letter testifying to the safety of biotechnology.
Next, he said, organizations such as the Governors Biotechnology Partnership must work to "stimulate discourse and discussion" not only with consumers, but with legislators and the academic community.
In addition to Governors Vilsack and Schafer, other governors who are already involved in the new partnership or who have expressed a commitment include Governors Dirk Kempthorne (R-Idaho), Frank O'Bannon ((D-Ind.), John Engler (R-Mich.), Tom Carper (D-Del.),Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mel Carnahan (D-Mo.), Kenny Guinn (R-Nev.), Jim Hunt (D-N.C.), Tommy Thompson (R-Wis.), Gary Locke (D-Wash.), and George Ryan (R-Ill.).
/CONTACT: Ken Arnold, 202-223-3532, for the Governors Biotechnology Partnership/