DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A new group launched a petition drive Monday aimed at building support for genetically modified farm products. Mark Berg, president of Foundation EARTH, was touring the state with a former state lawmaker, circulating a petition declaring support for biotechnology and its benefits to health and the environment. "As farmers are planting soybeans, corn and other crops this year, we think it is important for the general public to hear directly from growers about why we use biotechnology," said Berg, a soybean farmer from Tripp, S.D.
Much of the argument over genetically modified crops has been dominated by critics who warn about uncertainty over long-term health consequences and the dangers of modifying natural products, but that misses important points, Berg said.
Genetically modified crops can be more resistant to pests and reduce the need for the use of chemicals, and they can increase productivity, an effort that's badly needed as demand for food grows.
"The use of biotech is going to revolutionize farming and make it possible to raise food with less impact on the environment," said Allen Borlaug, a former state senator and farmer from Protivin, who was along on the swing. Borlaug is the cousin of Norman E. Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work in developing high-yielding grain.
Foundation EARTH, a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis, is focusing on Iowa in part because of Gov. Tom Vilsack's support for biotechnology. Vilsack and North Dakota Gov. Ed Schaefer recently delivered high-profile speeches at the National Press Club in Washington backing the use of biotechnology.
Berg conceded there is significant resistance to biotech, particularly in Europe, where genetically modified products are widely banned. That's led to problems for U.S. farmers who must keep products stored separately so they can assure exporters that grain isn't genetically modified.
"We must continue to allow farmers to enjoy the benefits only agricultural biotechnology can provide," the foundation's petition states. "The benefits are too significant to ignore."