ASA, ISA host D.C. Biotechnology Roundtable

Inaugural D.C. roundtable gathers leaders to discuss the necessity of ag biotechnology.

THE American Soybean Association (ASA) and the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA)recently teamed up for the first-ever D.C. Biotechnology Roundtable, hosting more than 100 farmers, researchers, leaders of agricultural organizations, and federal officials to discuss the worldwide benefits of agricultural biotechnology, ongoing ag biotech issues, and the acceleration of government approval of biotech seed for soybeans and other crops.

The D.C. Biotechnology Roundtable was the latest in a series of forums ISA has organized to help advance a more science-based approval process and to reinforce the proven safety of agricultural biotechnology, which has become crucial to enhancing yields and quality of soybeans and other crops.

"It is critical that agriculture lets policymakers and regulators in Washington know how much farmers need biotechnology to sustainably produce food for the world's population,” said Bill Raben, soybean farmer from Ridgway, Ill., and ISA chairman. “Scientists and regulatory agencies have established that agricultural biotechnology is safe for humans, animals and the environment.  It is crucial science that helps farmers use fewer resources to produce more food."

A panel of farmers including Ron Moore, representing ISA and the American Soybean Association; Jim Zimmerman, from Wisconsin and the National Corn Growers Association; and Brett Blankenship from Washington State representing the National Association of Wheat Growers; shared examples of the value of biotechnology and the need for collaboration across agriculture and government to make biotech crops available to farmers and food companies.  The farmers emphasized that biotechnology should be viewed as a viable choice for those who see its benefits, including consumers and farmers.

ASA chief executive officer Steve Censky joined Michael Hawkins of the Embassy of Canada in providing a broader global perspective on the issue.

Ambassador Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative delivered the keynote address, and other regulatory speakers included EPA's Dan Kenny, USDA-APHIS' Michael Firko, U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Jack Bobo, U.S. Department of State. Firko updated the attendees on the progress USDA is making in clearing the approval backlog of new biotechnology designed to help crops withstand pests, disease and harsh climate and use crop nutrients more efficiently.

Dr. David Zilberman, professor at University of California-Berkeley, addressed the lengthy approval process by explaining that new biotechnology traits for soybean seed can take 10-15 years, pushing costs as high as $160 million to commercialize new biotechnology. Dr. Robert Paarlberg, renowned author and advisor to numerous food and agricultural organizations worldwide, discussed the social and political aspects of the topic by reiterating the proven safety of biotechnology and discussing the current global climate of biotechnology acceptance.

Paarlberg, also a professor of political science at Wellesley College and public policy at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, explained that opposition to biotechnology comes from environmental and anti-globalization groups in more affluent countries, particularly the European Union. He said the current state of worldwide regulation deprives people of food by preventing use of biotechnology by farmers in poorer countries who are growing food crops such as wheat, rice, and potatoes, while, at the same time, making the technology available only to farmers in affluent countries, such as the United States, who raise biotech crops, such as soybeans and corn for livestock feed.

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