Hundreds of scientists sign biotechnology declaration

Hundreds of scientists sign biotechnology declaration
March 1, 2000


A declaration supporting agricultural biotechnology and signed by over 600 scientists from around the world was released January 22 at a press briefing in Montreal. The briefing, sponsored by International Consumers for Civil Society, featured Dr. C.S. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University and author of the proclamation.

The statement declares that "recombinant DNA techniques constitute powerful and safe means for the modification of organisms and can contribute substantially in enhancing quality of life by improving agriculture, health care, and the environment."

The scientists assert that "the responsible genetic modification of plants is neither new nor dangerous. Many characteristics, such as pest and disease resistance, have been routinely introduced into crop plants by traditional methods of sexual reproduction or cell culture procedures. The addition of new or different genes into an organism by more recombinant DNA techniques does not inherently pose new heightened risks relative to the modification of organisms by more traditional methods."

Explaining why he drafted the declaration and launched the effort to bring other scientists on board, Prakash said: "To promote a responsible use of biotechnology in addressing the global problems of agricultural productivity and world hunger, it is critical that we as scientists become more proactive in making our voices heard."

Prakash has established a Web site, www.AgBioWorld.org, to help coordinate his effort. The declaration and a list of scientists who have signed it (which will be updated periodically) can be viewed on the site.

The biotech declaration notes that “the risks posed by foods are a function of the biological characteristics of those foods and the specific genes that have been used, not of the processes employed in their development. Our goal as scientists is to ensure that any new foods produced from recombinant DNA are as safe or safer than foods already being consumed."

Among the benefits of new DNA techniques, notes the declaration, are "'environmentally friendly' crop plants with traits that preserve yields and allow farmers to reduce their use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. The next generation of products promises to provide even greater benefits to consumers, such as enhanced nutrition, healthier oils, enhanced vitamin content, longer shelf life, and improved medicines."

Representatives from over 130 countries met in Montreal in mid-January to discuss the international Biosafety Protocol, which sets the rules for transboundary shipments and use of genetically modified foodstuffs. Among the biotechnology advocates in attendance were representatives of International Consumers for Civil Society, a coalition of 22 nonprofit groups in 10 countries. ICCS emphasizes the importance of free markets, open trade, and technological improvements for consumer well-being around the globe.