Hearing Entitled, “To Consider the Societal Benefits of Biotechnology”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 @ 07:07 AM
posted by Beth Clay

A Status Report on House Agricultural Committee’s

Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture 

Hearing Entitled, “To Consider the Societal Benefits of Biotechnology” 

July 9, 2014

Subcommittee Members

Republican Members

Chairman:  Austin Scott, (GA-8)

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (MO-4)

Rep. Jeff Denham (CA-10)

Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (TN-8)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-1)

Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13)

Rep. Chris Collins (NY-27)

Rep. Ted S. Yoho (FL-3)

Democratic Members

Ranking Member: Kurt Schrader, (OR-5)

Rep. Suzan K. DelBene (WA-1)

Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11)

Rep. Ann M. Kuster (NH-2)

Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18)

Witness List:  (Testimony is hyperlinked to their name)

Mr. David Just, Professor, Co-Director, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Dr. Calestous Juma, Professor, Practice of International Development, and Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA

Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller, Assistant Professor, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL

Mrs. Joanna Lidback, Owner, The Farm at Wheeler Mountain, Westmore, VT

The goal of this hearing was to address the benefits of biotechnology ahead of a hearing slated to take place in the Energy and Commerce Committee in a few weeks.  While there was an opportunity for a ‘minority’ witness, both sides of the aisle agreed on the four witnesses, and thus there was no ‘opposition’ witness requested.  It was confirmed with staff that conflict of interest statements were required, and that no industry affiliation was listed on any witness.

There were about five members of the Committee present.  Rodney Davis of Illinois served as Chair for this hearing as Chairman Scott had a cold and could not talk.  Rep. Davis spoke at length about the need to improve food production to feed the planet and the lectures of Paul Erlich from 25 years ago.   Ranking Democrat and veterinarian, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, who happened to completed his undergraduate degree at Cornell, Doug LaMalfa of California whose family grows conventional seed rice in California, Suzan DelBene of Washington State whose has a background of biotechnology work in the life sciences, and Ted Yoho another veterinarian from Alachua, Florida, home to a large agricultural biotech center.  Representative LaMalfa is a cosponsors of the industry written, HR 4432.

This hearing is a one-sided presentation to the Subcommittee on the benefits of biotech foods (GMO). The witness list has been carefully constructed to bring a variety of promotional issues.   The overall thrust of the hearing is that the public has been misled and misinformed by GMO myths, and that onerous regulations on farms and innovative companies.  The focus is on the need to improve and increase crop production to feed the planet.

Dr. Just;s testimony focused on his research analyzing how consumers “tend to lump food that is labeled as having been genetically engineered together with categories of foods such as those that contain chemical preservatives or other ingredients with long names that sound overly technical, or foods that are highly processed and factory produced.”  It is his opinion that when consumers are informed of how specific crops are developed to address specific needs, that consumers loose fear and are more willing to buy.  In questions, he provided that he feels that if there was mandatory labeling on the front of the packaging, it would be viewed as a warning, and if included in the ingredients list on the back, that most consumers would not know it was there.  He also indicated that the disdain for GMO foods may lead some companies to be less innovative in GMO development, and is having a chilling effect in academic research environments, driving the research back to industry.

Dr. Juma is a plant from the Gates Foundation.  Not included in his testimony, but posted on his Harvard website is his bio, which includes: Calestous Juma is Professor of the Practice of International Development and Director of the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project. He directs the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and serves as Faculty Chair of Innovation for Economic Development executive program. Juma is a former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and Founding Director of the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi. He is co-chair of the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation and a jury member of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. He was Chancellor of the University of Guyana and has been elected to several scientific academies including the Royal Society of London, the US National Academy of Sciences, the World Academy of Sciences, the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the African Academy of Sciences. He has won several international awards for his work on sustainable development. He holds a doctorate in science and technology policy studies and has written widely on science, technology, and environment. Juma serves on the boards ofseveral international bodies andis editor of the International Journal of Technology and Globalisation and theInternational Journal of Biotechnology. His latest book, The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

Dr. Juma focused his testimony on how biotech foods save lives in Africa, that the UK is now revisting its laws on GMOs because industry in the UK is adversely affected by the laws.  He feels that he concerns initially put forward when GMO were first being developed have continued although the fears have not been substantiated.  Towards the end he compared the GMO discussion to the margarine-butter debate.  He also promoted adverse information about the opposition.  He feels that those who oppose GMO crops should disclose their source of funding the same as scientists do.  He also talked about how the Philippines and Uganda have not moved forward with allowing golden rice and golden bananas because their legislators have been blocked by activists from within and outside the country.  (Rep. Davis and Schrader both talked ‘weak governments’, and not having the political will. Rep. Davis also mentioned political turmoil.)

In addition to GMO crops, he is also thinks we should be promoted GM animals.  He stated that 28 countries, most developing, are planting GMO crops and that the US risks falling behind technologically because of the misperceptions of the risks.

Dr. Bolden-Tiller  from Tuskegee focused her comments on focused on the history of crop modification (George Washington Carver is a heavy influence at Tuskegee). Her testimony included these comments:  And the facts are these: 1) the incorporation of GMO crops into operations in developing countries result in increased farm incomes and reduced

labor associated with agricultural practices, allowing for more time for education and other avenues of income; 2)it is predicted that food production must double within the next 30 years to meet the demand of the projected population; 3) biotechnology provides scientists with answers that can result in the production of more affordable foods while sustaining the environment. This is not to say that technology should be haphazardly implored, as care must be taken and questions must be asked. Carver suggested that “man is simply nature’s agent…to assist her in her work, hence the more careful and scientific the man, the more valuable he is as an aid to nature in carrying out her plans methodically….” Irrespective of one’s positions, it is sure that society must be educated about current biotechnology and forthcoming tools to come for the future.”   She concurred with the theme that the consumer has been misled.

Mrs. Lidback, the Vermont mother, farmer and full time employee of the Farm Credit Bureau. She was there as a representative of the Agri-Mark Dairy Cooperative and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.  She and her husband rent their 200 acre farm from relatives.  She was the perfect industry witness, she stated that she never busy organic foods as they have additional nutritional benefit, that the price of organic feed for her cattle would cost the farm an additional $75,000 a year, which they could not afford.  Towards the end of her testimony she even almost cried (as if on cue) in talking about the worry of her sons going in to farming.  Towards the end of the hearing she piped in a comment about the need to have only voluntary labeling.

It is important to be aware of the early strategies and positioning of those who want voluntary labeling of GMOs and how one sided is the education and research being shared.  There is a renewed need to get experts and researchers to share their knowledge before the committee.

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