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DISPELLING IGNORANCE
Following are excerpts from a speech given by Novartis Seeds president and CEO Ed Shonsey to the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council in November 1999.

... [I]n between listening to the farmers' ever-present concerns about prices, government polices, weather and the high cost of seed corn, I'm hearing some things I've never heard before.

The farmers I talked to are deeply, profoundly and truly worried about the future of agriculture. ...

What has farmers upset - so upset their eternal optimism is in serious danger of becoming permanent pessimism - is ignorance. ...

Ignorance on the part of a group of people, who, in the name of protecting the environment, have imperiled the near-term future of agricultural biotechnology.

Ignorance on the part of the developers of such products - yes, that's me, my company and Pioneer and DeKalb and Mycogen and Asgrow and others - who failed to understand the societal ramifications of the technology we've been promoting.

Ignorance on the part of a media which finds it easier to synthesize gloom and doom inaccuracies than analyze a complex truth with accuracy.

Ignorance on the part of their government which they see as being more interested in trade war politics than their fight for survival.

Ignorance - and, yes, arrogance - on the part of the scientific community which has failed to adequately explain the safe outcomes of the scrutiny applied to agricultural biotech products from the human, animal, insect and plant perspectives.

The farmers I've been listening to are upset by the ignorance of a public whose interest in science and scientific methods and process grows less and less every year. And whose belief in sham science grows at a concomitant rate.

And, finally, they're upset with their own ignorance of the ways to explain, convince and get people to believe that all they're trying to do is keep up with the demands expected of them. ...

[Biotechnology] has already changed our vocabularies and how we do business in agriculture. And almost every day there's some new discovery.

So what do we do between now and the time when all our dreams and investments start producing products that will serve global markets? The answer is twofold. First, we must understand this thing called biotechnology and its true significance. Second, we must defend this technology by maintaining and creating new markets by providing balanced information, and by ensuring choice in selection of products to all involved. ...

We can't do all the things that need to be done by ourselves, and so every chance I get, I ask for help from organizations such as yours.

* First of all, as an industry, we need to hurry up the process of getting products to the market that are obviously beneficial to the consumer. We must also ensure that consumers always have a choice of selection.

* We believe that the systems that result in the authorization of such products as genetically enhanced seeds must be overhauled - especially in Europe.

We're carrying that message to our state and national legislators and we're doing our best in the countries of the European Union to get across the point that without a respected system of approvals, there will be no progress.

* We - and I hope you - will continue to support third-party oversight of the process of product introduction. Read the recent speeches of Norman Borlaug and the president of the Ford Foundation about biotechnology, who have no other interest than to help mankind.

* We want to expand the private/public partnerships we've developed in agriculture. Novartis, alone, has more than 50 collaborative ventures with major universities around the world. And we'd like to do more.

* As an industry, we need to come to grips with the issues - not just the issue - surrounding labeling genetically enhanced foods.

* And perhaps most importantly, we must - as an industry - do a much better job of providing leadership and long-term commitment to both responsible science and the education of opinion leaders and consumers about that science.

 

Those farmers and businesses I've been meeting with can recapture their optimism if they know we're all behind them.

And we have to be behind them. There are 6 billion mouths to feed and more coming every day. People the world over want to live longer and better lives. They want a cleaner environment, and they want to preserve precious natural resources, and if you question its value, talk to Florence Wambugu, a renowned scientist in Kenya breeding higher-yielding sweet potatoes who has increased yield over 50 percent by eliminating viruses through biotechnology.

And that's what this science is all about. AM


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