by Charlie Fischer
We in the agricultural industry are clear about our mission: We want to discover and develop new technologies so farmers can grow more and better foods. It’s a noble and critically important mission if we are to produce enough food for our growing population without plowing up parkland and rainforest.
But not everyone thinks we are noble. We have detractors; some might even call them enemies. They use politics, fear and emotion to fight us. The recent incident involving corn intended only for animal feed turning up in taco shells is a good example. The situation was a regulatory issue, with little, if any, implication for food safety. But it has had serious ramifications for public confidence. When we face these challenges, it is important that agriculture remain united in support of biotechnology.
Our best defense against unfair criticism is sound science. We have science on our side, and we must deploy it more effectively. All segments of agriculture - crop chemicals, biotechnology, animal health and food producers - must come together to defend science and communicate the truth to policy-makers, regulators and consumers.
The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 is a good example of politics trumping science. The end result is that FQPA’s impact will be felt throughout agriculture and related industries (not just pesticide manufacturers) because important pesticide uses will continue to be lost. That’s why an industry coalition worked together to impress upon the Environmental Protection Agency the importance of using a scientific approach to implementing the act. We must continue to fight for science over politics.
Under FQPA, tolerances for all pesticides must be evaluated by 2006. If EPA does not base assessments on sound science and actual pesticide use and exposure data, additional effective, reliable pesticide uses could be lost. Such actions could mean:
Biotechnology is another battlefield. Consumers have honest questions about biotechnology that must be answered. But critics once again are resorting to half-truths and fear mongering to slow progress.
If fear and politics prevent the development of biotechnology, these potential benefits will not be realized: better yields and nutrition, improved livestock feed, crops tolerant to certain natural stresses, in-plant pharmaceuticals, crops that can be grown with less environmental impact, and foods that have had allergens removed.
The livestock sector faces its problems, too, with attacks on the use of animal health products, feedlot practices, nutritional content and feed choices. Each phase of agriculture is related to another, and all must work together to insist that regulations are based on sound science.
We are making progress. The Council for Biotechnology Information, an organization with representatives from most segments of the ag industry, is hard at work communicating the facts about biotech to consumers. Despite the rhetoric from activist groups, surveys continue to show that the American public believes biotechnology will provide benefits. But we must continue our education efforts.
Recently, industry, academia, government and public interest groups worked to develop and propose a software program that could set the framework for science-based risk assessment for pest-control products. The agency may or may not adopt the program as written, but it will surely serve as a compass pointing to the need for a sound scientific assessment procedure. Similar coalitions can set the tone for sound regulation in biotechnology and animal science as well.
Industry is not alone in wanting sound science. Institutions and academicians are more involved than ever in public debate, regulatory testimony, and development of risk assessment and stewardship programs. The public deserves to know the risks and benefits of technology. The strong voices of credible third-party experts are essential in providing reliable information that addresses public concerns.
Equally important is stewardship. Agriculture must be ever vigilant. We must always ask ourselves, "Is this the right thing to do?" We must self-regulate. From container disposal programs to water quality to resistance management plans, industry and growers must work together to ensure proper use of technologies.
Feeding the world is a noble mission. All segments of agriculture must build synergies and create broader alliances to ensure that we achieve our goals. But we cannot allow fiction to become fact as we face these critical challenges. AM
Charlie Fischer, president/CEO of Dow AgroSciences, serves as the 2000-01 chairman of the ACPA.