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The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology was established in March 2001 to provide the public, media and policymakers facts on agricultural biotechnology. Funded through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trust to the University of Richmond, the Initiative is a neutral source, advocating neither for, nor against, ag biotechnology.

The Washington, D.C.-based Initiative is committed to providing information and encouraging dialogue so that consumers and policymakers can make their own informed decisions. It does this by producing reports and sponsoring workshops and conferences that support public dialogue and recognizes expert points of view on ag biotech topics. Also, through working relationships with other organizations, the Initiative is stimulating dialogue and debate about the scientific, economic, marketing and regulatory issues important to agricultural biotechnology.

"By creating the platform for debate about agricultural biotechnology topics, the Initiative is giving the American public the opportunity to be well informed about developments in this industry and how such products are regulated," says Michael Rodemeyer, executive director, Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

An example of its work is a panel discussion held in February entitled Environmental Savior or Saboteur? Debating the Impacts of Genetic Engineering. Here, a nationwide poll was released showing that the American public is evenly divided on whether genetically modified food and other ag biotechnology products hurt or help the environment.

In June, the Initiative is holding a policy dialogue on whether labeling GM foods would create confusion or help educate consumers. The event will also be broadcast via the Internet at In July, the Initiative will host a conference in Washington, D.C., on plants that are bioengineered to produce pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals entitled, Pharming the Field: A Look at the Benefits and Risks of Bioengineering Plants to Produce Pharmaceuticals. Also, being held in September in Dallas, is the Biotech in the Barnyard: Implications of Genetically Engineered Animals conference, which is co-sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Another project undertaken by the Initiative is a consensus-building effort among key stakeholders in the agricultural biotechnology debate. The "Stakeholder Forum" is a small group of representatives from the public and private sectors, as well as consumer and environmental groups. By openly examining the issues related to ag biotech, the Initiative hopes to reach a consensus on the many challenges facing existing and future products of ag biotechnology. AM

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