Washington, D.C. (June 30, 2011) – Scientists and policymakers participating in a panel at the BIO International Convention titled Winning the Future: Does U.S. Ag Policy Support or Discourage Innovation? called on policymakers to support a science-based regulatory review system and recognize the many benefits of ag biotech innovations. The panelists said the current regulatory environment discourages investments in new biotech crops because of complexity and costs.
The panel was moderated by former U.S. Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). Panelists included Dr. Roger Beachy, former Director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture at the USDA, Jack Bobo, Senior Advisor for Biotechnology at the State Department and Scott Swenson, Wheat Grower (Elbow Lake, Minnesota), Chairman of the Joint Biotechnology Committee of the National Association of Wheat Growers and US Wheat Associates.
Biotech crops can address issues of food security and sustainability, and are important economically to the U.S in terms of farm income, job creation and exports. Jack Bobo noted that more than half of the U.S.'s $120 billion in food exports contain biotech ingredients.
The panelists shared that the United States risks losing its competitive advantage worldwide if we do not have public investment in agriculture R&D, especially when countries like China and Brazil are investing heavily in biotech research. Dr. Beachy noted that by 2015 half of the new biotech traits will be developed outside of the United States, and American farmers will have to import seeds from other countries. The investment pays off: for every $1 invested in agriculture, we get $1.43 in return.
During the discussion the panelists looked at the example of wheat, the only major crop that does not have a biotech variety. Despite 20 years of data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of biotech crops, biotech wheat will face the most difficult regulatory hurdles to commercialization to date. Scott Swenson shared that like many farmers, he found crops with biotech traits are more productive and switched much of his acreage from wheat to biotech corn and soybeans.
The panelists agreed that biotech crops can help address many of our future challenges, by helping farmers grow more food, sustainably. But, as Dr. Beachy said, "without a sound science-based regulatory system, we bottle up innovation and future success."