February 3, 2005
Group: Biotechs Don’t Deliver on Promises
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The biotechnology industry has failed to deliver on promises to revolutionize agriculture with plants genetically engineered to be healthier, drought resistant and tastier, a consumer interest group said Wednesday.
The Washington D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest reached the conclusion after analyzing publicly available data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a nonprofit supporter of biotechnology, released a separate report last month showing that 8 million farmers in 17 countries grew engineered crops on 200 million acres last year. That represented a 20 percent increase in acreage from 2003.
In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation.
Nearly all the soy and cotton and half the corn in the United States is genetically engineered, but little else is.
The growth cited in the nonprofit's report was limited to soy, corn and cotton genetically engineered to resist weed killers and bugs. Those crops have been on the market for a decade.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said drought resistance and other new traits desired by consumers or needed by Third World farmers have yet to be produced on a large scale.
In May, the United Nations' food agency reported that poor farmers have seen little benefit from bioengineered crops because most research goes to four crops - corn, soy, cotton and canola - that aren't widely grown in most Third World countries.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a Washington D.C.-based lobbying group, said opposition groups may have contributed to a slowdown in past years by garnering publicity and making investors and others skeptical.
Last year, for example, St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. (MON) announced it was shelving plans to commercialize genetically engineered wheat because of widespread public resistance, especially in Europe.
Nonetheless, industry spokeswoman Lisa Dry said biotechnology companies and universities have been steadily developing new products.
"We are poised," Dry said. "It's not going to be this year and it may not be next year, but we are in a better position than we have been."
Stephanie Jacobson, a spokeswoman at DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, said the biotechnology company has six marketing applications pending with the Department of Agriculture. One is a sunflower genetically engineered to withstand herbicides.
She said between 2007 and 2010, Pioneer Hi-Bred plans to introduce several other genetically engineered products, including corn resistant to drought.
On the Net:
Center for Science in the Public Interest: http://www.cspinet.org
Biotechnology Industry Organization: http://www.bio.org