U.S. Wins Asian Approval for Agricultural Biotechnology

SHANGHAI, China, October 22, 2001 (ENS) - Heads of government meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Sunday endorsed a proposal by the United States to establish a new high level policy dialogue on biotechnology.

The APEC leaders are expected to "exchange views and pursue cooperative activities on a wide range of issues relating to biotechnology development, regulations governing new products, implications for trade, and effective communications strategies."

APEC officials plan to hold the first session of the biotechnology dialogue in Mexico City in February 2002.

A statement issued by the White House says, "Biotechnology can help developing economies increase crop yields, while using fewer pesticides and less water than conventional methods."

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Chinese President Jiang Zemin (left) and U.S. President George W. Bush deliver a joint statement in Shanghai (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy the White House)
The United States believes that the high-level policy dialogue will help officials "harness this new technology and capitalize on its benefits." The dialogue will also facilitate the discussion of those issues in other international arenas.

The U.S. position supports the U.S. based multi-national biotechnology corporations and that goes against the grain for pure foods campaigners who believe that transgenic foods could be harmful to public health and the environment.

Ronnie Cummins, of the Organic Consumers Association, a U.S. based pure foods advocacy group says, "Life science corporations proclaim, with great fanfare, that their new products will make agriculture sustainable, eliminate world hunger, cure disease, and vastly improve public health. In reality, through their business practices and political lobbying, the gene engineers have made it clear that they intend to use genetic engineering to dominate and monopolize the global market for seeds, foods, fiber, and medical products."

Most APEC nations are developing domestic regulatory, trade, and scientific policies to address the emerging field of agricultural biotechnology. The White House says the high-level dialogue will allow policymakers to

The APEC Leaders' Declaration calls for more capacity building activities to help member economies develop agricultural biotechnology.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is already enhancing technical assistance to support U.S. trade in transgenic crops through a number of public and private sector programs.

A joint project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and U.S. and Chinese universities is underway to establish "centers of excellence" in China to further capacity building and information exchange on "best agricultural practices," the White House said.

There are programs to develop disease-resistant crops, such as the U.S.-Mexico project on genetic patterns of wheat viruses, which aims to improve wheat resistance to infection.

There are programs to develop crops with enhanced nutritional value, such as a multi-nation project to develop staple crop varieties to address malnutrition.

A public-private sector cooperative exchange program on food research is in the works focusing on developments in agricultural biotechnology. An initial program, funded by the U.S. Trade Development Agency and the private sector, is being organized by the Danforth Research Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and the U.S. National Center for APEC.

An exchange program for food safety and a public-private dialogue on biotechnology regulation is ongoing. It is supported by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, with the assistance of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology and the U.S. National Center for APEC.

This project will help build capacity in the region to formulate "sound, science-based regulatory policies, in areas such as phytosanitary regulations, risk assessment, and testing and certification requirements, that will ensure the environmental and food safety of all food products," the White House says.

Meanwhile, in Rome, governments will meet beginning October 25 to formulate a legally binding treaty that scientists believe is a prerequisite for future agricultural development. Known as the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, it will lay down the rules for the scientific exchange of crop germplasm - the genetic material needed to adapt crops to global warming, and to counter new pests and diseases.

Europe, for years the scene of consumer protests against transgenic crops, may be moving towards lifting its moratorium on testing genetically engineered foods. In September, the European Commission has made its strongest call yet for the ban on new genetically engineered crop approvals to be dropped as it prepares to restart the authorization process.

The European Union regulatory committee that decides whether to grant market licenses for new transgenic crops will be convened before the end of the year and asked to approve a host of applications.