The House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing on Thursday “To review the opportunities and benefits of agricultural biotechnology.” Knowing in advance that this hearing was designed to be pro-GMO, OTA worked with willing Subcommittee Members to be sure negative impacts that GMOs have on the organic industry were acknowledged.
The panel of witnesses included Charles Conner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture; Roger Beachy, President Emeritus, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and former Director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture; and Calestous Juma Ph.D, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson (R-IL) said in his opening statement that biotechnology is the answer to feed the growing population. He also said that biotechnology has benefited farmers by increasing their production, decreasing their energy usage, and increasing their competitive edge in the global market. Ranking Member Jim Costa (D-CA) said the next generation of GMOs will improve American diets, increase yields in droughts, and decrease chemical and water usage. Costa also said that consumer confidence in GMOs needs to be built up. Most of the Members of the Subcommittee supported the statements of the Chairman and Ranking Members, and reiterated the need to speed up the regulatory process and expand international acceptance of GMOs.
OTA, in coordination with our colleagues at OFRF in Washington, DC, supplied questions to the offices of Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) to be sure the negative impacts of GMOs on the organic and non-GMO sector were not ignored in the hearing. Welch called attention to organic and other non-GMO farmers bearing the cost of contamination by GMOs. Beachy replied that farmers are able to stop cross pollination by offsetting their planting and harvesting schedules, and that most contamination takes place after the product leaves the farm. Welch also asked about protections for producers and handlers that export organic and identity preserved products to global markets that do not allow GMOs. Juma replied that GMOs have been part of recent trade discussions and have caused some trade negotiations to fail. Juma also said the U.S. needs to take a leadership role in resolving the issue of exporting GMOs. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) expressed concern with the environmental downfalls of using GMOs, such as the development of superweeds. Beachy said that there are ways to deal with superweeds, and that worries about superbugs developing in response to Bt crops have not been proven true.
The three panelists spoke in favor of GMOs, and made the below points in their opening statements.
- Bio-tech uses 37% less energy
- GMOs increase land usage
- 35% less water is needed for GMOs
- Wheat is the next big thing
- 20% of wheat is consumed by the public- so there is a big demand
- GMOs will feed the world
- GMOs use less pesticides and insecticides and fewer chemicals
- The Regulatory process is slowing GMOs down and needs to be brought up to date
- Delivery of new products to the market takes too much time and is too expensive because of the regulatory process
- No big changes have been made to the regulatory process in ten years
- Africa looks to the U.S for leadership and increased technology
- GMOs have helped Africa’s hunger and trade