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Researchers Urge Science-based Approach for British Policy on GM Crops

Jan. 20, 2004 -- More than 150 scientists across the world, including Nobel laureate of DNA structure fame James Watson, signed a letter delivered to British Prime Minister Tony Blair drawing attention to "the positive impact that biotechnology is contributing to conventional agricultural practices in many parts of the world."

The scientists urge in their letter that upcoming government decisions be "based on science-based policies that foster the development of demonstrated safe technologies with significant environmental and economic benefits in the UK."

The scientists cite firsthand global experience that "GM crops are providing farmers with cost-effective means of controlling pests while using less pesticides and reducing the impact of agriculture in the face of increasing environmental pressures." Amongst the signers of the letter include Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Gardens; Ingo Potrykus, developer of 'Golden Rice'; Gurdev Khush - the legendary rice breeder and winner of the World Food Prize; Florence Wambugu, author of 'Modifying Africa: How Biotechnology can Benefit the Poor and Hungry'; Charles Arntzen, the developer of edible vaccines in crops; and Roger Beachy of the Danforth Center for Plant Science in St. Louis.

Currently, the UK is at a critical stage in its considerations of GM technology now that its Advisory Committee on the Release to the Environment (ACRE) has provided recommendations to the government on the recently completed Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs).

The letter to the Prime Minister outlines the scientists' concerns that the government's science-based reviews of new technologies, including crops enhanced through agricultural biotechnology, are being adversely impacted by politics.

According to the letter's authors, "It is distressing to us to see the impacts that anti-science efforts in the UK have had on the development of excellent basic research into new technologies, as well as those engaged in it."

Professor James Ochanda of the University of Nairobi co-sponsored the letter campaign because he believes that "in Europe, biotechnology is based on ideology as opposed to rational choice. For Africans, biotech crops are an important means of fighting hunger and malnutrition. While Europe is debating about biotechnology, this is a technology that the developing world needs in order to address some of our most pressing societal problems."

"The UK and the EU need to move forward with biotech crops, just as has happened elsewhere in the world," says Prof. Kameshwar Rao of the Foundation for Biotechnology
Awareness and Education in India, who also sponsored the drive. "Biotech crops are helping to address critical needs for increased agricultural productivity and food security. They are not the problem, they are an essential component of the solution."

"Leading international scientists overwhelmingly support integrating biotech crops into existing agricultural systems," said Dr. C.S. Prakash of the United States-based Tuskegee University and signer of the letter to Blair. "In reality, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that this technology is a safe and useful approach to improving agricultural production and environmental sustainability, and contributes significantly to better health."

The letter and full list of signers can be seen at:



Professor Kameswar Rao, India
Email: krao@vsnl.com or krao@fbae.org
Phone: +91-80-6549470

Professor James Ochanda, Kenya
Email: jochanda@uonbi.ac.ke or jamesochanda@yahoo.com
Phone: +254-2-4442534

Professor C.S. Prakash, USA
Email: prakash@tuskegee.edu
Phone: 334-444-7884