GeneWise, an anti-biotechnology group, gained plenty of media attention recently at the National Agricultural Biotechnology Council (NABC) meeting in Chicago. The group protested the impact biotech foods are having on consumers and farmers.

Inside, however, NABC members representing not-for-profit research and educational institutions in North America, examined major ag biotech issues – such as food safety and nutritional quality, animal biotech and world food security.

But according to C.S. Prakash, of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University, biotechnology production benefits are a necessity because:

o More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day.

o About 30,000 people, half of them children, die every day due to hunger and malnutrition.

o And nearly 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day.

Prakash told NABC attendees that biotechnology could help those developing countries by improving food and nutritional security, reducing crop damage and food loss, and increasing crop productivity.

The problem, Prakash says, is people’s perception and anxiety over biotechnology. He points out that they’re concerned from several fronts.

  • They’re unfamiliar with the technology.

  • They’re unaware of safeguards.

  • They mistrust the biotech industry.

  • There’s too much negative media opinion.

  • To calm those fears and move ahead in biotech’s acceptance,

Prakash says what’s needed is:

  • Honest, open communication.

  • More information-based data and less advocacy.

  • Education of issues.

  • Strong regulatory oversight.

  • Better communication of the benefits and safety.

In addition, from a safety standpoint Prakash does not believe the biotech industry can promote the idea of zero risk. "It’s not possible," he says. "We consume 10,000 natural toxins daily. In fact, roasted coffee has 1,000 chemicals. Of 27 tested, 19 were carcinogens."

Other speakers participated in an open forum covering a myriad of biotechnology issues. For more information on those topics, log on to www.cals.cornell.edu/extension/nabc .