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The Value of Native Plants and Local Production in an Era of Global Agriculture

The use of some of these crops can simplify work and improve safety for farmers. This allows farmers to spend less of their time managing their crops and more time on other profitable activities. Biotech crops may provide enhanced quality traits such as increased levels of beta-carotene in rice to aid in reducing vitamin A deficiencies and improved oil compositions in canola, soybean, and corn. Crops with the ability to grow in salty soils or better withstand drought conditions are also in the works and the first such products are just entering the marketplace.

Such innovations may be increasingly important in adapting to or in some cases helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. The tools of agricultural biotechnology have been invaluable for researchers in helping to understand the basic biology of living organisms. For example, scientists have identified the complete genetic structure of several strains of Listeria and Campylobacter, the bacteria often responsible for major outbreaks of food-borne illness in people.

This genetic information is providing a wealth of opportunities that help researchers improve the safety of our food supply.

Ian Affleck - Regulatory landscape in commodity plant agriculture

The tools of biotechnology have "unlocked doors" and are also helping in the development of improved animal and plant varieties, both those produced by conventional means as well as those produced through genetic engineering. Breeders have been evaluating new products developed through agricultural biotechnology for centuries. In addition to these efforts, the United States Department of Agriculture USDA , the Environmental Protection Agency EPA , and the Food and Drug Administration FDA work to ensure that crops produced through genetic engineering for commercial use are properly tested and studied to make sure they pose no significant risk to consumers or the environment.

Crops produced through genetic engineering are the only ones formally reviewed to assess the potential for transfer of novel traits to wild relatives. When new traits are genetically engineered into a crop, the new plants are evaluated to ensure that they do not have characteristics of weeds. Where biotech crops are grown in proximity to related plants, the potential for the two plants to exchange traits via pollen must be evaluated before release.

Crop plants of all kinds can exchange traits with their close wild relatives which may be weeds or wildflowers when they are in proximity. In the case of biotech-derived crops, the EPA and USDA perform risk assessments to evaluate this possibility and minimize potential harmful consequences, if any. Other potential risks considered in the assessment of genetically engineered organisms include any environmental effects on birds, mammals, insects, worms, and other organisms, especially in the case of insect or disease resistance traits.

Testing on many types of organisms such as honeybees, other beneficial insects, earthworms, and fish is performed to ensure that there are no unintended consequences associated with these crops. With respect to food safety, when new traits introduced to biotech-derived plants are examined by the EPA and the FDA, the proteins produced by these traits are studied for their potential toxicity and potential to cause an allergic response.

Tests designed to examine the heat and digestive stability of these proteins, as well as their similarity to known allergenic proteins, are completed prior to entry into the food or feed supply. To put these considerations in perspective, it is useful to note that while the particular biotech traits being used are often new to crops in that they often do not come from plants many are from bacteria and viruses , the same basic types of traits often can be found naturally in most plants.

These basic traits, like insect and disease resistance, have allowed plants to survive and evolve over time. NASS conducts an agricultural survey in all states in June of each year. The report issued from the survey contains a section specific to the major biotechnology derived field crops and provides additional detail on biotechnology plantings. The USDA does not maintain data on international usage of genetically engineered crops. The independent International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications ISAAA , a not-for-profit organization, estimates that the global area of biotech crops for was More than 90 percent of farmers growing biotech crops are resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

ISAAA reports various statistics on the global adoption and plantings of biotechnology derived crops. Please note: These descriptions are not a complete or thorough review of all the activities of these agencies with respect to agricultural biotechnology and are intended as general introductory materials only. For additional information please see the relevant agency websites.

The Federal Government developed a Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology in to provide for the regulatory oversight of organisms derived through genetic engineering. The approach taken in the Coordinated Framework is grounded in the judgment of the National Academy of Sciences that the potential risks associated with these organisms fall into the same general categories as those created by traditionally bred organisms. Products are regulated according to their intended use, with some products being regulated under more than one agency.

All government regulatory agencies have a responsibility to ensure that the implementation of regulatory decisions, including approval of field tests and eventual deregulation of approved biotech crops, does not adversely impact human health or the environment. APHIS regulations provide procedures for obtaining a permit or for providing notification prior to "introducing" the act of introducing includes any movement into or through the U.

Regulated articles are organisms and products altered or produced through genetic engineering that are plant pests or for which there is reason to believe are plant pests. The regulations also provide for a petition process for the determination of non-regulated status. Once a determination of non-regulated status has been made, the organism and its offspring no longer requires APHIS review for movement or release in the U.


The USDA also helps industry respond to consumer demands in the United States and overseas by supporting the marketing of a wide range of agricultural products produced through conventional, organic, and genetically engineered means. The Agricultural Marketing Service AMS and the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration GIPSA have developed a number of services to facilitate the strategic marketing of conventional and genetically engineered foods, fibers, grains, and oilseeds in both domestic and international markets.

GIPSA provides these services for the bulk grain and oilseed markets while AMS provides the services for food commodities such as fruits and vegetables, as well as for fiber commodities. Evaluation of Test Kits: AMS and GIPSA evaluate commercially available test kits designed to detect the presence of specific proteins in genetically engineered agricultural commodities. The agencies confirm whether the tests operate in accordance with manufacturers' claims and, if the kits operate as stated, the results are made available to the public on their respective websites.

GIPSA evaluates the performance of laboratories conducting DNA-based tests to detect genetically engineered grains and oilseeds, provides participants with their individual results, and posts a summary report on the GIPSA website. AMS is developing a similar program that can evaluate and verify the capabilities of independent laboratories to screen other products for the presence of genetically engineered material.

Additional AMS Services: AMS provides fee-based DNA and protein testing services for food and fiber products, and its Plant Variety Protection Office offers intellectual property rights protection for new genetically engineered seed varieties through the issuance of Certificates of Protection. USDA also works to improve and expand market access for U. The Foreign Agricultural Service FAS supports or administers numerous education, outreach, and exchange programs designed to improve the understanding and acceptance of genetically engineered agricultural products worldwide.

Emerging Markets Program : Supports technical assistance activities to promote exports of U. Activities to support science-based decision-making are also undertaken. Such activities have included food safety training in Mexico, a biotechnology course for emerging market participants at Michigan State University, farmer-to-farmer workshops in the Philippines and Honduras, high-level policy discussions within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, as well as numerous study tours and workshops involving journalists, regulators, and policy-makers.

Cochran Fellowship Program : Supports short-term training in biotechnology and genetic engineering. Since the program was created in , the Cochran Fellowship Program has provided education and training to international participants, primarily regulators, policy makers, and scientists. Borlaug Fellowship Program : Supports collaborative research in new technologies, including biotechnology and genetic engineering.


Since the program was established in , the Borlaug Fellowship Program has funded fellowships in this research area. Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops TASC : Supports technical assistance activities that address sanitary, phytosanitary, and technical barriers that prohibit or threaten the export of U. This program has supported activities on biotech papaya.

Press, Pullman. Hollaender et al. Section IV.

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The Value of Native Plants and Local Production in an Era of Global Agriculture

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