New Issue Paper on Biotechnology Crops

Press Release: Seattle, CA. December 2, 1999

Released by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) released today a new issue paper Applications of Biotechnology to Crops: Benefits and Risks as more than 100 countries meet in Seattle for the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks where interest is high regarding biotechnology. The purpose of the paper is to summarize the recent scientific developments in modern biotechnology and to discuss the potential benefits and risks when these are applied to agricultural crops.

The paper is intended for general audiences who are interested in participating in the debate about the future of crops produced from biotechnology. The eight-page CAST paper includes information on why agricultural biotechnology crops are being developed and offers a scientific perspective of the current debate on benefits, risk, labeling, biodiversity and more. CAST intends to produce future papers that will provide additional details and a broader context of biotechnology beyond crops.

“This report combines the description of the science underpinning biotechnology with a discussion of current and potential uses of the technology,” said author Gabrielle J. Persley, who also serves as an adviser to the World Bank on biotechnology-related issues.

James N. Siedow coauthored the paper. He is a Duke University professor of botany and a past president of the American Society of Plant Physiologists. Michael Gasson served as a reviewer. He is head of the Department of Genetics and Microbiology at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, England. Calvin O. Qualset also served as a reviewer. Qualset is a faculty member of the Genetic Resources Conservation Program and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis.

The report cites how biotechnology crops with improved traits, such as additional vitamin A and iron in rice, can confer nutritional benefits to millions of people who suffer from malnutrition and deficiency disorders. It also describes how concerns about loss of biodiversity from biotechnology crops can be addressed.

The CAST report indicates that increased weediness, due to cross pollination between biotechnology crops and nonbiotechnology plants, is a rich field for future research in crop ecology. It also concludes that further risk management research should include the monitoring of the effects of new transgenic crops on non-target species, such as birds and butterflies.

As WTO member countries address intellectual property rights concerns, the report states that new intellectual property management systems need to include ways to reward not only the inventors of the new technology, but also those farmers who have been traditional improvers of plant varieties over centuries. All signatory countries to the WTO have agreed to put in place a system for the protection of intellectual property rights, including protection of new plant varieties, although many have still to do so.

CAST is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. Its mission is to identify food and fiber, environmental, and other agricultural issues and to interpret related scientific research information for legislators, regulators, and the media for use in public policy decision making. More information on CAST and its numerous scientific reports are available at Copies of the reports, including Applications of Biotechnology to Crops: Benefits and Risks, are available from CAST at (515) 292-2125 or by e-mail at


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