Renowned Plant Pathologist Discusses Current and Future Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants

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Online video and podcast with Dr. Roger Beachy available today.

We’d like to see better, more nutritious foods, including those developed by new genetics, available to those who need it.

In a new online video and podcast released today, renowned plant pathologist Dr. Roger Beachy – president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and pioneer of the development of virus-resistance through genetically engineered plants – describes biotechnology and the potential benefits of traits currently in development.

“Crop biotechnology is perhaps one of the most precise forms of plant breeding that we could ever imagine,” says Beachy as he describes the ability to discover what genes do and to then move genes from one organism to another. “I can say with great assuredness that the products of biotechnology that are on the market today are as safe, if not safer, than those varieties that they started with.”

The ability to transfer genetic information is known as genetic engineering, one process used in biotechnology that has enabled researchers to develop improved crop plants, such as crops naturally protected from diseases and insects. The first genetically engineered plants were commercially grown in 1996. Last year, more than 10.3 million farmers across 22 countries grew more than 252 million acres (102 million hectares) of biotech soybeans, corn, canola and cotton.

“What’s been amazing to many of us is that …we’ve seen advances that have gone far beyond our expectations,” comments Beachy. “We knew by the early ‘80s that it was possible to develop improved crops using genetic transformation techniques, but to actually do the work and observe the successes in the field has been very satisfying. And now, after more than 10 years of commercialization of transgenic crops, there is a scientific report that the genetically engineered varieties are increasing crop yields while reducing the use of agriculture chemicals by more than 50 million pounds a year. The overall benefits to the farmer and to the environment are quite astounding.”

A PG Economics study on the cumulative global impacts of plant biotechnology for the first nine years of production (1996-2004) shows a decrease in pesticide applications of 72,000 metric tons, a US$27 billion increase in net income for farmers, a savings of 1.8 billion liters of diesel fuel from reduced tillage or plowing, and a subsequent elimination of 10 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions through fuel savings.

“When we have such breakthroughs from the first 10 years of a scientific field, one can expect much more in the future,” says Beachy. “Farmers will have new varieties that survive drought. And, there will be crops that deliver higher levels of essential vitamins and minerals. Also, there will be crops that have new uses and will bring financial benefits to the farming community; all while reducing the impact on the environment.”

“I’d love to see potato or cassava that has more protein or more vitamins in it, so that those whose diets are built around these starch crops can have a healthier living,” continues Beachy. “We’d like to see better, more nutritious foods, including those developed by new genetics, available to those who need it.”

In addition to this video with Dr. Roger Beachy, visitors to the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology Web site can view videos with other researchers and experts who study genetically engineered plants including Dr. Norman Borlaug who shares his perspective on the benefits of biotechnology, Dr. Clive James who discusses the importance of biotech crops to agriculture in developing countries, and Graham Brookes who shares the results of his study on the advantages of biotechnology in agriculture from the first nine years of production.

Conversations about Plant Biotechnology is designed to give a voice and a face to the farmers and families who grow GM crops and the experts who research and study the benefits of biotechnology in agriculture. The Web site contains nearly 60, two- to three-minute, extremely candid, straightforward and compelling video segments with the people who know the technology best. The Web site is hosted by Monsanto Company — a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.

Contact:
Ranjana Smetacek
314-694-2642

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