ASPB Statement on Genetic Modification of Plants Using Biotechnology

The American Society of Plant Physiologists/American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPP/ASPB) Executive Committee approved on February 24, 2001 a statement on genetic modification of plants using biotechnology.  The Committee on Public Affairs recommended an earlier draft version of this statement to the Executive Committee.  The approved statement notes many benefits of research using biotechnology and calls for continued responsible regulation and oversight of genetic modification of foods.  Founded in 1924, the American Society of Plant Physiologists (ASPP) has the new name of American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) beginning in 2001.  Following is the approved Statement of ASPB on Genetic Modification of Plants Using Biotechnology:


Technical advances in agriculture, coupled with time-honored methods, provide the best opportunity for world food supplies to meet the demands of an ever-growing world population, while protecting our environment and natural resources. The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) submits this statement supporting the continued, responsible use of new technologies, such as recombinant DNA technology (hereafter referred to as "biotechnology"), which can add effective tools to those needed to combat hunger and maintain a healthy environment. ASPB also supports the continued use and further development of rigorous and responsible science-based procedures to assess the risks and benefits of the technology and its products.

The use of biotechnology to modify plants represents a significant advance in plant science, building on centuries of human involvement in the genetic modification of crop species. It allows for the transfer into a plant of specific, characterized genes under known regulatory control. The precision of this technology and the knowledge of the specific nature of the manipulated genetic information make the effects of this type of gene transfer more predictable than the random mixing of genes that occurs during classical breeding.

The rapid adoption of the first generation of these crops, made tolerant to certain pests or herbicides, underscores the benefits that can accrue to users. Early data indicate that some farmers have realized reduced pesticide use, increased crop yield and easier weed control, leading to reduced soil tillage. Such advances can complement other sustainable agricultural practices and lead to significant environmental benefits, such as lowered soil erosion and reduced use of synthetic pesticides.

Modified crops resulting from plant biotechnology should provide major health benefits to people throughout the world. Examples include enhancing the vitamin and mineral content of staple foods, eliminating common food allergens, developing higher protein quality and quantity in widely consumed crops and modifying edible plants to contain vaccines against many illnesses. In many cases, conventional breeding cannot achieve such improvements. Specially selected and modified plants are also being used in nonfood applications, such as phytoremediation, where plants remove contaminating pollutants from soils and water resources. Modified plants can also serve as biofactories to make compounds presently made using nonrenewable resources, e.g., industrial oils, fuels and plastics.

Responsible use of new plant biotechnologies could contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally compatible agriculture. Responsible development and use of modified plants is essential to protecting the quality of life and the environment for an ever-growing world population.

Concerns raised by some interests about this technology and its products include food and environmental safety issues and socioeconomic and ethical matters. To the extent that scientific data can be gathered to address these concerns, the ASPB supports and encourages such investigations. Regulatory agencies now mandate extensive safety testing of new biotechnology-derived food products, testing which far exceeds that of foods created by classical breeding. Consumer confidence is paramount to the acceptance of the products of biotechnology. It is imperative that the extensive federal regulatory framework presently in place be maintained and regularly reviewed to determine whether additional scientific data are needed to address consumer concerns.

A number of expressed environmental concerns currently raised as potential problems with modified plants also should be considered. A number of these concerns also must be addressed with conventionally bred plants and traditional agricultural practices. Scientists and regulators must continue to guard against gene transfer to compatible wild species, development of pesticide-resistant insects and possible adverse effects on genetic diversity. Regulators, scientists and farmers should continue to maintain sufficient monitoring to assess the environmental effects of large-scale growth of crops modified through biotechnology. In addition to the oversight of modified crops by federal regulatory agencies, ASPB encourages rigorous independent studies by third-party researchers.

No technology is risk-free, and fear and mistrust often accompany the introduction of new processes and products. Growing crops utilizing organic practices or high-inputs of pesticides and fertilizers have both benefits and tangible risks. Modifying plants using traditional breeding practices is not risk free and neither is the application of biotechnology. The United States has adopted acceptable standards for the safety of organic production, high-input farming, conventional breeding and biotechnology.

To ensure the continuation of these standards of safety, ASPB strongly endorses the continued responsible development and science-based oversight of biotechnology and all food production technologies and practices. ASPB is dedicated also to providing science-based information needed for the government, the private sector, individuals, and other stakeholders to make informed choices about the products resulting from biotechnology. The ASPB believes strongly that, with continued responsible regulation and oversight, biotechnology will bring many significant health and environmental benefits to the world and its people.    

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