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Column: U.S. consumers unconcerned about food from biotech crops

U.S. consumers are relatively unconcerned about whether food they are eating comes from biotech crops, according to Kent Bradford, director of the University of California Davis Seed Biotechnology Center.

Bradford is the former chairman of the vegetable crops department at Davis and spoke on biotechnology in horticulture crops at the recent California Agriculture Symposium in Sacramento.

The consumer is unconcerned because there have been no adverse affect from biotech crops. No one has died or become ill from eating food from insect-resistant or herbicide-resistant crops.

Science is not preventing a myriad of environmentally beneficial horticultural crops from reaching the market.

Sadly, it is partly due to the anti-biotech radicals intimidating marketers and retailers into believing if they sell food from biotech crops, these radicals will turn consumers against their products using fear and distortion about the dangers of biotech crops. It is called blackmail and usually a criminal act.

It is purely political and environmentally damaging. Bradford said nationwide there are 32 biotech horticultural crops that would use 117 million pounds less pesticide if biotechnology traits could be brought to market in the production of those crops. The savings would be $200 million annually.

California as the nation’s largest producer of hort crops would benefit the most to the tune of 66 million pounds less pesticide use in crops and a savings of $200 million annually.

Anti-biotech radicals claim victory when they stall the advancement of science with their scare tactics and lies when in reality they are stalling science that would benefit the environment.

"Market acceptance, not science, is what is limiting the advancement of biotechnology in biotech crops," said Bradford.

The anti-biotech crowd claims that insect and herbicide crops would somehow harm organic production. Bradford said science has proven there is no validity to that claim. Both organic and biotech crops can co-exist with no impact on each other just as they do now in organic and conventional cotton and corn.

There are other issues preventing the introduction of more biotech crops. The biggest is regulatory costs. Bradford said there are efforts now under way to create an IR-4 program for biotech crops like there is now to win registration for pesticides on minor crops.

One example where regulatory costs killed the advancement of science is a six-year research project that proved apple trees containing the Bt gene could be used as a trap crop to reduce pesticide use to zero in walnuts. "It was a beautiful IPM project, but it was dropped because of the regulatory process necessary to take the concept to the market," said Bradford.

There are a myriad of biotech technologies on the shelf because of an onerous and cumbersome regulatory process and a miniscule minority of loud, media-manipulating radicals.

Many UC scientists like Bradford are frustrated at this, but have been throttled back by the UC administration in challenging head-on the anti-biotech radicals. However, Bradford and Rick Roush, director of the UC Statewide IPM Program, are sticking their academic necks out to challenge the lies and deception spewed out by the handful of loudmouths.

One thing that was learned from the successes in San Luis Obispo and Butte counties last fall in turning back anti-biotech initiatives was that when you aggressively challenge the so-called scientific facts disgorged by the radicals, they turn tail and run. Hopefully, agriculture and science can keep that up in the next round of anti-GMO initiatives likely in Sonoma and Santa Barbara counties and run the radicals back to Minnesota or wherever they came from.

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