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Eco-terrorism threat to research, lives

A seed company has a greenhouse complex where it is moving traits from genetically altered plants into its latest varieties. No signs identify the facility, and the company has asked that its location not be disclosed in news articles.

Recent reports of the destruction of a genetically modified corn trial in southwest France underscore the importance of such security measures. The attack by eco-terrorists occurred after the French Agriculture Ministry published a list of genetically modified crop trials in France.

A French court ordered the publication to give the testing procedures “greater transparency.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks on genetically modified crop trials across Europe by biotechnology opponents. Such groups have destroyed similar tests and laboratory facilities in the United States.

I have more than a passing interest in such acts because my daughter is working on an advanced degree in cell and molecular biology. Much of her research involves work with mutant plant cells selected using genetic engineering techniques.

Like many other grad students, she sometimes works at night and on weekends with experiments that have to be removed from growth chambers or chemical processes at specific times. I'm very proud of my daughter's work but can't help but worry about reports like the recent fire in a biotechnology laboratory at the University of Washington.

Students giving some of the best years of their lives to new technology that could mean a better life for millions should not have to worry about a group of fruitcakes breaking in and destroying years of research or, worse, endangering their lives.

But that seems to be the reality of what passes for political dialogue these days. Some seem to feel that the “rightness” of their thinking gives them the right to destroy years of research efforts. Until something happens to change that, the rest of us can only hope the next incident won't escalate into something worse.

On another front, fallout continues to reverberate from the House Agriculture Committee vote on funding the 2001 supplemental AMTA payment.

Committee members voted 24-23 to leave the funding for additional 2001 economic assistance at $5.5 billion although Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, wanted to add another $1 billion.

Combest said recently that he thinks a White House letter from Budget Director Mitch Daniels may have cost him the support he needed for the $6.5 billion, which would have provided a supplemental AMTA payment at 1999 rates.

Combest said he believed adequate funding existed and that committee members supported the plan until Daniels' letter advised he would not recommend that President Bush sign legislation for more than $5.5 billion because “commodity prices were improving.”

“I had some very serious conversations with (Daniels) because I was the one who had worked the budget deal for what went through the House,” Combest said. “We had ample money for additional assistance, above the $5.5 billion. I'm still hopeful that, in the end, it's going to be possible to get some more.”

Those comments may become important when the Senate passes its own economic assistance proposal and House and Senate conference members meet to iron out their differences.

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