April 16, 2006 - Biotechnology, a Tool for our Future

This past week, our headquarters city of Chicago became the biotechnology capitol of the world, as an annual gathering entitled "Bio 2006" was held in the Windy City. It attracted more than 20,000 people involved in biotechnology research and application from, not only the United States, but 50 other countries around the world.

The event featured fascinating exhibits and seminars pointing out the work being done with biotechnology; some of it very new, some of it decades old. But Clive James, who serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, said the production of food staples, such as corn, wheat, and rice will need to at least double in order to feed the growing world population.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects the world population could top nine-billion people by 2045 and James said "conventional agriculture cannot meet the increasing food need." He added that "using biotechnology alone won’t meet the demand either." Instead agriculture must, he said, "meld the old techniques with new biotechnology to increase production capacity".

As I visited with people attending the Bio 2006 meeting, I quickly learned that agriculture is not the number one promoter and/or consumer of biotechnology. That title goes to the pharmaceutical industry and it was there in force... as exhibitors, seminar speakers and attendees. Those of us involved in agriculture think we are the center of biotechnology and, indeed, we are looking at rapid growth; but for now the fact is the use of biotechnology is much more prevalent in the production of pharmaceuticals and medicines than in crop production.

Now that could change, but I find it interesting that we hear complaints and protests over the use of biotechnology in food production, but to this point, I haven’t heard anyone seriously protesting biotechnology in pharmaceuticals or medicine.

Yes, the protesters were on hand for this event, carrying signs reading "Stop Biotechnology. Stop killing people. Stop destroying the environment. Down with corporations". I am convinced they are professional demonstrators who get paid to demonstrate for whatever the cause might be wherever it might be, and if questioned deeply on the subject they are protesting, I doubt you could get an intelligent answer. One Chicago police officer commented he is practically on a first-name basis with some of the protestors because he sees them at every protest.

My advice to these folks...stop protesting, learn the science of biotechnology and then work with it to help feed a hungry world.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.