NSF & Congress
Hearing Summary: House Science Subcommittee on Research's Hearing on Agricultural Biotechnology
September 25, 2001
The House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing
September 25, 2001, titled Strengthening NSF Sponsored
Agricultural Biotechnology Research: H.R.
2051 and H.R.
2912 to receive testimony on these two bills
that propose to expand the National Science Foundation's
research efforts related to plant genomics, particularly
as they relate to food crops. Subcommittee Chairman
Nick Smith (R-MI) opened the hearing saying, "The
use of biotechnology to produce new varieties of plants
- for food or other uses - has been of great interest
to this subcommittee in the past." He went on to say,
"-potential benefits are limited only by the imagination
and resourcefulness of our scientists. The two bills
we'll consider today both attempt to help unleash
some of that imagination and resourcefulness."
- Dr. Mary Clutter, Assistant Director,
Biological Sciences Division, National Science
- Dr. Catherine Ives, Director,
the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project,
Michigan State University (Testimony)
- Dr. Charles Arntzen, Professor
of Plant Biology, Arizona State University (Testimony)
- Dr. Robert Paarlberg, Professor
of Political Science, Wellesley College (Testimony)
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, Mr. Gutknecht,
Mr. Etheridge, Ms. Rivers, Mr. Baird, Mr. Moore, Ms.
Hart, Mr. Baca.
Each of the witnesses expressed support for the goals
of the proposed legislation. Drs. Ives, Arntzen, and
Paarlberg were particularly enthusiastic about bills'
potential to improve agricultural productivity in
third world countries threatened by malnutrition and
famine. They expressed the belief that publicly sponsored,
biotechnical research could focus on crops that might
achieve significant improvement in yield and nutritional
value but that are not commercially viable and therefore
not the focus of private sector biotech research.
They also noted that publicly sponsored research might
find greater acceptance in overcoming societal resistance
to genetically modified crops than research performed
by commercial interests. Dr. Arntzen also testified
on the success of his research into plant based oral
(edible) vaccines. Dr. Clutter noted that the NSF
did not need additional statutory authority in order
to pursue the laudatory goals of the proposed legislation.
Chairman Smith asked about strategies for overcoming
the resistance to the acceptance of genetically modified
crops outside of the US.
Dr. Arntzen answered that such resistance will
be overcome only when we can demonstrate a significant
benefit, particularly a health or nutritional benefit,
of the GM crop over presently used crops.
Rep. Johnson asked about the role of private
sector investment in biotech research on the acceptance
of GM crops in poor countries.
Drs. Ives and Paarlberg noted that intellectual
property issues can be an additional barrier to introducing
GM crops overseas and that we must address in any
public/private research collaboration ways to encourage
technology transfer to the third world.
Rep. Hart asked why should the federal government
fund research already being done in the private sector.
Dr. Paarlberg responded that what is contemplated
by these proposals is research that is complementary
to ongoing, private sector research and that addresses
research subjects and crops that are not addressed
by the private sector for commercial reasons.
Rep. Baca: "What are the risks of using GMOs."
Dr. Arntzen responded that he biggest risk,
given the expanding world demand for food, is not
developing and using GMOs.
Rep. Baca: "How will US food aid change over
the next several years?"
Dr. Arntzen answered that the U.S. has historically
worked to transfer agricultural technologies to poorer
countries, but we have slacked off that effort for
the last couple of decades. We need to reemphasize
the technology transfer component of our international
Dr. Paarlberg said that no amount of direct
food aid will solve the malnutrition problems of Africa
the only solution is to improve the agricultural productivity
of that continent to avoid future famines.