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Benefits of Biotech Food Stressed

July 18, 2000

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The U.S. agriculture secretary urged supporters and detractors of genetically engineered food Monday to focus on the benefits biotechnology can have in feeding the growing world population.

With 800 million people chronically hungry and the world’s population expected to hit 9 billion in 50 years, ``we have to do something to squeeze higher yields out of fewer and fewer acres,″ Dan Glickman told a panel discussion of the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

Glickman said biotech foods must be part of the answer, since they cannot only increase the quantity but the quality of food.

Genetically engineered crops _ including corn, cotton and soybeans _ have become popular in the United States over the past few years because of the increased yields.

But they have met increased consumer resistance in Europe and Asia. Critics of the crops, which are resistant to herbicides or insects, say that there isn’t enough known about their impact on health and the environment.

Glickman decried what he called the ``loud, contentions, trans-Atlantic food fight″ that has ensued, saying both supporters and detractors of biotech had lost sight of its potential to ease hunger in the developing world.

``Many of the opponents, frankly, can afford the luxury of their opposition; they don’t have to worry about food insecurity since they live in prosperous, agriculturally abundant societies,″ he said.

But Glickman also criticized biotech’s proponents _ the multinational corporations that are developing the products _ saying their focus on profit was also missing the point.

``If they took the longer view they might see the benefit of focusing on the developing world _ not just as a gesture of corporate citizenship but because such an investment will ultimately pay dividends as developing countries mature into reliable customers,″ he said.

In his speech, Glickman also announced a $145 million new package of farm aid _ involving 350,000 metric tons of wheat, corn and rice _ to Afghanistan, Kenya and Horn of African nations hit by drought.

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