Biotech Jobs on the Rise

A study shows that the number of biotechnology jobs continues to increase across the nation. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A study shows that the number of biotechnology jobs continues to
increase across the nation. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach
reports:


The study classifies certain jobs in agriculture, pharmaceuticals,
medical labs and medical equipment as biotech employment. The
report says collectively those areas added about 16,000 jobs
across the U.S between 2001 and 2004.


Walt Plosila of the Battelle Memorial Institute authored the study
for a biotech industry group. He says it’s no wonder that many
states are competing for biotech companies.


“These are overall very profitable enterprises… some of the best
well paying jobs in the country and in the last four years, these
jobs have had an average inflation adjusted increase of wages of
over six percent compared to the country which is less than one
and a half percent.”


But some people remain opposed to what biotech is doing in areas
such as genetically modified crops and stem cells research.


For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Usda to Tighten Biotech Crop Regulations?

The government says genetically engineered crops are safe, but it wants to strengthen biotechnology regulations anyway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The government says genetically engineered crops are safe, but it wants to strengthen biotechnology
regulations anyway. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing stricter regulations for approving genetically
modified crops. The USDA also wants to take a harder look at the possible impact to the
environment posed by the bio-engineered crops. The agency insists that current bio-tech crops are
safe, but indicates the technology is advancing fast. Megan Thomas is a spokesperson for the
USDA.


“The science is continuing to evolve on a daily basis and we want to make sure that our regulations
are able to meet those demands today and in the future.”


Some environmental groups have been calling for more restrictions and testing of genetically
engineered crops. They are skeptical that the USDA will implement the kind of regulations the
environmentalists want, but they say the government’s proposal is a good first step. The USDA is
taking public comment on its proposals until March 23rd.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Starlink Corn Still Present in Some Supplies

A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:

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A type of genetically engineered corn that was pulled from the market more than
three years ago is still showing up in small amounts of the nation’s corn supply.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:


Starlink corn was designed to be resistant to certain pests. But concerns over
possible health effects on humans led the government to limit its use to corn
grown for feeding livestock.


But when traces of Starlink were detected in taco shells in 2000, the genetically
modified corn was pulled from the market. Today, voluntary testing is conducted
by the USDA on growers who suspect their corn might be contaminated with
Starlink. Those tests have shown that Starlink is still present in trace amounts.


Rick Johns is an associate biology professor at Northern Illinois University. He
says it’s possible Starlink will be around for many years to come.


“Farmers aren’t necessarily good at keeping everything separate. The grain bins,
for example, are not well segregated – human food versus animal food – it’s all
together in one big bin. Even if you clean the bin out there’s lots of excess seeds
left inside of it. Similarly for the trucks, similarly for the grain elevators.”


A study by the Centers for Disease Control found no conclusive evidence of
allergic reaction to Starlink corn.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.

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Modified Crops Swap Genes With Weeds

Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:

Transcript

Genetically modified crops are planted throughout the Midwest, but some scientists are
concerned genes from these crops could escape and work their way into weedy plants. With
these genes, weeds could become more vigorous and harder to kill. New research shows this can
happen between closely related crops and weeds. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cristina
Rumbaitis-del Rio prepared this report:


Genetically modified crops have been around for quite a while. In the U.S. last year more than 88
million acres were planted with genetically modified soybean, corn, cotton and other crops. Some
of these plants are engineered to be more resistant to herbicides, making it easier for farmers to
get rid of weeds without damaging their crop. Others are engineered to resist plant-eating insects.


But some scientists worry about the ecological effects of these crops. Allison Snow is a professor
of ecology at Ohio State University. She studies genetically modified sunflowers. Snow says she
got involved in this research when genetically modified crops were first being introduced because
she was afraid no one else was looking at the environmental effects of these crops.


“It was kind out of a fear factor for me of wanting to make sure that someone was watching to see
what the environmental effects might be.”


The sunflowers Snow studies have a gene added to them, which produces an organic insecticide
that kills insects feeding on the plants.


According to Snow, the problem with these pesticide-producing sunflowers is the insect-killing
gene can be transferred from crop sunflowers to their weedy cousins, which are often growing on
the edges of fields. Bees, flies and other insects can transfer the gene to the weeds by cross-
pollinating the plants, which are close relatives. Snow’s research shows once the gene gets into
the weed population, the weeds become insect-resistant as well.


“The new gene worked really, really well in the weeds. It protected them from the insects. And
because they were protected, they had more energy to devote to making seeds.”


Snow says the most startling result was the number of seeds these weeds were making.


“In one of our study sites, they made 55% percent more seeds per plant – just because of one
gene. Which is kind of unheard of. We’ve never seen a result like that – where one gene would
cause the whole population to suddenly start making 55% more seeds.”


The gene might make weeding a more difficult task, but Snow says she wouldn’t quite call them
“super weeds,” a term some environmentalists have used.


“We might see that the weedy sunflowers become worse weeds, I wouldn’t call them super
weeds, because to me that would imply that they have many different features instead of just one
that causes them to make more seeds. But I could imagine in the future there might be enough
traits out there that could turn a regular weed into something much more difficult to control – like
really would be a super weed.”


Snow says she will have to do more research to see if the extra seeds made by the weeds will turn
into more weeds and hardier weeds in farmer’s fields.


But, she might not be able to finish her research on sunflowers because the companies that make
the crop have decided not to renew her funding and won’t give her access to the sunflowers or the
genes.


“It was all about stewardship and responsibility.”


Doyle Karr is a spokesperson for pioneer hi bred, one of the companies which makes the
sunflowers. He says the company realized a few years ago there wasn’t enough demand for the
product to justify commercially producing it. As a result, he says, the company couldn’t continue
funding sunflower research, and doesn’t want to be held responsible for keeping the gene safe
while the research is being conducted.


It’s an issue of a biotech trait that we are not pursuing and not bringing to the market, and if we’re
not bringing it to the market, we can’t justify taking the responsibility of having that trait out
being worked with, with a third party.”


While some academic researchers argue the universities take on legal liability when they work
with genetically modified plants, Karr says the university’s liability is often limited by state law.
He says the company is ultimately held responsible if only by the court of public opinion.


“Should something happen with this gene that was not expected or a mistake happened – that
would ultimately come back to those who initially made the gene available.”


While this issue remains unresolved, Snow is continuing her research. Genetically modified
sunflowers are not the only crop to study. Snow is now working in Vietnam where weedy species
of rice grow naturally, and where genetically modified rice might be introduced in coming years.
She’s concerned the traits of the genetically altered rice might be transferred to the wild species
of rice, just as happened with the sunflowers.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cristina Rumbaitis-del Rio.

Biotech Companies Agree to Regional Moratorium

Several biotech companies have agreed not to grow genetically modified crops in Corn Belt states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, parts of Kentucky, parts of Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:

Transcript

Several biotech companies have agreed not to grow genetically modified crops in Corn
Belt states, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, parts of Kentucky, parts of
Nebraska, and Minnesota. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:


Twelve biotech companies including Monsanto and Dow agreed to the moratorium. In
states where the corn might contaminate nearby fields planted with crops for human
consumption.


Lisa dry is with the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.
She says the companies won’t grow corn and safflower used for medicines.


“This is pharmaceutical production, it is not agricultural or food production. We are
taking every single possible precaution to make sure that it stays in its intended use
channel and does not end up in the food or feed.”


Dry says commercial grocers, exporters, and food processors have been concerned about
the Starlink scandal of 2000, when genetically modified corn approved for animal feed
turned up in 300 varieties of taco shells, tostadas and chips. The biotech companies say
they will grow crops in non-traditional areas such as Hawaii, Arizona, and Puerto Rico.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.