A study shows that the number of biotechnology jobs continues to increase across the nation. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
A study shows that the number of biotechnology jobs continues to
increase across the nation. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach
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.
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 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
“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.
A new lab in the state of Illinois will help farmers throughout the region keep genetically modified seeds out of conventional crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Maria Hickey reports:
A new lab in the state of Illinois will help farmers throughout the region keep genetically
modified seeds out of conventional crops. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Maria Hickey
Marketing corn, soybeans, and other grains to European countries has been more challenging
since genetically modified crops were introduced. That’s partly because of a lack of confidence
among European consumers in bio-tech food products.
To ensure the purity of conventional seeds, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has a new lab
to analyze the genetic make-up of seeds.
Tom Jennings is manager of the state’s division of ag industry regulation. He says the lab will
help ensure farmers get what they expect.
“We want to make sure the label claims that are on seed bags out there, that they’re correct, that
they’re accurate, and that the people, the producers who are using that seed, are assured that what
is in the bag actually meets the label claims that are on the seed labels that are on the bags.”
The lab is able to provide test results within two days and is costing Illinois tax-payers more than
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Maria Hickey.
According to the USDA, 40% of the corn grown this year in the U.S. has been genetically modified. Some researchers fear there's not enough oversight on the rapidly growing biotech industry. A program at the University of Minnesota wants to create a new profession - the 'Biosafety Engineer.' (photo courtesy of the USDA)
Genetic engineering – especially when it comes to food – is a battleground. On one side: people who fear a world of contaminated food, harming humans and the environment. The other side fears we’ll miss an opportunity to prevent hunger and disease. Now there’s a ground breaking initiative that might produce compromise. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports that some researchers think safety can be built into the bio tech industry:
Genetic engineering – especially when it comes to food – is a
battleground. On one side: people who fear a world of contaminated
food, harming humans and the environment. The other side fears
we’ll miss an opportunity to prevent hunger and disease. Now, there’s
a ground breaking initiative that might produce compromise. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Stucky reports that some researchers
think safety can be built into the bio tech industry:
To remove a gene from one organism and transfer it to another…
that’s genetic engineering. Genetically modified or GM crops are
easier to grow, according to bio tech supporters and in the future
might be more nutritious. But they also might contain hidden
allergens, because they use genes from a plant or animal that
people might be allergic to. And there are concerns that GM crops
might harm the environment by crossbreeding with natural plants in
the wild. And so the University of Minnesota is proposing a
solution – an entirely new profession – call them biotech safety
engineers – along with a new science of bio safety. Anne
Kapuscinski is a researcher at the University of Minnesota and a
force behind the initiative called Safety First. Kapuscinski says
rather than regulating the industry after a new product is developed,
companies should prove safety first.
“It will mean that some ideas that will be on the lab bench won’t go
any further in development because the developers
will realize there are safety concerns that we don’t know how to
mitigate, or how to prevent from happening or how to address.”
And that could save companies money… by avoiding costly mistakes
such as the Starlink corn debacle. That’s when genetically modified
corn accidentally mixed with conventional corn and got into dozens of
foods. Kapuscinski says it was common knowledge in the industry that
the corn could get mixed up because of the way it’s transported and
stored… which might have been avoided with uniform safety standards
and government oversight. But until now, industry has resisted that.
They’ve been touting the benefits rather than the risks such as this
ad campaign put out by a group called the Biotechnology Industry
“Biotechnology, a big word that means hope.”
But one expert says if the industry wants to inspire public
confidence, it should support the Safety First initiative. John
Howard is the founder of a Texas based biotech firm called
ProdiGene. Not all biotech companies support the University of
Minnesota effort, but Howard thinks it has a good chance of
alleviating public concerns.
“The problem is, however, if you do it yourselves, what
credibility do you have as a company promoting your own safety
assessment? So an independent agency or source that comes out
and says, ‘Look, this is now credible, we’ve looked at all the safety
issues,’ that’s great, and if they find something that we’ve missed
then fine, we want to do it that way.”
John Howard says his company is working to bio-engineer corn to
deliver drugs. For instance, if you need insulin you could have it
in your breakfast cereal.
Opponents of bio tech say we don’t know all of the ramifications of
engineering drugs into food or altering the genetics of any organism,
but John Howard thinks we know enough to be safe.
“You can always argue that we just don’t know
enough yet and that’s an argument that can go on and on. And this
applies to everything that we think about in terms of risk. But
what you can do is look at a risk benefit equation. There’s
no question this is a for-profit company, let’s not make any mistake,
but not at the expense of harming people.”
And supporters say the Safety First initiative will see to that.
Lawrence Jacobs is a political scientist at the University of
Minnesota and a leader in Safety First. Jacobs says, like it or not,
GM food is here to stay.
“If we do not find some credible way to address the biosafety issues in
biotechnology, we are heading for a major maelstrom. The challenge
that’s out there now for the biotechnology industry right now is get
your act together. And the potential for consumers to panic in this
country is significant.”
Of course safety standards are already engineered into the
manufacturing of airplanes and cars. But will that work in an
industry which is manufacturing a living thing?
Supporters of the Safety First initiative say there’s too little
oversight on an industry that could have much greater impact on health
and the environment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Stucky.
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 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
“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.
Some weeds are developing a resistance to one of the most popular crop herbicides. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson reports:
Some weeds are developing a resistance to one of the most popular crop herbicides. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson reports:
Farmers like the Monsanto Company herbicide “Roundup” because it kills a wide variety of weeds
without harming crops genetically engineered to resist it. But in the past few years, crop
scientists say Roundup’s popularity has created some problems. Through survival of the fittest, a
very small number of weeds that were always resistant to Roundup have reproduced, and in some
areas now flourish. Mark van Gessel is a weed specialist at the University of Delaware. He says
it’s a situation some farmers are stuck with:
“I really don’t have a lot of hope that we are going to be able to reverse this trend. We just have to learn to live with it.”
van Gessel says that means farmers will need to get away from exclusive use of Roundup and
other less common herbicides that contain its active ingredient. So far, weeds resistant to
Roundup have popped up in Delaware, Maryland, and California as well as in Tennessee, Ohio,
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shawn Johnson.
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:
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
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.
Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now, the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost, but there are still questions about the health of cloned cows, and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted has the story:
Milk production is big business in the upper Midwest. Now the president of a biotech company in Wisconsin is milking a herd of cloned cows that he says could give the Great Lakes dairy industry a boost. But there are still questions about the health of cloned cows and whether the milk they produce is safe for human consumption. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gil Halsted reports:
(Sound of milk splashing into a sink)
Just outside the milking parlor at the Infigen Dairy a steady stream of milk is flowing from a pipe into a sink. It gurgles down the drain into another pipe that leads to a holding tank. Infigen president Michael Bishop says the milk is perfectly safe and nutritious but when the day’s milking is done he’ll get rid of it.
“Right now that milk is worth 15, 16 dollars a hundredweight and we’re dumpin’ it.”
The milk Bishop is dumping comes from 23 cloned cows. He produced them by removing the genetic material from an unfertilized cow egg and then inserting the DNA from the ear of a cow he wanted to reproduce. The result is a herd of cows that looks uncannily identical. There are no regulations requiring Bishop to dump the milk from his herd. But the FDA has asked all owners of cloned livestock to keep food products from their animals off the market until the agency decides whether or not to regulate them. The FDA is waiting for a National Academy of Sciences report on animal cloning due out later this spring before it makes a decision.
FDA spokesperson Stephen Sundlof says even if the report includes no red flags on food products from clones, the agency may require tests on the milk from cloned cows before it goes on the market.
“That would be to look compositionally at milk from cloned animals and compare that to milk from non-cloned animals to see if there was any substantial differences. But other than that we would likely find that those products were in fact identical to normal milk produced by uncloned animals.”
Michael Bishop is confident the milk his cloned cows are producing is perfectly safe for human consumption. In fact he says he’s already run the kind of test Sundlof is talking about comparing the milk of his cloned cows with the milk from cows at a neighboring dairy.
“Nothing new in the cloned cows… but there were variants in the bulk tank of a neighbor dairy, so it really turns out that the food product is more predictable. It’s gonna be the same in a cloned animal.”
But critics of cloning food say there are still lots of unanswered questions. Infigen isn’t the only company cloning dairy cows and several consumer groups are lobbying the FDA to put some strong regulations in place before milk from any of the diaries using the procedure is allowed on supermarket shelves. Joseph Mendelsen is with the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. He says there are a number of potential health problems for cloned cows. For instance they may be more susceptible to mastitis, and may require more use of antibiotics.
“Are there possibly subtle genetic differences that may affect the nutritional quality of the milk? I don’t think those issues have been looked at and they’re certainly not gonna be looked at with the scrutiny I think that consumers expect if we don’t have a mandatory regulatory system looking at cloned animals and the products derived from them.”
Infigen’s Michael Bishop agrees that regulations to insure the quality of the milk may be necessary, and he’s in favor of labeling the milk from cloned cows so consumers can make an informed choice.
“Americans are used to having choices and I believe they should have this choice. Let’s let science prove one way or the other if there’s a difference and then let’s let the marketplace decide if that product is going to be acceptable.”
Critics of cloning all say labeling should be required for food from cloned animals. But they’re even more concerned about the affect clones will have on genetic diversity. John Peck is the executive director of the Wisconsin-based Family Farm Defenders. He says an increase in the number of cows with identical genes will reduce the range of genetic diversity. And that means, he says, that herds of cloned cattle will be even more likely to face problems from disease and viruses.
“If you’re basically engineering in this uniformity, you’re also engineering susceptibility to catastrophic events, which we’ve seen that with other crops that are genetically engineered or hybrids that are vulnerable to one form of blight or rust or something that comes in from afar. The big question then is, who’s gonna pay for that? You know are the consumers gonna foot the bill when a factory farm of two thousand dairy cows all gets wiped out by one virus?”
But Michael Bishop says his cloned cows will not be any more at risk for disease than the original healthy cows they were cloned from. He predicts that once cloning catches on, farmers running large commercial dairies will begin adding clones to their herds to increase their efficiency.
“Because they’ll actually be able to create a more uniform consistent product from cow to cow to cow, and be able to predict how much hay, how much feed, and exactly what the outcome’s gonna be. Is it gonna be thirty thousand, thirty one thousand, thirty two thousand pounds of milk from the inputs they put in.”
how quickly large dairies turn to cloning for economic advantage though depends a lot on whether the FDA decides to impose restrictions on the milk the cloned cows produce.
For Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Gil Halsted.
Pesticides are designed to kill pests – and so – by their nature are toxic substances. They wouldn’t work otherwise. While that poisonous nature is useful for certain jobs… most people would probably hesitate before knowingly taking the chemicals into their bodies. But the Environmental Protection Agency is now looking at the issue of testing pesticides on humans. As bad as that may sound, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Greg Dahlmann reports there are some people saying it’s what we need:
Like most farmers, hog farmers have seen a shift from small, family-owned farms, to large-scale hog operations, but more pigs on less land creates some major environmental problems – especially, what to do with all that manure. Bio-tech researchers in Canada believe they have created an animal that will help. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more: