NEWS RELEASE, 06/08/99

Statement concerning tonight's Berkeley City Council item.

By Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--The University of California, Berkeley, currently plays a limited role in field studies on genetically engineered crops. Campus researchers believe these studies are important to understanding basic plant science and to ensuring the safety of such crops.

The Berkeley City Council will consider a recommendation, on the consent calendar for Tuesday, June 8, regarding the planting of genetically engineered crops and the need for more long-term field research to demonstrate the safety and reliability of these crops, according to the resolution filed by Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.

Field research is a critical component in agricultural biotechnology. In the history of farming, numerous advances have been made through successful field studies. There currently are more than 2,000 such field studies being conducted on corn by numerous institutions nationwide. Each field study is monitored and approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Many levels of government, including county regulators, also approve these studies to ensure reliable, safe and efficacious field testing.

According to USDA figures, of the more than 200 such field studies approved for California in the past two years, the Berkeley campus sponsors two. Both are studies of the maize genome underway, on less than four acres, at the UC Berkeley Gill Tract in Albany, Calif. While not directly related to the development of engineered food, these studies will help researchers better understand how plants grow and the involvement of various genes in the growth process.

New foods, medicines and agriculture techniques can result from such fundamental scientific studies. For instance, a recent laboratory-based genetic study at UC Berkeley intended to uncover basic information about how plants grow also revealed a new anti-cancer component of soy protein that works much like taxol and may one day be a new tool in the fight against cancer.

A recent article in the New York Times raised questions about the planting of so-called "Bt" corn crops in the United States. Such genetically engineered crops encompass about 8 million acres, or 20 percent, of the total U.S. corn crop. The Bt corn is engineered to resist attack by insects. None of the field studies conducted by UC Berkeley, however, involve Bt corn or similar strains.

UC Berkeley experts can be made available for further information on UC research and the past and future of U.S. plant biotechnology.


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