The AC21's purpose is two-fold: to examine the long-term impacts of biotechnology on the U.S. food and agriculture system; and to provide guidance to USDA on pressing individual issues. The advisory committee is made up of 19 members representing the biotechnology industry, seed producers, farmers, and environmental and consumer organizations to name a few. The members say they share a vision of a safe and abundant food supply and a diversified agricultural marketplace that can meet the needs and preferences of customers and consumers in the U.S. and the world as a whole.
Jerry Slocum, Farmer, MI: "I think it's important to farmers because we need this technology that we've come to depend on since 1996 that we do on farms in ever-growing matter. Personally, that's my interest here. Professionally, that's my interest to make sure we have this conversation in a way that technology can continue to advance and offer these benefits."
Experts say biotechnology, if used appropriately, has the potential to provide more and healthier foods, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and offer more effective cures for diseases. Within the last decade, biotechnology has taken off in areas of food and agriculture especially. It has been introduced into U.S. agricultural commodities such as corn, soybeans, cotton and others. In 2005 alone, 52% of corn, 87% of soybeans, and 79% of cotton planted in the U.S. was genetically engineered, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Jerry Slocum, Farmer, MI: "I think anyone who sells the technology to producers has to be pleasantly surprised by the rate of its adoption. In the last ten years, we've seen farmers using more and more biotechnology. Who knows what we'll see in the next 100 years."
While members of the AC21 admit it's impossible to predict which new modern biotechnology-derived plants or animals will be ready for the marketplace over the next decade, some possibilities include:
Nutritionally enhanced crops targeted to humans
Products designed for use in improved animal feeds
Crops resistant to drought and other stresses
Leon Corzine, Farmer, IL: " What's exciting is new tools coming, especially in production agriculture. We have our second 11 billion-plus corn crop this year and we've done this without increasing corn acres."
While it's an exciting time for agricultural biotechnology, experts agree one of the main stumbling blocks is whether other countries will accept it. Many countries have questions about how the organisms are regulated in the U.S. and about their safety.
Leon Corzine, Farmer, IL: "I'm happy to say these products come under more regulatory scrutiny than any other products I use on the farm. I think we need to make sure our customer base, the general consumer, from food products to fuels, knows what we're doing and these products truly are safe. And at the end of the day, everybody wins."