Evaluation of the U.S. Regulatory Process for Crops Developed
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, (CAST),
Regulators need adequate resources to make more information available
to the public about how decisions on biotechnology are made, according
to a new Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST)
issue paper. The "Evaluation of the U.S. Regulatory Process
for Crops Developed through Biotechnology" paper includes
recommendations for policy and research in agricultural biotechnology.
It is particularly timely as the Environmental Protection Agency
is making decisions regarding the registration fate of biotechnology-derived
crops, such as Bt corn.
A group of nine science and policy experts prepared the issue
paper for CAST, which represents 36 food and agricultural scientific
organizations. "Having accepted the unenviable task of evaluating
how U.S. regulatory agencies determine the safety of biotech crops,
we decided to describe the process, then comment on how the process
can be improved" explained food safety expert Bruce Chassy
of the University of Illinois.
The paper's authors found that the U.S. regulatory process for
evaluating biotechnology-derived crops is comprehensive and meets
its charge of ensuring that biotechnology-derived foods are at
least as safe as foods derived using traditional breeding techniques.
"The greatest challenge is not having access to the documentation
on how regulators come to their decisions", said Chassy.
"We believe the public would have more confidence in the
process if they knew the rationale for regulatory decisions to
accept or reject new biotech crops. Safety testing data are available
to the public. Now we need to provide adequate resources so the
regulators can explain their decision-making rationale."
Four Key Questions Evaluated
The authors address (1) How are safety assessment and regulatory
reviews conducted? (2) Can obvious strengths and weaknesses of
that process be identified? (3) Can improvements be made in conduct
and direction of independent research, in performance of safety
assessments, in opportunities for consumer participation, or in
any other aspects of the regulatory process that will both enhance
the quality of the assessments and further ensure the ultimate
safety of biotechnology-derived crop products? and (4) Are there
improvements to the regulatory review process for biotechnology-derived
plants that will enhance public confidence in the process?
- Retain the current case-by-case safety assessment approach
and continue to emphasize regulatory conditions carefully tailored
to address risks identified for individual biotechnology-derived
- Finalize the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) current
proposal for a mandatory, premarket notification in lieu of
the present policy of voluntary consultation for all food products
of agricultural biotechnology.
- Provide the public with rapid, comprehensive accessibility
to applications and supporting health and safety data submitted
to regulatory agencies for biotechnology-derived products.
- Issue approvals for both food and feed use for crops intended
to enter commodity streams.
- Provide the additional resources sorely needed for key regulatory
- Conduct additional research on selected topics to ensure that
present-day questions can be answered and that future developments
will be assessed adequately.
- Develop rapid screening methods for biotechnology-derived
crop proteins in raw agricultural commodities, such as grain
- Conduct additional research to support regulatory oversight
and product stewardship of biotechnology-derived crops currently
on the market.
- Carry out additional research on the potential health, safety,
and environmental effects of biotechnology-derived products
that are not designed to be substantially equivalent to their
conventional counterparts (sometimes referred to as next generation
- Conduct additional research on food allergies and identification
and characterization of allergenic food proteins.
CAST is an international consortium of 36 scientific and professional
societies. It assembles, interprets, and communicates science-based
information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food,
fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and
environmental issues to its stakeholders - legislators, regulators,
policy makers, the media, the private sector, and the public.
For more information contact: Dr. Bruce M, Chassy, 217-244-7291,
Illinois Livestock Industry Faces Crossroads
Peter Goldsmith, Assist. Prof., Agribusiness and Farm Management,
Author: Bob Sampson, Extension Communications Specialist, (217)
Illinois's livestock industry, no longer as vibrant as it once
was, stands today at a crossroads, according to a University of
Illinois study that examined the economic impact, challenges,
and potential futures of the industry. However, livestock production
retains a significant economic impact on certain regions of the
"In 1979, livestock accounted for 1.68 percent of the gross
state product," said Peter Goldsmith, assistant professor
in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and coauthor
of "The Economic Impact of Illinois's Livestock Industry"
with Hedi Idris, a research assistant in the department.
"By 1999, that figure had fallen to .37 percent, a decline
of four per cent per year. This dramatic shift has been due to
the combined effects of the decline of the livestock sector and
the expansion of the state's economy over the 22-year span. In
terms of the nominal value of livestock marketings, the volume
of business has decreased 36 percent or 1.8 percent per year.
This is an annual contraction of $42 million per year. Most of
the decline has occurred in the past 10 years."
Commercial enterprises in Illinois are broken down as follows:
45 percent are swine units, 21 percent are dairy farms, 22 percent
are cow-calf operations, and 12 percent are a fed cattle enterprise.
Goldsmith said livestock is a $3.4 billion industry in Illinois
that directly employs 28,610 people with a total employment impact
of 43,198. The industry annually contributes more than $330 million
"While swine enterprises make up 45 percent of the commercial
livestock business, they account for 53 percent of livestock's
total cash receipts," he said. "More than 18,000 jobs
are associated with the state's swine industry. Beef is second,
generating over $800 million in output and directly employing
more than 14,000 full time equivalents of labor. Dairy produces
half as much economic activity ($486 million) as beef." The
state's poultry industry accounts for 765 jobs in direct employment
and slightly over $81 million in direct output. Sheep account
for 169 direct jobs and nearly $6 million in direct output.
"One question of interest to the livestock industry is the
question of new livestock investment scenarios and their impact
on the rest of the economy," said Goldsmith. "To address
this, we looked at three scenarios: a 2,400-sow farrow-to-finish
operation, a 400-cow dairy, and a 2,400-head cattle-feeding operation."
The analysis indicated that siting the 2,400 sow operation in
Illinois would directly generate over $5 million in sales and
have significant impacts on wholesale trade, real estate, feed
grains, and support enterprises. The figure for a 400-cow dairy
is $1.4 million. For siting a 2,400-head feeder operation the
figure is about $2.5 million.
Examining the state's livestock industry from a supply-demand
perspective revealed some interesting facts. "Livestock producers
outside the state and outside the country are mostly meeting the
demands of the state," said Goldsmith. "While at first
glance, this portends great opportunities for local producers,
that would not be entirely correct. This is because the supply-demand
matrix in the modern food industry is not dominated, as it once
was, by location. "Competitiveness now is much more a function
of intangible assets such as human, organizational, and social
capital. Therefore, while opportunities abound in the meat industry,
location and land are only two of many criteria for competitiveness
in the new agricultural economy."
The study also identifies the economic impact of livestock production
on Illinois counties. The leading counties in this category are
Henry, Stephenson, DeKalb, and Clinton. Each contributes over
$100 million to the economy. Counties most dependent upon livestock
agriculture are Carroll, Jasper, Greene, and Pike each comprising
over 22 percent of their respective county's economy.
"The evidence is clear that based on economic data alone
Illinois's livestock industry is not as vibrant as it once was,"
said Goldsmith. "However, livestock still has significant
impact on certain regions within the state." Two possible
strategies face the Illinois livestock industry as it stands at
a crossroads. One path would be to continue operating as in the
past. The result would be a continuation of the current trends.
The other path values livestock agriculture as an economic engine
and seeks to reinvigorate the industry. Pursuing this strategy
involves complex decisions, new tactics and business practices."
Goldsmith recommends that the industry address two complementary
issues-Illinois's livestock business environment and the livestock
"The business environment issue involves policy development
to create an environment hospitable to livestock enterprises as
is done with other industries in the economy, i.e., tax incentives,
infrastructure improvements, and access to State contracts,"
said Goldsmith. "Complementary to this, the industry needs
to engage in a legitimizing process. This process recognizes that
stakeholders outside the industry are impacted directly and indirectly
by the industry. Their needs, such as the environment, animal
welfare, and food safety have to be addressed. Unless their needs
are addressed probusiness policies will be difficult to formulate
and, if formulated, difficult to implement."
Keeping Nutrients in Manure
Lupe Chavez, ARS News Service, 301-504-1627, firstname.lastname@example.org
Manure-treating practices that reduce ammonia emissions and preserve
nitrogen in the manure for plant use have been developed by Agricultural
Research Service scientists. The treatments reduced ammonia release
by more than 55 percent overall. Nitrogen is lost from manure
when ammonia, a nitrogen-containing compound in the manure, escapes
to the atmosphere through a process called volatilization. The
loss of nitrogen makes the manure less useful as a fertilizer.
Alan Lefcourt and John Meisinger, colleagues at the ARS Animal
and Natural Resources Institute in Beltsville, Md. (http://www.anri.barc.usda.gov/),
conducted tests to improve the retention of manure nitrogen for
organic use. They found that adding 2.5 percent alum or 6.25 percent
zeolite to manure slurry by wet weight reduced ammonia loss by
60 and 55 percent, respectively.
Alum and zeolite, acidifying and sequestering agents, helped
reduce the formation of ammonia gas and its volatilization, or
release, into the air. Alum lowered the pH level of the tested
dairy slurry below 5, a level that limits the amount of ammonia
released from the manure. Zeolite, commonly used in kitty litter,
acted as a cation-exchange medium, binding with the chemicals
that would form ammonia and preventing volatilization. To measure
ammonia loss, the researchers utilized a canopy and wind-tunnel
system. A variable-speed fan pulled air over the manure samples
and ammonia gases were trapped in acid bottles as they passed
through the system. Ammonia losses were measured over a period
of 96 hours.
Lefcourt and Meisinger initiated their research in response to
problems created by increased animal production on farms and dwindling
land available for spreading manure as fertilizer. Crop plants
can take up and use the nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure.
However, when too much nitrogen escapes into the air, excess phosphorus
is left in the manure and soil. By limiting ammonia losses from
manure, the team of scientists can create better ratios of nitrogen
to phosphorus for farm crops. Moreover, zeolite-treated slurries
are also a nitrogen-rich, slow-release, fertilizer. Treating dairy
slurry with either alum or zeolite is cost-effective and safe.
Slurries treated with alum would cost less than 50 cents a day
per lactating cow. Zeolite costs should be similar, although volume
pricing is not currently available.
At the ARS Animal and Natural Resources Institute, Lefcourt works
in the Instrumentation and Sensing Laboratory (http://www.barc.usda.gov/anri/isl/).
Meisinger works in the Institute's Environmental Quality Laboratory