Sen. Bond speaks at MU about importance of biotechnology

Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Interstate 70 could be the biotech alley of the future if U.S. Sen. Kit Bond has his way.

Bond, a Republican, spoke Wednesday morning at the sixth annual Soybean Biotechnology Symposium at MU. He told an audience of about 50 scientists and students that mapping the corn and soybean genome could help solve the world's starvation problems.

"Advances here will continue to affect the entire world," Bond said.

Biotechnology could also be a great economic boon, not just for the I-70 corridor but for all of Missouri, he said, because he thinks bioengineered crops can revolutionize agriculture.

"They have higher yields, are more resistant to disease and increase farmers' chances of harvesting a successful crop," Bond said.

Rodney Geisert, director of MU's department of animal science, said the crops are engineered to be resistant to bugs and weeds, so farmers don't have to spray pesticides or herbicides. They're also engineered to be hardy, and that's good for crop yields, Geisert said.

Bond said scientists need to fight against the fear-mongering about biotechnology.

"You don't have time to continue to listen to the naysayers," Bond said.

The comment was an allusion to the controversy over genetically engineered crops, not only in the scientific community. Some of the concerns are highlighted in the Oscar-nominated film, "Food, Inc."

Robert Kremer, a Columbia-based microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's agricultural research service, said 95 percent of soybeans are genetically modified.

Some crops are not modified to be resistant to disease, he said, and other modifications may actually make them more susceptible to disease, which could be toxic to the humans that eat them. Other problems have also arisen.

"One good example of this: With many of these herbicide-resistant crops, there are many herbicide-resistant weeds that are developing, which is a big problem," Kremer said. "You have to come back and either use more herbicide or a different herbicide to deal with that."

More research in this area is necessary, Kremer said.

"These are things that have not really been looked into to a great enough extent before we went to large-scale production of all these crops," he said. "We're backing up now (and) taking a look now after everything is already out there in the field."

The soybean symposium went from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

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