House of Representatives Rejects Woolsey "Sound Science" Amendment
Yesterday, the House of Representatives rejected an amendment, offered by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), to provide information about the impacts of plant biotechnology on the environment. The amendment was defeated 259-165, with Republican Members voting 216-1 in opposition to the amendment.
Rep. Woolsey commented, "Republicans are very fond of invoking the need for 'sound science' as the basis for regulation. The National Academy of Sciences, many environmental groups, and enlightened business groups agree that information is sorely lacking on the environmental and ecological impacts of plant biotechnology. The intelligent response to this lack of information is not to collectively stick our heads in the sand and hope the issue goes away. It is to produce sound information so that any future problems can be dealt with through sound analysis rather than through fear-mongering, lawsuits, or political posturing."
Rep. Woolsey’s amendment to H.R. 4664 would have authorized $35 million over two years in the budget of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund "fundamental research related to assessing… the effects of biological research on organisms and the environment." The amendment closely followed the recommendations of several recent reports of the National Academy of Sciences, including the February, 2002 report on Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants. The Academy panel noted that research on environmental impacts of crop production is "sparse" and recommended "substantial increases in public-sector investment" in several specific research and monitoring areas.
Opponents of the amendment claimed that it raised questions about the safety of biotechnology and cited problems with applying Congressional priorities rather than peer-review to the NSF budget. "Republican arguments against my amendment were bizarre to say the least," noted Rep. Woolsey. "The program I proposed to create would in fact be peer-reviewed. Further, the Congress and the Science Committee apply priorities to the NSF budget all the time. In this Congress alone, the Science Committee has created specific pots of money for information technology research, for computer security research, for earthquake engineering, for plant genomic centers, for research in learning, and for a whole host of education programs. For some reason, it is an affront to the NSF to ask them to work on the Congressional and public priority of sound environmental information."
"Industry should realize, and I believe that enlightened business leaders do, that they are far better off anticipating and responding to potential problems than to be jumping from crisis to crisis because of a lack of information. It is in the interest of the biotechnology industry to develop the information that will either prove that the technology is inherently benign or provide us with a basis for sound management of any problems that arise."