Clinton Proclaims Biotech Month, Wants $340 Million to Fight Bioterrorism

WASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2000 (ENS) - Today President Bill Clinton, in a display of his strongly favorable attitude towards biotechnology, proclaimed January National Biotechnology Month. The proclamation comes two days after Clinton administration officials said they need $340 million for biotech research to fight terrorism in the 2001 Fiscal Year.

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President Bill Clinton (Photo courtesy the White House)
"Today, a third of all new medicines in development are based on biotechnology," Clinton said. "Designed to attack the underlying cause of an illness, not just its symptoms, these medicines have tremendous potential to provide not only more effective treatments, but also cures. With improved under-standing of cellular and genetic processes, scientists have opened exciting new avenues of research into treatments for devastating diseases - like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, AIDS, and cancer - that affect millions of Americans."

Clinton mentioned none of the problems with biotechnology that are the subject of negotiations on the safety of international trade in genetically modified organisms that opened today in Montreal, Canada. The informal talks that wind up Saturday are to be followed by the resumed session of the First Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity to finalize and adopt the Biosafety Protocol January 24 to 28.

These problems include controlling the escape of modified organisms into the environment and the issue of who pays for any damage they might do.

President Clinton did not mention the reluctance of consumers to accept genetically modified food crops. From Europe to Japan, from Korea to Australia, consumers have been turning their backs on products made from genetically modified soy and corn, tomatoes and cotton that originated primarily in American fields. They have been demanding labelling of biotech foods. Some American environmental, consumer and organic food organizations, too, are now critical of genetically engineered crops.

Instead, Clinton focused on the positive environmental impact of biotechnology on the environment. "Bioreme-diation technologies are cleaning our environment by removing toxic substances from contaminated soils and ground water. Agricultural biotechnology reduces our dependence on pesticides. Manufacturing processes based on biotechnology make it possible to produce paper and chemicals with less energy, less pollution, and less waste," Clinton said.

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Amy Morrow, a chemist in Ames, Iowa, inspects the operation of the soil extraction robot that is used to remove herbicides from soil samples. (Photo courtesy USDA Agricultural Research Service)
There is evidence that enemies are able to use germs to attack the American food supply, according to some experts. Responding to this perceived threat to humans from bioterrorism and animal disease, President Clinton plans to seek $340 million for fiscal 2001 to boost research on the diseases, administration officials said Tuesday.

About $40 million would pay for building a more sophisticated research facility on Plum Island, New York, to study diseases in large animals that can easily infect humans and for which there are no vaccines.

The rest would be spent to upgrade the U.S. Agriculture Department's (USDA) 30-year-old research facility in Ames, Iowa. Currently, some research in Ames, including studies of anthrax and mad cow disease, is done in rented pace in strip malls, officials said.

"We're working against time," Craig Reed, administrator of the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, warned a gathering of congressional staffers.

To study the Nipah virus, a disease in pigs which killed more than 100 people in Malaysia last year and other diseases that can spread to humans, the USDA needs a level-four lab, where scientists wear full body suits that connect to overhead tubes with oxygen like those seen in the 1995 movie "Outbreak." There are no level-four labs in the U.S. that can do research with large animals.

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Lab technician at Plum Island packages biohazardous materials for shipment in accordance with federal and international regulations. (Photo courtesy USDA)
Deadly animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever, are studied on Plum Island, run by the USDA at a cost of $14.5 million a year. Thirty scientists and about 150 other workers take government ferries to work on the island.

But research on the 840-acre island, a mile east of Long Island, has been controversial for the entire 45 years animal testing has been conducted there.

Nearby residents on Long Island and in Connecticut worried even more after the West Nile Virus, a disease usually found in Africa, killed seven people in the New York City area and sickened 50 others last summer. The virus spread from birds to mosquitoes to humans. Despite suspicions, no link to Plum Island was proved.

The $340 million biotech research proposal will appear in Clinton's budget request for fiscal 2001 that begins on October 1, 2000. The extra funds for animal disease research would be spent over a seven-year period, officials said. Clinton is expected to unveil the 2001 budget formally on February 7.