An Open Letter to Celebrity Chefs Opposed to Biotechnology

Today, a group of some 30 celebrity chefs from around the United States will hold a press conference at the high-priced Philadelphia restaurant Le Bec-Fin, to denounce biotechnology and foods developed with recombinant DNA techniques. We agricultural scientists are using advanced biotechnologies to develop more robust and nutritious crop plants for use in the developing world, and we urge these chefs to reconsider their opposition to such a promising scientific endeavor.

The patrons of such exclusive restaurants can afford the luxury of forgoing new crop technologies and paying a premium for their foods. Dinner for two at Le Bec-Fin can cost hundreds of dollars. But millions of people in our countries – and more than a billion people around the world – live on less than a dollar each day. Biotechnology can help in producing more and better foods in developing countries. But opposition to its use and boycotts of biotechnology-derived foods will threaten these benefits.

These novel genetic tools offer greater flexibility and precision in the modification of crop plants. We, and other scientists at our international agricultural research centers, are developing such products as new rice varieties fortified with iron and with added beta carotene, sweet potatoes with enhanced dietary protein, cassava and papaya with built-in resistance to common plant viruses, bananas that produce vaccines against cholera, and many others. All of these products are being created specifically for use in developing countries. But opposition from the industrialized world can critically damage our ability to use these techniques to help improve peoples’ lives.

Opponents all too often mischaracterize and seem to misunderstand this work. Years of research shows that the new genetic techniques do not inherently pose new or heightened risks relative to the modification of organisms by more traditional methods. Moreover, each new biotech development undergoes rigorous, extensive, and careful testing for environmental safety and human health concerns. These techniques represent a powerful and safe means for the modification of plants and animals. If we remain free to use these new biotechnologies, they can contribute substantially in enhancing quality of life by improving agriculture, health care, and the environment.

Yet, this group of celebrity chefs – including Georges Perrier of Le Bec-Fin, Kevin von Klause of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, Stan Frankenthaler of Salamander Cafe & Catering in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Matt Costello of the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle – believes that we should reject these benefits. They insist upon using only non-biotech foods in their restaurants. Though we can not oppose their right to make that choice for themselves, we must take issue with their vocal opposition to our work.

Today, we ask those chefs to reconsider their public denouncement of biotechnology. We implore them – and other anti-biotechnology activists – to consider the impact their actions could have on the peoples of the developing world, to whom we have dedicated our lives’ work.

Channapatna S. Prakash, Ph.D.Tuskegee UniversityTuskegee, Alabama, USA

Merardo Pujol, Ph.D.Center for Genetic Engineeringand BiotechnologyHavana, Cuba

Swapan K. Datta, Ph.D.International Rice Research InstituteManila, Philippines

Jocelyn Webster, Ph.D.AfricaBioJohannesburg, South Africa

Jennifer A. ThomsonUniversity of Cape TownCape Town, South Africa

Anil Kush, Ph.D.Indo-American Hybrid SeedsBangalore, India

Randy A. Hautea, Ph.D.International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech ApplicationsLos Banos, Philippines