Agricultural Biotechnology Policy in the Clinton Administration

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Agricultural Biotechnology Policy in the Clinton Administration describes how the administration of President Bill Clinton handled biotechnology, specifically genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Just prior to the election of Bill Clinton, the U.S. government finalized the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology ("Coordinated Framework") under which it would regulate GMOs. The Coordinated Framework determined that no new laws were necessary to regulate biotechnology. Instead, GMOs would be regulated as animal drugs (in the case of genetically engineered animals), potential plant pests, and food additives (in the case of genetically engineered foods).

Henry I. Miller: Biotechnology Fox Guarding the Henhouse

When Clinton entered office in 1993, the director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology was Henry I. Miller. Miller, who was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology beginning in 1989, has referred to biotechnology as "the closest thing to a free lunch in the technological firmament."[1] Miller left his position as Director of the Office of Biotechnology in the first year of the Clinton Administration.[2]

National Science and Technology Council

In 1993, President Clinton established the National Science and Technology Council.

As explained by Clinton's science advisor, John Howard "Jack" Gibbons, in a 1994 speech:[3]

"On November 23, 1993, the President signed an Executive Order establishing the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which he will chair. The charge to this new Cabinet-level Council which succeeds FCCSET is to establish clear national goals for federal science and technology investments and to ensure that science and technology policies and programs are developed and implemented to contribute effectively to those national goals.
"Private sector involvement with the NSTC will be essential to developing successful science and technology policies that will help American businesses achieve sustainable growth and create high quality jobs, as well as to maintain our academic and research institutions' world leadership in science, engineering and mathematics. To ensure that the federal science and technology are reflective of national needs of the U.S., the President also established a President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The Committee will advise the President on science and technology issues and assist the NSTC in securing private sector involvement in its activities. The members of the PCAST will be appointed by the President and will include distinguished individuals from non- federal sectors, drawn from industry, education and research institutions, non- governmental organizations and other sources.
"As one of the first actions taken under this new policy coordination and implementation mechanism, we made certain that the efforts of the Biotechnology Research Subcommittee would continue under the new committee structure. This subcommittee will operate under the aegis of a single, overarching Committee on Fundamental Science which is co-chaired by Drs. Harold Varmus and Neal Lane, the Directors of the NIH and NSF, respectively, and Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood, the Associate Director for Science in OSTP. The Biotechnology Research Subcommittee will continue to provide government- wide coordination and focus for biotechnology research in the various Federal departments and agencies. Biotechnology will also receive attention in at least two other of the nine (9) NSTC committees -- e.g. {Health, Safety, & Food; Environment and Natural Resources}.
"Under the NSTC, we will focus on extending the scientific and technical foundations necessary to the development of biotechnology, developing the human resources necessary to biotechnology, facilitating the transfer of biotechnology research discoveries to commercial applications and realizing the benefits of biotechnology for human health, agriculture, and the restoration and protection of the environment. The Biotechnology Research Subcommittee which coordinates Federal research in biotechnology is in the process of developing strategic plans for federal research in agricultural biotechnology, environmental biotechnology, manufacturing and bioprocessing technology and marine and aquatic biotechnology."

Biotechnology for the 21st century: New Horizons

In 1995, National Science and Technology Council published a report entitled "Biotechnology for the 21st century: New Horizons." In its section on Agriculture, the report said:

"Agricultural biotechnology has the potential to produce billions of dollars in revenue per year in the next century. It will play a crucial role in promoting the nation's economic growth, improving environmental quality, and assuring innovative scientific research. Federal support for biotechnology research in this area is essential, in order to build the broad knowledge base needed to commercialize new and improved agricultural products and tools."[4]

The chapter goes on to list "five broad priorities in agricultural biotechnology research that merit attention by Federal agencies:"

  • "Continue mapping and sequencing of animal/plant/microbial genomes to elucidate gene function and regulation and to facilitate the discovery of new genes as a prelude to gene modification.
  • "Determine biochemical and genetic control mechanisms of metabolic pathways in animals, plants, and microbes that may lead to products with novel food, pharmaceutical, and industrial uses.
  • "Extend understanding of the biochemical and molecular basis of growth and development including structural biology of plants and animals.
  • "Elucidate the molecular basis of interactions of plants and animals with their physical and biological environments, as a basis for improving the organisms' health and well-being.
  • "Enhance food safety assurance methodologies, such as rapid tests for identifying chemical and biological contaminants in food and water."

The chapter also made the case that if crop yields were not increased in the coming years, the earth would not be able to support an increased population. It added that biotechnology was a promising method of achieving such yield increases.

President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

Under President Clinton, Virginia V. Weldon, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto, served on the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Resources and Articles

Related Sourcewatch Articles


  1. Henry I. Miller and Gregory P. Conko, The Frankenfood myth: how protest and politics threaten the biotech revolution, Praeger, 2004.
  2. Miller Comments, January 5, 2000, Accessed October 24, 2011.
  3. John Howard "Jack" Gibbons, "Biotechnology: Opportunity and Challenge," National Biotechnology Summit, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C., January 24, 1994, Accessed October 23, 2011.
  4. Biotechnology for the 21st century: New Horizons, National Science and Technology Council, 1995.

External Resources

External Articles