Science, Human Health and Agriculture

BIO CEO Emerges as Voice for Ag Science

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Michelle McMurry-Heath, CEO of the science industry group BIO, addressed the Leaders of American Agriculture Virtual Symposium as part of the Democratic National Convention this week. McMurry-Heath talked about the value of agricultural science to address COVID-19, as well as how biotechnology and food science can prevent pandemics coming from animal diseases. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Michelle McMurry-Heath, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), emerged this week as a new voice in national agricultural scientific leadership.

In a presentation during the Leaders of American Agriculture Virtual Symposium, an event linked to the Democratic National Convention, McMurry-Heath said: "For all the hardship and heartbreak this year has delivered, 2020 has also given us a beacon to guide us safely home. It lights for us a path of ingenuity and accumulated wisdom ... of possibility and that beacon is science."

She continued, "Soon, science will drive us toward universal nutrition so we can address obesity and diabetes -- challenges that have made the pandemic more deadly here than anywhere else in the world."

"Soon, science will give us vaccines and treatments faster than we've ever produced them in human history.

"Soon, science will allow us to rebuild our infrastructure in greener, more sustainable ways."

McMurry-Heath joined BIO earlier this summer, coming from Johnson & Johnson where she had served as vice president of global external Innovation and global leader for regulatory sciences. McMurry was an Obama administration appointee to the Food and Drug Administration. Earlier in her career, she was also a health aide to former Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

In her speech, McMurry-Heath also said that, too often, human health, animal health and environmental health are discussed separately, "but really, there is but one health."

The pandemic, she said, has revealed "how a food desert in Wuhan led hungry people to eat exotic species in a wet market, which unleashed a plague on the world," and "the connection between a lack of environmental justice and COVID mortality."

"And as bad as this pandemic has been, it pales in comparison to what awaits us if we don't take bold and drastic action to combat climate change," she said.

McMurry-Health noted this is why BIO stands with Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Chairwoman Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., in support of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, "to allow producers to be rewarded for using science to address this challenge." That bill would help set up carbon credit standards, certification and technical assistance at USDA.

Biotech companies are "pioneering new ways to generate proteins with minimal carbon footprints, using our deepening understanding of DNA to minimize the spread of animal diseases," she said, "using gene editing to develop plants that capture more carbon from the atmosphere -- all, while creating a new potential revenue source for farmers."

"Our agricultural sector has an outsized role to play in fighting climate change -- to benefit all Americans," McMurry-Heath said.

She joined BIO on June 1 "at the peak of the pandemic and at the peak of national protests about social and racial injustice," she said. "At BIO, we believe that science is the definition of progress. And if science is progress, then access to sound science is the definition of justice."

"Government and industry have an opportunity -- and an obligation -- to work together in the face of the threats to our economy, our families, and our way of life ...," McMurry-Heath said.

"We should believe the scientists' warnings. We must change the narrative about the value of science in America to realize its transformative potential. My friends, let's follow that beacon. Let's invest in science and make sure all Americans can access its bounty."

McMurry-Heath did not directly endorse the Democratic candidates for president and vice president, but she cited the campaign slogan in concluding that "together, with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we truly will build back better."

Her presentation and those of other presenters on the Leaders of American Agriculture symposium were not recorded, but BIO made a written copy of her speech available to DTN.

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Jerry Hagstrom