Governor’s letter to Dyson gives tobacco farmers hope

Posted on December 24, 1999 at 07:58:04:

Calling a letter he received from Governor Glendening December 23 “an early Christmas present for Southern Maryland farmers,” Maryland Senator Roy Dyson was cautiously optimistic that tobacco farming in Southern Maryland may not be dead after all.

In the Governor’s letter, Glendening wrote to Dyson: “Thank you for bringing to my attention the research on genetically-modified tobacco being conducted by....[University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) in College Park]. I appreciate your ongoing interest in this issue and am certain that together, we can help tobacco farmers convert to alternative crops. My staff has reviewed the proposal by UMBI and believes that this is a fruitful endeavor.”

The Biotechnology Institute is looking to remove the stigma of tobacco as a plant that produces unhealthy products such as cigarettes and turn it into one that is good for the environment and could also be used for medicinal purposes.

“The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute is conducting exciting new experiments with tobacco to produce heat enzymes for use in the production of ethanol fuels through biomass conversion,” Senator Dyson wrote the governor on December 5. “This genetically modified tobacco will provide heat stable enzymes for new industries, new agricultural and high technology jobs, preservation of rural land and sustainable farming and health benefits from cleaner burning fuels.

“Imagine that -- tobacco products producing health benefits!

“We’re finding out that this is a plant that for years has had untapped resources that can be used for the common good. It is after all, a most remarkable plant.”

While throwing his initial support behind the UMBI project, Glendening made sure that he would not support the growing of tobacco for harmful purposes.

“Provided such tobacco could never be used for cigarette, cigars or smokeless products, it is an avenue that should be considered for crop conversion program support,” Governor Glendening wrote Dyson.

“This could be an 11th hour reprieve for our tobacco farmers from Governor Glendening,” Senator Dyson said. “His letter shows real support.”

Senator Dyson wrote the governor on December 5 asking him to consider new, promising experiments conducted by the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) in College Park.

The genetically altered tobacco would be rendered completely unable to be converted into a smoking product and would be used solely for the purposes I wrote to the governor about,” Dyson emphasized.

“After the tobacco plant has been genetically altered, the potential for it to be also used as a smoking product will be impossible researchers assure me,” Senator Dyson said.

The governor said he would direct Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Dr. Henry “Bud” Virts to gather further information about the UMBI experiments and to brief Glendening and Senator Dyson on what he finds out.

Secretary Virts has already said he is deeply supportive of UMBI’s experiments and has passed his endorsement on to the governor.

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