Today's Topics in AgBioView.
* No Bumper Crop of Genetically Altered Plants
* Talking Heads: GM Solution to World Hunger?
* GM War Escalates in the Philippines
* French Growers Urge Justice In GM Crop Sackings
* Window of Hope: GM Tree May Bring End To Dutch Elm Disease
* Brussels Admits To Organic Fraud
* Global Public Goods For Poor Farmers: Myth Or Reality?
* Crop Biotechnology: Benefits, Risks and Ownership
* Straight Talk about Biotechnology
* Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology
* India's Fermentation Queen
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No Bumper Crop of Genetically Altered Plants
- Laurent Belsie, The Christian Science Monitor
'Faced with high risks and consumer skepticism, biotech firms pull back from plans to transform farming.'
ST. LOUIS - The world has never tasted US Patent 6,072,105 - a genetically engineered eggplant - and probably never will. Scratch biotech potatoes from the menu. And hold the genetically modified sweet corn.
Farming's biotechnology revolution is changing course. After a decade of promises to transform agriculture and tens of millions of dollars in research and development, biotech firms and seed companies are scaling back their horizons. Instead of spreading their know-how to new farm products, they're narrowing their focus to a few major crops, such as corn and soybeans. The reason: Deepening consumer skepticism and tighter regulation worldwide are boosting costs and increasing the business risk of bringing bioengineered food to market.
Unless something changes, biotech proponents say only mega-crops pushed forward by mega-corporations will move from the lab to farmers' fields. Skeptics, meanwhile, are breathing sighs of relief. This much both sides can agree on: The once-vaunted biotech revolution is bypassing an increasing number of crops in a bold, perhaps risky, bid to survive.
"You don't see a lot of biotech okra or pumpkins out there," says Debi Warnick of Syngenta Seeds Inc. in Nampa, Idaho. "We're going to have more and more orphaned crops," like the eggplant. Critics say such delays will give science time to assess the environmental and health impacts of altering plants' genes. "It is a positive sign that there is less pressure to adopt these crops," argues Jane Rissler, senior staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington.
Experiments get shelved
Consider the bioengineered eggplant. Developed in the 1990s by scientists at Rutgers University to resist a destructive beetle, the invention has gotten a cold shoulder from industry because it represents too minor a crop. For every acre US farmers devote to commercial eggplant, they raise more than 74,000 acres of wheat and 95,000 acres of corn. Not surprisingly, the biotech industry prefers bigger crops that offer more potential profit.
Six years ago, the nation's 1.4 million-acre potato crop looked viable for bioengineering. So biotech giant Monsanto introduced genetically engineered potato seed designed to resist a damaging virus. This spring, with commercial processors leery of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), the company suspended sales of the product (although work continues in Mexico).
A sweet corn engineered by Syngenta could suffer a similar fate. Never mind that it reduces conventional pesticide spraying, which can be both costly and environmentally harmful. Processors don't want any trace of the corn's special gene, because it could kill their lucrative export markets to Europe, which demands GMO-free sweet corn, says Syngenta's Ms. Warnick.
More stringent regulation is forcing mid-sized companies to delay the introduction of new bioengineered crops. "It has definitely slowed down the introduction of new products," says Gary Koppenjan, spokesman for Seminis Inc., the world's largest fruit and vegetable seed company. The Oxnard, Calif., concern does sell one bioengineered squash. But the crop represents less than 1 percent of sales. Although the company continues biotech research, its next bioengineered vegetable won't emerge for another four to five years. "There are products that won't have biotech [added in] because of the regulatory situation," adds John Nelson, marketing manger for the US arm of Sakata Seed Corp., based in Yokohama, Japan. Sakata has adopted a company policy not to offer GMOs in any of its product lines.
The dramatic slowdown isn't due to domestic regulators, such as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says Val Giddings of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group based in Washington. It's regulation in the European Union (EU) and elsewhere. What's especially daunting to companies is the prospect of having to meet widely varying standards from country to country.
A rulebook for every country
"If [firms are] daunted by the cost of the technology, just wait until they face the rising cost of registrations," says Ronald Meeusen, vice president of research and development at Dow AgroSciences LLC, based in Indianapolis. "USDA, EPA, FDA, up to 15 member-state regulatory agencies in the EU ... as well as the Japanese and others: Every one of them wants a dossier of studies prepared their way and presented by local experts in their native language. Many want studies repeated on their own soil."
Understandably, each nation wants to safeguard its consumers, industry insiders concede. But the extra requirements and repeated testing can add 25 percent to an already hefty bill of $30 million or more to commercialize a GMO crop.
Cost isn't the only issue. "It's logistics," says Warnick of Syngenta. The company raises its melon seed in Asia. The melons are then grown in Central America and exported to the US for consumption. If the firm genetically engineered its melon seed, it would have to get regulatory approval in at least three countries.
But such delays will help scientists gain a much better understanding of genetic changes in plants, critics of the industry say. "It's hard to read the scientific record of what's going on without being impressed by how much we don't know," says Charles Benbrook, a consultant to consumer and environmental groups and former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences' board of agriculture.
Even major biotech corporations have had to adapt. Once pushing to sell a wide variety of genetically modified crops from potatoes to sugarbeets, Monsanto Co. in St. Louis has narrowed its focus. "We're focusing on four core crops - corn, oilseeds, cotton, wheat," says Mark Buckingham, a Monsanto spokesman. Not coincidentally, those are major crops in North America, with vast acreages and profit potential.
But this go-slow, narrow-focus strategy poses risks. Market skepticism and the growing thicket of international rules mean only the largest corporations will be able to afford to commercialize a bioengineered crop.
"The future of agricultural biotech is somewhat uncertain," says Neil Harl, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University in Ames. When the fate of an industry rests in the hands of a few big players instead of many small ones, "a mistake made in decision-making is far more devastating."
Talking Heads: GM Solution to World Hunger?
(Forwarded by Javier Verastegui )
While environmentalists tout organic as the only hope for a sustainable farming future, the debate over GM foods shows no sign of slowing down. In the second feature of our Talking Heads series, just-food.com brings Professor Jonathan D G Jones, from the John Innes Centre, head to head with Emily Diamand, research officer for the Real Food Campaign at Friends of the Earth, to argue out their different viewpoints.
1) Are GM crops a solution to world hunger?
Professor Jonathan D G Jones response: They are part of the solution. In the last century our population went from around 1.5 billion to around 6 billion. To keep pace with demand, there have been spectacular increases in crop yield. In the next 25 years our population will reach at least 8 billion, with most growth occurring in developing countries. Continuing yield increases are needed, especially if some land is reserved for wildlife. Plant breeding, while still important, is approaching a "yield" plateau for staples such as wheat, rice and maize. A major contribution of GM crops will be to reduce losses due to pests and disease, reducing the need for pesticides, which are expensive, and often a health hazard. Genetic solutions to drought and growth in acid soils are also in the pipeline. The "golden rice", enhanced in vitamin A, will help alleviate vitamin deficiencies. Even herbicide resistance could be useful, since weeding is a major agricultural labour.
However, GM crops are no more a magic bullet than any other technology. Successful agricultural economies need stable, non-corrupt government, absence of war, and the infrastructure to bring seed to the farmer and get crops to market. To distribute improved seed, a viable seed industry is required, preferably involving the public sector. There are strong perceptions of injustice in the seed industry, with concerns about "biopiracy," farmers’ rights to save seed, and the power of multinational agrochemical and seed companies. I think these concerns, though serious, are exaggerated, but it is essential for the public sector to play a major role in crop improvement.
Emily Diamand response: GM crops are only a solution to world hunger if the starting point is a simplistic assessment of the problem. Many people in the world are suffering from malnutrition and hunger - but this is because they cannot afford to buy food, not because it is unavailable. Complex social, political and economic forces affect people’s access to land, money and resources. It is these, much more than the level of food production, which determine who gets to eat and who does not. For example, 36 million people go hungry every year in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world.
Most GM crops being grown at the moment are destined for markets in rich countries, such as animal feed. They will not help to feed the poor and hungry of the world. In addition, GM crops are mainly designed for chemical intensive agriculture while many farmers in developing countries are small scale, growing many different crops and they often cannot afford the seeds and chemicals needed. GM technology is not an appropriate solution for the needs of such people.
2) Are third world country representatives sufficiently involved in the debate about GM crops as a solution to hunger?
Professor Jonathan D G Jones response: I know they are involved, having recently attended a conference on this issue with many such representatives. What was clear is that there are many different third world countries; India, Mexico and China are more developed than most countries in Africa. GM crops are a potential solution to certain problems in certain countries, but individual countries will make their own judgements about what is useful.
Emily Diamand response: The debate about GM crops is happening in many developing countries - although this has not necessarily been reported in the western media. The debate about the need for GM crops mirrors that in developed countries and some of the biggest mass demonstrations against GM crops have been by Indian farmers. At the international level, American and European biotech companies (representing only their shareholders) are attempting to promote their GM crops by using the needs of the developing world. Friends of the Earth opposes GM crops - but is an international organisation with groups on every continent - in fact more than half come from developing countries. The consensus amongst all these groups is that GM crops are unproven, unnecessary and likely to harm the interests of farmers and consumers around the world.
3) Do we know enough about the environmental impact of biotechnology to approve plantings on a large scale?
Professor Jonathan D G Jones response: The experience in the US provides no cause for alarm. Currently, around 50% of the soybeans, 40% of the maize and 50% of the cotton are GM crops. Their environmental impact has been very positive. Persistent herbicides have been replaced with glyphosate (Round up), which has no mammalian toxicity and is rapidly inactivated in soil. Applications of insecticides to cotton have fallen by many tons. The BT insect resistant maize is less damaged by corn earworm. Holes made by the earworm enable infection by fungi such as Aspergillus and Fusarium, so BT maize has reduced levels of mycotoxins such as fumonisin. Monarch butterfly populations have in fact risen.
However, in the UK we must be particularly careful. Whereas in the US around 40% of the land is cultivated, in the UK it is closer to 90%. There is concern that intensive agriculture has led to declines in some farmyard bird populations, so there is little enthusiasm for further intensification. Prior to large scale planting in the UK, the current series of field trials must be carried out. The purpose of these trials is to assess the environmental impact of changes in agricultural practice associated with herbicide tolerant crops. Early indications suggest the impact will be negligible or beneficial. For example, herbicide tolerant sugar beet enables much more weed cover during the fallow winter period prior to planting, which is beneficial for birds.
Emily Diamand response: Clearly not. Research into the environmental impact of GM crops trails behind their development. Research into issues such as gene flow to other plants, horizontal gene transfer to micro-organisms, effects of insect resistant crops on non-target organisms and the biodiversity impacts of herbicide tolerant crops is far from complete. New types of GM crops are constantly being developed - such as crops containing industrial products - and their environmental impacts have yet to be addressed.
These issues have not been properly addressed by the biotech companies. For example, in an information dossier submitted to the EU by Aventis for a GM maize, just one page out of 85 was given over to its environmental impact. The environment and wildlife have already suffered greatly from agricultural technologies such as pesticides - it is only sensible to be cautious.
4) Do you have concerns about the speed with which the biotech industry has moved forward, in relation to the growth of the body of knowledge on the subject?
Professor Jonathan D G Jones response: I do not. I have been making GM plants for 18 years. The first GM crops (slower ripening tomatoes) went on sale in the US over 12 years ago. The goals of the first set of GM products have been clear for 15 years; BT cotton and corn, and Round up tolerant soybean. GM plant products have received vastly more testing than any new other new plant variety. Despite extensive anxiety about potential risks, no plausible mechanism has been proposed by which GM plants could cause environmental or human damage. The more serious issues have to do with control of intellectual property rights in plant genes and control of the seed industry by multinational seed companies.
Emily Diamand response: Yes. Genetic modification involves the random introduction of novel genes into the genetic structure of an organism. But research is showing that there is far more to genetics than just genes. Genes interact, sometimes they work in groups, changes can occur between the genes and the surrounding cell - it is an incredibly complicated and sophisticated system. The creation of GM organisms, when we know so little about the basic science, is a cause for concern.
5) In light of the consumer scepticism on GM - have GM crops got a future?
Professor Jonathan D G Jones response: Yes; the only question is when. GM crops already have a present, in the US. So far, GM traits appear to have benefited farmers (with input traits, such as easier weed and pest control) more than consumers (with output traits). Current consumer benefits include lower levels of mycotoxins in maize products, though this has been poorly promoted. Future GM products will emphasise output traits. For example within ten years (and hopefully much sooner), cooking oils will be available with substantially enhanced vitamin E, a health promoting antioxidant. These will need to be clearly labelled and marketed from seed to supermarket shelf.
Emily Diamand response: Proponents of GM crops frequently fail to appreciate why consumers are opposed to GM crops. It is often claimed that they don’t understand, or are manipulated by scare-mongering pressure groups. If only they were ‘properly informed’ about GM crops they would come around. But consumers have been inundated with information about GM crops - from both sides - and have made decisions on this basis. Ironically, research from Lancaster University found that when impartial information was provided about GM foods, people became more concerned, not less. Consumer scepticism about GM crops is likely to be around for a long time to come and the European market will be very small.
About the participants: Professor Jonathan D G Jones is a senior scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory. Based in the John Innes Centre, the laboratory is renowned worldwide in the field of molecular plant pathology and genetics. Professor Jones is currently working on a project addressing "Molecular and genetic approaches to plant resistance gene function".
Emily Diamand has degrees in environmental science and sustainable agriculture and has worked extensively on the issue of GM crops since 1997. She recently produced a report entitled "The Great Food Gamble: An assessment of GM food safety".
GM War Escalates in the Philippines
Friends: The fight over biotech crop has led to uprooting of Bt corn from the trials, and now turned into a war of words between the opposing factions. See below statements from the pro and con groups....CSP
We Dared To Strike The Fierciest Blow Against Monsanto
August 30, 2001; Press Statement Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) (via Agnet)
Peasant Movement of the Philippines http://www.geocities.com/kmp_ph
We praise with thanks the most militant farmers and mass followers belonging to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) of Far Southern Mindanao to their on-site spontaneous reaction that brought the final end of Bt corn in Maltana, Tampakan, South Cotabato. We have proven our worth as defenders of people's cause and other urgent matters where the interests of the impoverished farmers, broad consumer public, ecological environment and health safety to humans are highly at stake due to continuing imperialist act of plunder now under the framework of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO).
More than 1,000 organized peasants and small landowners who practiced sustainable agriculture for years wee not able to control their emotional upsurge upon seeing the most dreaded mutant corn which the concerned scientists and peasant leaders warned ad educated them that such corn variety as hazardous to health, affront to bio-diversity and ntohing but a ploy of agri-chemical TNCs to intensify their monopoly on seeds as a toll or technology to cover-up the violence they inflicted to the farmers due to the introduction and failures of green revolution. They slashed, uprooted and trampled the Bt and non Bt corn inside the experimental lot enclosed with a cyclone wire measuring about 75 x 75 meters in three minutes. Yesterday's event was staged supposedly as a show of force of organized militant peasant's opposing the Monsanto and Pioneer Seeds (Agri-chemical TNCs) aggressive promotion of geneticallly engineered Bt corn in South Cotabato and neighboring provinces identified as the country's corn granary throu
We are firm in our own resolve that the supposed government democratic institutions have always failed if not late to rescue the people against eminent threats. There are enough reasons for the farmers to justify such move:
The first field trial of Bt in Lagao, General Santos City by Monsanto was faced with people's protest. There were series of resolutions from the city council instructing Monsanto to stop the field trial and was even contested in the highest court of law. But it was the National Committee on Bio-Safety of the Philippines (NCBP) who rushed to defend Monsanto, as if the former is a lap dog of the latter. The Supreme Court ruled that the petitioners failed due to technical defects of the documents presented and not on the merits of the complaints. Monsanto succeeded in their first field trial. As a precedence, the Pioneer Seeds also conducted a field trial of Bt corn in Glamang, Polomolok, South Cotabato. The same pattern of legal struggle was followed by the petitioners, and they failed to stop the experimentation.
While there are some barangays who preferred to stay away from Monsanto and Pioneer Seeds, one barangay council even managed to repeal their resolution which previously gave nod to entertain any request of Bt corn field trial. The city council of General Santos city issued a five year moratorium to any entry of GMOs in the city. The most applauded one was the resolution unanimously agreed by the councilors of Koronadal City last June 2001, declaring the city as GMO free. These are examples that should have warned Monsanto and Pioneer Seeds to refrain from their thrust since local government units tend to adapt precautionary principles with regards to GMOs. But no, they learned and even became insidious in their approaches. In Maltana, it was learned by the farmers that Monsanto organized the Institute of Bio-Safey Committee (IBC) which is headed by barangay councilors. Ironically, IBC was given the power to approve the application of Monsanto to conduct field testing of Bt corn. This IBC lobbied hard in the
Farmers critical to GMOs can not afford to witness the impending contamination of Bt corn in their fields for fear health hazards and loss market of their own. Majority of farmers are still uninformed on this issue and people should acquire first the balanced vital informations of Bt corn in particular before anything else or they should take drastic actions before its too late. Bt corn is out of context in the problems of corn farmers. Corn borer is never a primary problem but instead a peripheral one. What are more alarming are the price manipulation of farm produce during harvest, landlessness, concentration of lands to plantations engaged in export crop production, mining, usury and other features of semi-feudal and semi-colonial character of Philippine society.
We hope that this experience of ours will set the pace to more diverse farmers direct action against agri-chemical TNCs amd genetically engineered (GE) crops field trialall over the country.
From: "Saturnina C. Halos"
Subject: Let the voice of the real farmers be heard on GMOs
Friends, The following statement was sent to me by a farmer leader in Mindanao, Mr. Rex Rivera. Two truck load of mercenaries of foreign interest groups in the Philippines drove through the well-fenced Bt corn field trial of Monsanto and cut down the plants. Monsanto has followed the biosafety guidelines prescribed by the national Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines.
- Nina Halos
Farmers Statement On Bt-corn Destruction
We the small farmers of South Cotabato, feel the outraged by the uprooting of BT Corn plants under trial done by around 300 apparently unruly, but organized elements in the Monsanto Field Trial site in Maltana, Tampacan, South Cotabato.
The destruction of the field trial was perpetrated by organized anarchist hiding in the cloth and shadow of the church and left leaning NGOs. Their act is one way of justifying the funding their leaders receive from sources with questionable agenda.
Small farmers here in our Province and all over the country have been watching the field trials very closely because we want to find out if BT Corn will effectively neutralize the Asian Corn Borer which is the biggest insect pest problem of most corn farmers specially in Mindanao.
Corn farmers have been suffering for so long a time because of a variety of reasons; such as high cost of chemical inputs, low corn prices and serious corn borer infestation. We hope that the BT Corn will at least provide us one solution to our many burdens. Save us from using toxic and expensive agro-chemicals.
These few left leaning, cause oriented NGOs who infiltrated the church and political parties have continuously tried to convince us to go against genetically modified plants. We don't' see any good reason to follow what they are saying. Even without our support, they push through with their opposition and have succeeded in destroying the BT Corn field trial illegally.
They always tell us that multinational companies like Monsanto do not care about the plight of small farmers like us. With the destructive act they committed, these secretly funded NGOs have shown us that it is not the Agricultural Multinational companies which we must fear and denounce, but they and their handlers. They have conveniently forgotten that the church and secret financiers are also multinationals.
What have these cause oriented groups been doing in the past, now and intend to do with our lives in the future? We see them to have a different ideology, values, political and economic control over the people. They go to unfounded scaring tactics. Who are supporting and funding them? Whose interest are they protecting? Who are these invisible hands, directing and using innocent and simple people to do their work of destruction and destabilization?
These NGOs are the enemies of the small and poor farmers. They are the enemies of the people. They are the enemies of the consumers who are in need of safe, healthful and bountiful food supply to feed the growing population. THEY DO NOT HAVE SYMPATHY OR CARE FOR THE FARMERS AND CONSUMERS. We are in a free country. Let us give the farmers freedom of choice. Let us give the consumers freedom of choice. Let these NGOs also sell their produce if they have any to offer to the open market, and not confuse and twist the minds of people with unfounded claims and scare tactics. They seem to employ the communist tactics of brainwashing. For their act of destruction, without any legal basis, and contrary to the norm of conduct of a civilized society, they have now unmasked themselves as the real TERRORIST and ANARCHIST.
French Growers Urge Justice In GM Crop Sackings
Reuters, August 30, 2001
PARIS - The French maize growers' group AGPM was cited as saying on Thursday that activists who are tearing up the French countryside in a bid to rid it of genetically modified crop tests should be brought to justice, adding, "The escalation of violence being carried out with impunity against experimental fields duly authorised and regulated by the authorities is unacceptable. It is intolerable to let a band of irresponsible activists make the law.
AGPM solemnly demands that proceedings be brought against the authors (of the string of crop sackings) for the heavy damages suffered by the industry and the maize growers who have been attacked." The story says that the activists have accused the government of underestimating the possibility of cross-pollination between genetically modified and natural crops, and have threatened to continue their blitz on experimental fields across the country. Their campaign to destroy GM crop tests began in late June, when the farm ministry published the list of French districts where genetically engineered plants were being tested.
Window of Hope: GM Tree May Bring End To Dutch Elm Disease
Birmingham Post, August 28, 2001
Prof Kevan Gartland, head of molecular and life sciences at the University of Abertay, Dundee, with a genetically modified elm that the university has produced to be resistant to Dutch Elm disease. Researchers say their work could lead to elm trees being re- introduced into their native habitat. Prof Gartland said the work could help to tackle damaged landscapes and ecosystems blighted by tree fungal diseases. 'This is an example of environmentally friendly biotechnology,' he said.
'Our work in elm trees could be used to help damaged landscapes caused by diseases such as Dutch elm disease, throughout the world.' Dutch elm disease has hit more than 20 million elm trees in the UK since 1970. In the United States, 70 per cent of mature elms have been destroyed since 1930.
The scientists hope their work will make such figures a thing of the past. As part of the project, the researchers transferred anti- fungal genes into the elm genome and produced genetically modified trees which can fight off the deadly fungus. Professor Gartland said researchers used minute DNA-coated ball- bearings to transfer genes into the elm trees. There are 40 species of elms, some of which live up to 300 years.
Brussels Admits To Organic Fraud
Philip Clark, Farmer's Weekly Interactive August 31, 2001 (via Agnet)
Brussels has admitted to widespread fraud involving conventional food being passed off as organic, with unscrupulous dealers reaping an illicit profit. The admission came in an answer to a parliamentary question by south-west England MEP, Caroline Jackson. She was concerned by reports of a growing black market in fake organic food, both in the UK and Europe. In particular, she referred to a 20,000t cargo of normal German grain, worth £3m, which was shipped to the UK and sold as organic.
The commission said it “had been informed of cases of fraud on a considerable scale in relation to organic farming in a number of member states over the last few years”. As such, commission officials are currently piloting an early warning scheme and tightening up the inspection guidelines. Dr Jackson said: “British consumers are very much at the mercy of continental organic producers because we still import so much organic produce. “We all know that port controls on food are poor, so we have to take urgent action to stop such fraud.” Dr Jackson has written to Sir John Krebbs, head of the UK’s Food Standards Agency, asking him what he intends to do about it. “They are the front line police force,” she told Farmers Weekly. “They must come up with better systems for checking and tracing food.”
Global Public Goods For Poor Farmers: Myth Or Reality?
- Timothy G. Reeves and Kelly A. Cassaday, CIMMYT
(from Plant Breeding News )
Contents - Are Global Public Goods a Vanishing Commodity? - The Potential and Problems of Public Goods - Research and Development for Global Public Goods: Origins and Achievements - Global Public Research for Poor People: The Changing Context - Declining investment in international agricultural research - Increasing complexity of research challenges - Dissent over genetic resources - The rise of intellectual property rights and proprietary technology - Dissent over biotechnology - The predominance of the private sector - Pressures for the public sector to act like the private sector - The struggle for equity in science - The struggle for social equity
Are Global Public Goods a Vanishing Commodity? At the start of a new century, the international agricultural research and development community is undergoing a transformation. Powerful forces are acting to expand research opportunities as never before, but at the same time they seem to have raised barriers to research that are greater than any that have been seen in the past. For many years, international agricultural research organizations have worked very effectively to improve the lives of poor people in developing countries. As research funding diminishes, and as quiet scientific controversies become incendiary public debates over patenting life forms and rights to genetic resources, many are questioning how much longer international agricultural research can continue to help poor people. International agricultural research has provided improved seed, better agricultural practices, and information that have helped poor people immeasurably, but the rules of research are changing. Will the new rules tr
The vast majority of the world's poorest farmers still produce crops using farm-saved seed and traditional crop management practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. These can be regarded as a form of "global public goods." Before we discuss why global public goods are important for the world's poor people, and whether developing countries will have access to them ten or twenty years from now, it is useful to explain what we mean by "public goods" and describe some of the problems associated with providing them.
The Potential and Problems of Public Goods: Economists have strict definitions of public goods, but for our purposes it is probably sufficient to describe a public good as a product or service that is easily accessible to all people (it is difficult to exclude anyone from using it) and that can be used by many people at the same time (its use by one person does not preclude its use by any other person). Because the degree of accessibility and the degree of nonrivalry can vary, some public goods are more "pure" than others, but for simplicity we will ignore this distinction. In agriculture, examples of public goods include a high-yielding wheat variety, a labor-saving conservation tillage practice, a market information program broadcast over the radio, and public research in general (Winkelmann 1994)in fact any nonproprietary technology that is freely available to large numbers of people at little or no cost.
Although they may be highly desirable, public goods are not readily produced by profit-oriented private firms, because it is difficult for the producer of a public good to capture enough benefits to compensate the cost of production. To avert so-called "market failure," governments usually provide public goods because it is agreed to be in the interest of society. The Government of India has invested heavily in agricultural research and extension, for example, to improve agricultural production and eliminate the famines that once ravaged the subcontinent. The government stepped in for a number of reasons, including the fact that private companies lack incentives to invest in a large research and development system to produce improved crop varieties that many farmers are too poor to buy. Even if most Indian farmers could afford to buy improved seed, many may choose not to, since they can easily acquire a small supply from a friend or neighbor and multiply it up on their own. Private firms are understandably
In summary, public goods are goods from which the supplier has difficulty in directly recovering investment costs and earning profits. Difficulty in recovering investment costs and earning profits does not mean that the benefits generated by investing in public goods are small, however. On the contrary, the benefits of public goods may be enormous, even though this may not be readily apparent when they are spread across a large number of beneficiaries. In India, for example, hundreds of millions of people now have access to more food at lower prices, and a major famine has not occurred in many years.
See http://www.cimmyt.org/whatiscimmyt/GlobPublGoods/Global_Public.htm#Are for the full text.
Crop Biotechnology: Benefits, Risks and Ownership
Gordon Conway; President, The Rockefeller Foundation, New York http://www.rockfound.org/display.asp?context=1&Collection=4&DocID=141
The Issues Benefits in the Industrialized Countries
The Risks - Real and Imaginary
The Balance of Benefits and Risks
Benefits for the Developing Countries
The Need for Tests and Evaluation Ownership
The Future of Agricultural Biotechnology
Straight Talk about Biotechnology
Straight Talk is designed to educate site visitors about biotechnology and to encourage open discussion about this little-understood science. DuPont, a company known and respected worldwide, sponsors Straight Talk. Respect for DuPont has been earned through the company's focus on safety and commitment to delivering scientific miracles to consumers. Biotechnology is a recent addition to DuPont's science "toolbox."
Biotchnology Quick Course: http://www.dupont.com/biotech/intro/quick.html
Perspectives ..on the Promise of Biotechnology's Benefits Worldwide
These technologies, which draw on our understanding of the life sciences to develop products and solve problems, are progressing at an exponential rate and promise to make unprecedented contributions to public health and safety, a cleaner environment and economic prosperity." — President Bill Clinton (Statement Proclaiming National Biotechnology Month, January 2000)
The world of biotechnology still does not extend to the world that needs it most...The challenge we face is not a public relations challenge, either, but the challenge to meet the many needs of people around the world who are not yet in a position to receive the benefits of biotechnology." — Anatole Krattiger, Executive Director, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (June 1998 speech before the ABIC '98 Conference, Saskatoon, Canada)
While a few well-publicized voices continue to stir up unfounded fears, science, technological innovation, and economic freedom will win the war for a Second Green Revolution that will save lives, meet the demands of a growing and more affluent world population and combat disease and environmental disruption as well. That's too powerful for ignorance to overcome." — Jack Kemp (Writing in Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2000)
What I found is that biotechnology has incredible potential to enhance nutrition, feed a growing world population, open up new markets for farmers and reduce the environmental impact of farming. Its potential benefits are limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness of our scientists." — Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), Chairman of House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research (Writing in the Sacramento Bee, May 10, 2000)
Perspectives on Biotechnology and Safety
Because genetic engineering is a radically new technology, unknown risks may be possible. Lists of potential risks can be generated simply by trying to imagine what could go wrong. It's hard to believe that any current list is complete." — Union of Concerned Scientists, Frequently Asked Questions (www.ucsusa.org)
As we have evaluated the results of the seeds or crops created using biotechnology techniques, we have seen no evidence that the bioengineered foods now on the market pose any human health concerns or that they are in any way less safe than crops produced through traditional breeding." — FDA Commissioner Jane Henney, M.D. (Quoted in FDA Consumer, January/February 2000)
Public acceptance of these foods ultimately depends on the credibility of the testing and regulatory process, which must be as rigorous as possible and based on the soundest of science. That said, I must also emphasize that the committee is not aware of any evidence suggesting that foods on the market today are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification." — Perry Adkisson, Chancellor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M University Chair, Committee on Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants, National Academies of Science (Statement on the Committee's Report, News Conference, April 5, 2000)
Now, I recognize there are critics to biotechnology. There are many who believe it is not properly regulated or inspected. But for many there is the lack of understanding that we currently have a number of federal agencies involved in the regulation and inspection of these product." — Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-Iowa) (May 2, 2000 speech at the National Press Club)
Genetically modified organism (GMO) and genetically modified food (GMF) are ambiguous and imprecise terms that have contributed greatly to the fuss over the use of transgenic crops — crops grown from seeds that contain the genes of different species. But long before mankind started breeding plants, Mother Nature did. The wheat groups we currently rely on for much of our food supply are the result of natural crosses between different species of grasses." — 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug (Writing for the Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, February 12, 2000)
...on the Need for Ongoing Conversation and Exploration
We are increasingly encouraged that the advantages of genetic engineering of plants and animals are greater than the risks. The risks should be carefully followed through openness, analysis and controls, but without a sense of alarm." — Bishop Elio Segreccia, Vice President, Pontifical Academy for Life, The Holy See (Quoted in Observer, London, November 28, 1999)
Biotechnology is only one tool, but a potentially important one, in the struggle to reduce poverty, improve food security, reduce food malnutrition, and improve the livelihoods of the rural and urban poor. The uncertainties and the risks are yet to be fully understood, and the possibilities are as yet not fully exploited." — Gabrielle J. Persley, Rural Development Department, World Bank (Writing in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research & U.S. National Academy of Sciences' Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor, 2000)
We must face the implications of a steadily shrinking surface of cultivable land, at a time when every year brings many millions of new mouths to feed. Biotechnology may offer the best hope, but only if we can resolve the controversies and allay the fears surrounding it." — United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan (April 3, 2000 speech to the United Nations General Assembly)
The safety of food derived from biotechnology needs to be carefully assessed. To provide the scientific basis for decisions regarding human health, new methods and policies to assess such food need to be developed and agreed upon internationally. The assessment should consider health benefits as well as possible negative health implications." — World Health Organization Fact Sheet No. 237, "Food Safety and Foodborne Illness" (March 2000)
Clearly, we must be mindful of the concerns that many people share about the potentially harmful impact of biotechnology on our lives and our environment. We must make certain that oversight of biotechnology is based on sound science. The Food and Drug Administration has a central role in ensuring that biotechnology products are reviewed efficiently, thoroughly and expertly." — Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) (March 27, 2000 speech at the Bio 2000 Conference, Boston)
We understand that this system must continue to undergo study and careful use. We also understand that agricultural biotechnology has been deemed safe and nutritious by a host of nationally and internationally respected organizations...We will proceed carefully and thoughtfully, but we want to have the opportunity to save the lives of millions of people and change the course of history of nations." — Hassan Adamu, Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development, Nigeria (Writing in Washington Post, September 11, 2000)
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India's Fermentation Queen
The Economist 01 September 2001
'Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is at the forefront of India's booming biotechnology business'
IF INDIAN biotechnology has a cover girl, it is Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, a voluble 48-year-old who owns Biocon, the country's biggest biotechnology company. At the moment biotech is the leading candidate to take over from information technology as India's high-tech star. Or so conferences and magazine covers have proclaimed for months. This week comes the news that two Indian laboratories are among only ten in the world with embryonic stem cells that can be used for research funded by the American government. The hype could soon become hysteria. Mrs Mazumdar Shaw is not losing her head. Biotech is a "huge opportunity", she concedes, but "I am concerned about a lot of the hype." Instant fortunes and annual growth rates of more than 50%, feats that Indians learnt to think of as the norm during IT's headiest days, are unlikely in biotech.
To illustrate why, Mrs Mazumdar Shaw hands over a slip of paper rating biotech against IT on a dozen attributes. Only one of the 12 weighs in favour of biotech enterprises (barriers to entry are higher than in IT). One is mixed news (the costs of invention are higher, but so are the returns). The remaining ten, including the level of investment needed, the time required to develop products and the size of the market, stack up against biotech firms.
Mrs Mazumdar Shaw's sobriety may owe something to her background. Unlike many high-tech entrepreneurs, who plunge into business with little more than a doctorate and a dream, she has been plugging away for two decades with a master's degree in brewing. She soon found that opportunities for brewmistresses in India were few, but that the uses of fermentation are many. Passing up a chance to brew beer in Britain, she formed a joint venture in 1978 with an Irish company called Biocon to manufacture enzymes for packaged fruit juices.
Now the Bangalore-based Biocon (the Irish partner has disappeared into a multinational's maw) claims a quarter of the world market for pectinase, an enzyme that breaks down the pectin in fruit juice. In its latest fiscal year, it reported net profits of about $8m on sales of $52m. An initial offering of shares to the public, much hoped for by Bangalore's biotech fans, may happen in 2002.
Mrs Mazumdar Shaw does not intend to be sidelined into low-tech products just because she is in India. Biocon claims to be the first company to get approval in America to use solid-state fermentation for manufacturing statins, a group of cholesterol-lowering drugs. This has enabled it to branch out into high-growth pharmaceuticals, whose sales are now more than twice those of its enzymes.
Biocon has also come up with a "hybrid reactor", which combines the low cost of solid-state fermentation with the virtues of the (alternative) submerged process, such as better-controlled feeding of organisms. The contraption, which makes it easier to contain organisms and to extract what they produce, will help Biocon to graduate from novel processes to new drug products, such as genetically engineered anti-infectives. A company has been set up to test India's oversupply of sick people for "biomarkers", indicators of disease that can be read as early warnings. It is also cataloguing India's rich collection of micro-organisms.
There is much to tempt would-be Biocons into the market. India has more than its share of problems that biotechnology could fix (diseases and harsh conditions for crops, for example) and a wealth of organisms that might be tweaked genetically to do the fixing. Some 20,000 Indians a year gain master's degrees in biology-related disciplines, guesses Mrs Mazumdar Shaw. Like their software cousins, they are potentially available at low cost to western clients. The services on offer, in biotech's case, include research done on contract for others and "bioinformatics", using computers to make sense of biological data.
However, the industry is still small. Mrs Mazumdar Shaw estimates the market's size at $1.5 billion, including imports. Ernst & Young, a consultancy, puts the number of participants (including government labs) at 800 and the size of the market at $2.5 billion, but that counts people simply making alcohol. A mere 30 companies, it says, are in "modern biotech", and their sales are a small fraction of the total. They include vaccine makers such as Shantha Biotechnics and Bharat Biotech of Hyderabad (Bangalore's rival for high-tech glory), as well as pharmaceutical companies such as Wockhardt and Dr Reddy's Labs, which see biotech as a way for India to end its dependence on re-engineering the rich world's drugs and to start inventing its own. The biotech arm of Reliance, a petrochemical giant, is one of the labs with stem-cell lines approved by the American government.
India is now sprouting biotech start-ups that aim to match its silicon exploits. But progress is, as ever, hindered by regulatory backwardness. The country has yet to approve its first genetically modified food, or even its first large-scale trials of genetically modified crops. Nor will it have protection for product patents until 2005 (though it does protect processes).
A push is on to make faster progress. A plant varieties bill, recently passed by parliament, protects novel crops, and permission is expected soon for the first large trials of a genetically modified crop. A proposal for regulatory streamlining, drafted in part by Mrs Mazumdar Shaw, has been presented to the government and, she expects, will be adopted within six months. Biotech may not create as many instant billionaires as IT, but its fizz could be made to last a lot longer.