Today in AgBioView: January 27, 2003:
* Don't Make Europe Gag
* Bush Aides Meet on EU Biotech Case
* Better Eat GM Food Than Starve - World Food Program
* Canada Approves Import of Genetically Modified Papaya
* Dairy Cow Clones to Cut Cheese Costs?
* A Kinder, Gentler Cigarette?
* Golden Rice: Golden Opportunity or 'Frankenfood?'
* Industry-backed Forum Meets to Laud GM Crops
* Int. Conference of Genitally (Sic!) Modified Food
* GM Food Conference -Singapore
* The Double Helix - 50 Years; The Eternal Molecule
* NPR Transcript on Threatened Ugandan Banana
* Dossier on Intellectual Property
* Beachy - Patenting policies must be tailored for the poor
* Indian President Calls for II Green Revolution Through Tech
Don't Make Europe Gag
- Clyde Prestowitz, International Herald Tribune, Jan 27, 2003
'Kitchen genes' The Bush administration recently announced that it is
considering taking action against the European Union because of its ban on
imports of genetically modified foods. It's a profoundly bad idea.
As a former Reagan administration trade hawk, I take a back seat to no one
in demanding the opening of foreign markets. But in this case and at this
moment, Washington needs to look hard at its priorities.
The ban on genetically modified food has been a sorely troublesome issue
for the United States and the European Union for a long time. Without any
scientific grounds, but on the basis of the so-called precautionary
principle (that is, if we can't prove absolutely that it is harmless,
let's ban it), the EU has prevented genetically modified food from the
United States from entering its markets.
This is almost certainly a violation of World Trade Organization rules,
which don't recognize the precautionary principle. If the United States
follows through on its threat to file a case, it has a very good chance of
winning. But this is a situation in which the United States could easily
win in court but lose not only in the market but also in the arena of its
American trade officials tend to see the issue purely as a matter of
European agricultural interests once again colluding and hiding behind
phony scientific worries to exclude competitive American products. There
is no doubt that there is an element of that in this case. But it is by no
means the major part of the problem. Whether rationally or not, many, and
perhaps most, Europeans are scared to death of genetically modified food.
And this is not entirely a matter of Europeans falling victim to
protectionist propaganda or hysteria.
We must remember two things. One is that Europe has recently had some very
bad experiences with contaminated food. Health experts in the 1990s
maintained that beef from cattle with mad cow disease was perfectly safe -
until scores of Britons died.
That experience was all the more searing because food is to European
culture what free speech is to American culture. There may be no good
scientific reason for concern, but to consider eating something that has
resulted from some laboratory manipulation is felt by many Europeans as a
kind of denial of the true self.
For Americans to insist that the EU accept genetically modified products
is bound to be felt in Europe as another exercise in American cultural and
economic imperialism. Washington might win the case before the World Trade
Organization, but that would be likely only to guarantee a hardening of
The Bush administration will argue that it wants only to give the
consumers a choice. But, as one who spent years selling to European
supermarkets and consumers, I can say with confidence that such a move by
the United States would very likely result in a European campaign against
all American food.
That brings us to the second main point. America has already caused great
resentment among its European allies by rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on
global warming and the International Criminal Court, both of which were
championed by the European Union. Given that Washington will want European
support for whatever actions it eventually decides to take in the Gulf
region or in North Korea, is this really the time to mount what is bound
to be a bitter, high-profile case in order to try to sell genetically
It is indeed appalling that Zambia would rather starve than accept
donations of genetically modified corn. But trying to force genetically
modified food down European throats is the surest way to guarantee that
they swallow neither the potatoes nor a lot of other more important
The writer is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of
the forthcoming book "Rogue Nation: The Unintended Consequences of
America's Good Intentions."
Bush Aides Meet on EU Biotech Case
- CNN Money, January 27, 2003
'Source says White House is not happy EU is blocking approval of new
Washington (Reuters) - Top Bush administration aides will try to meet
Tuesday to decide whether the United States will file a formal complaint
against the European Union's refusal to approve new biotech products, an
industry source said on Monday.
Craig Thorn of DTB Associates, a Washington-based agricultural consulting
firm, said the Bush aides would make their decision Tuesday. Speaking at a
meeting of U.S. corn growers, Thorn cautioned the travel schedules for
some of the officials might delay the meeting at the last minute.
For the past four years, the EU has had a moratorium on approving new
biotech goods, including food and pharmaceuticals. The U.S. corn industry
complains it is losing at least $300 million annually in sales to the EU
as about one-third of the U.S. corn crop is genetically modified.
The department heads expected to meet Tuesday include those of the
Agriculture, State, and Commerce Departments, and the U.S. Trade
Mid-level Bush administration officials, according to government and
industry sources, have recommended the United States file a WTO complaint.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has spoken forcefully in favor
of a complaint. However, a range of issues, including the need for the
United States to maintain strong ties with the EU before a possible war
with Iraq, have been a factor in the decision-making process.
Better Eat GM Food Than Starve - World Food Programme
- Nabusayi L. Wamboka, January 26, 2003, The Monitor (Kampala)
Sent by Andrew Apel
The World Food Programme country director Friday said it is wiser to eat
genetically modified food than starve. Ken Noah Davies was addressing a
press conference at WFP headquarters in Kampala where he announced a
24,000-ton donation of cereals from the United States to help avert the
looming famine in northern Uganda. More than 800,000 people are facing
He said 30 percent of the food grown in the United States is genetically
modified. "It [the donation] could be from this 30 percent or from the
other 70 percent," he said. The consignment is due to arrive in Uganda
He said other donor countries had also pledged assistance but are yet to
confirm. "We have not received assistance from the US for a long time and
this is going to be a major boost for the people facing starvation in
northern Uganda," Davies said.
Davies, an agriculturist, said GM food is not out of science fiction and
that the seeds are only sensitive to certain pesticides. Davies said
Uganda is approaching the whole issue of GM foods "wisely, carefully and
sanely" and that it has appointed a team to study this issue before making
any decisions. "Americans are also eating this food and there is nothing
wrong with it," he said.
Canada Approves Import of Genetically Modified Papaya
- AP, January 27, 2003
Hilo - A papaya industry leader says Canada's approval of importation of
genetically modified papaya from Hawaii should open an important market.
Delan Perry, president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, says
Canada at one time received about 8 percent of Hawaii's production. He
says the loss of much of that market was due to the continuing fall in
production of unmodified papaya due to disease.
The Canadian approval announced yesterday is for Rainbow and Sunrise
papaya, the two varieties that were modified by University of Hawaii
researchers to resist virus-caused papaya ringspot disease.
Clones to Cut Cheese Costs?
- Hannah Hoag, Nature, 27 January 2003
'Protein-rich milk from modified cows could speed dairy processing. The
modified cows produce 13% more protein in their milk than normal cows.'
Protein-rich milk from cloned, genetically modified cows could cut
cheese-making costs. Dairy manufacturers would need less milk to make
cheddar firm and ice cream creamy.
Two years old and living in New Zealand, the clones produce about 13
percent more milk protein than normal cows. They carry extra copies of the
genes for two types of the protein casein, key for cheese and yoghurt
manufacture1. "The proteins are important. They allow milk to have a high
protein content, but to remain watery," says study leader G–tz Laible of
New Zealand biotech company AgResearch. His team must now find out whether
the increase improves milk's calcium content or its ability to coagulate
before they seek approval to sell the clones to dairy farmers.
Most scientists believe that milk from cloned cows is no different to
normal milk. But they are less certain about the safety of milk from
genetically modified cows. It depends on which gene has been added to the
cow's DNA, says animal reproduction specialist Will Eyestone of
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg. For
instance, some cows are altered to produce pharmaceutical products. A drug
could pose a health risk if it seeps into the milk.
Laible's cows might be less worrisome - they don't produce foreign
proteins, just more of natural ones. "You're upping the nutrient value,"
says Roberts. "This is unlikely to be a problem." But further testing will
have to confirm the milk's safety, he adds. "A lot of cloned milk is being
poured down the drain," says Michael Roberts, an animal biotechnologist at
the University of Missouri-Columbia. Food products from transgenic and
cloned animals, and their progeny, are not legally available in many parts
of the world.
The US Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue its guidelines on the
matter. Until then, companies producing cloned cows have volunteered not
to sell their milk. Laible created the high-output cows by inserting
casein genes into the DNA of a cell taken from the 60-day old fetus of a
female dairy cow. The researchers then transferred the nucleus into
unfertilized cow eggs. Of the 126 modified embryos, 11 cows survived until
References 1. Brophy, B. et al. Cloned transgenic cattle produce milk with
higher levels of þ-casein and k-casein. Nature Biotechnology, published
online, doi:10.1038/nbt783 (2003).
A Kinder, Gentler Cigarette?
- CBS News,, Jan 27, 2003
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The first tobacco CEO to acknowledge smoking is
addictive is offering a new cigarette made with genetically modified
tobacco that lets smokers choose their level of nicotine.
Vector Tobacco Inc. stops short of marketing its Quest cigarettes as a
smoking cessation product ? a claim that could draw the regulatory
attention of the Food and Drug Administration.
The cigarettes are, however, designed to allow smokers to cut back on
nicotine, the addictive element in tobacco.
"The purpose of this product is to help people get to a nicotine-free
environment, where they can have zero nicotine in their system. Then they
can decide what to do from that point forward," said Bennett LeBow, who
runs parent company Vector Group Ltd.
Golden Rice: Golden Opportunity or 'Frankenfood?'
- Arne Frantzell, California Aggie January 27, 2003
Inventor of genetically modified grain gives campus talk on controversial
January 27, 2003 - A reprieve for the world's malnourished may come in the
form of a small, yellow kernel of rice. This rice, fortified with
beta-carotene, is called golden rice because of its surprising yellowness
? its color is the result of genetic modification, a reason for concern in
much of the world.
In 1992 golden rice was created in Switzerland's Federal Institute of
Technology by the hand of German professors Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer.
Rice is the staple of diets in developing Asian countries, principally
India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, where
thousands go blind yearly from vitamin A deficiency. Fortifying ordinary
white rice with beta-carotene culled from daffodils was seen as a way to
satisfy their undernourishment, which Potrykus called "the biggest medical
problem worldwide" in a guest seminar given on campus on Wednesday.
But golden rice is a genetically modified organism and so has been called
"fool's gold" and "frankenfood" by several environmental organizations and
opponents of GMOs. Greenpeace in particular has chided Potrykus for
embellishing the morbidity and mortality rates due to malnourishment in
impoverished countries and exaggerating the nutritional content of golden
rice. Greenpeace subsequently released information indicating that the
vitamin content of golden rice was so low that any child would have to eat
20 pounds of cooked rice a day to fulfill the recommended daily amount of
Potrykus admitted to being carried away by the excitement of his
discovery, but maintained that golden rice is meant only to complement an
existing diet, not serve on its own. By his calculations only half the
recommended daily amount is required to prevent mortality and morbidity
caused by vitamin A deficiency, which can be satisfied by ingesting just 7
ounces of golden rice.
But serving size does not seem to be the root of the problem. GMOs have
earned the ire of those who champion pure food and who consider genetic
enhancements an ethical dilemma despite clean bills of health from labs.
Because Greenpeace has stated that it is "by principle against genetic
modification," pro-GMO scientists say the group cannot be convinced by any
amount of evidence supporting GMOs because of their firm beliefs, even if
golden rice has been pronounced "at least as safe as unmodified rice" by
several laboratories, according to Potrykus.
"Every GMO product has been tested," said Gurdev Khush, head of the Plant
Breeding, Genetics and Biochemistry Division of the International Rice
Research Institute, and a member of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board at
UC Davis. "I don't see any problems with safety."
Khush is one of many members of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which
is an advisory body responsible for fine-tuning Potrykus' technology to
reach its target population in a reasonable amount of time. Though it was
intended to be made available to impoverished countries four years ago,
Potrykus has had to overcome several patent and proprietary problems as
well as put his technology through further tests in order for its release.
It is "ridiculous," "irresponsible," and "immoral," according to Potrykus,
that an effort to alleviate the suffering of developing nations should be
stifled by bureaucracy over the ethical dilemmas of bioengineering,
especially while more poor go malnourished daily.
In order to obtain a license to distribute his product "free of charge and
limitations," Potrykus underwent extensive negotiations with multiple
companies that retained the rights to the technology used in creating and
modifying golden rice, as well as numerous press conferences and panel
discussions defending the potential effectiveness of his creation.
The cost of supplying the world with the rice crop is inconsequential,
said Potrykus. Developing golden rice for 10 years cost Potrykus and his
laboratory under $30 million, while vitamin A pill supplements currently
distributed to developing countries carry a $100 million price tag every
Since Potrykus said he has kept his efforts humanitarian, the golden rice
would be "made available to subsistence farmers and urban poor in
developing countries free of charge and limitations." Once in their
countries, farmers would grow golden rice along with their own crops, and
with a yield of 1,000 seeds per generation for every seed planted, would
never have to be supplied with additional portions of golden rice again.
"Greenpeace fears the imaginary," Khush said. "The problem has been
created by Greenpeace for their political ends." Golden rice, which was
ready for distribution in 1999, is expected to reach its target
populations after extensive lab and field testing around the year 2007.
Industry-backed Forum Meets to Laud GM Crops
- The Herald (United Kingdom) January 26, 2003
Genetically-modified (GM) crops will be widely grown on a commercial basis
in the UK within the next 10 years, according to Dr Paul Rylott, the head
of bioscience with Bayer Crop Science.
Speaking in Edinburgh at a meeting staged by the Agricultural
Biotechnology Council, he said: ''GM technology will come to be
acceptable, though there will always be some people who are opposed to it.
I also think it is wrong to categorise any science as good or bad. It's
the way it is applied.''
Rylott concedes that the GM issue has not been handled by the industry as
well as it might have been and that is why six of the leading companies
involved in that field - Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, BASF, DuPont, and Syngenta
- set up the lobbying body 18 months ago. He added: ''We recognised that
on an individual basis we were not doing a very good job. That is when we
decided to pool our collective thinking and to talk to the general public
and the media to get the message across and advise people on the many
misgivings about GM technology.''
Rylott made the point that all the companies stand behind their products,
but he also said that GM is no more than another tool. He added: ''GM
farming, non-GM farming and organic production can co-exist, but there is
no choice at the moment with access denied. We want to take the debate
forward in a sensible manner.'' GM crops are widely accepted in many
countries, with an estimated 50% of soya and 30% of cotton grown in this
way. Most of the cotton grown in China is GM, and Australia and India are
moving in the same direction.
Rylott also pointed that most of the farmers who grow GM crops are
small-scale operators, with an average holding of a half to two hectares.
Furthermore, he argued that the widespread adoption of GM technology has
resulted in 30,000 tonnes of insecticides and pesticides annually no
longer being used.
Dr Colin Merrit, of Monsanto, was keen to dispel the notion that GM
technology is totally new. ''Golden Promise was one of the most successful
malting barleys of all time. But do many people know that it was produced
as a mutation of Maythorpe using gamma rays at the Harwell atomic energy
establishment as long ago as 1956?'' he asked.
Request for Information
- Drew Kershen
Does anyone have or know of a source that has the following information:
A list of all the various acts of vandalism directed at agricultural
biotechnology both those towards laboratory work and (especially) those
towards field trials. I would appreciate receiving this information or
source of information. - Thanks, Drew; Earl Sneed Centennial
Professor of Law, University of Oklahoma
1st International Conference and Workshop on Challenges Of Genitally
(Sic!) Modified Food
- Cairo Egypt, 27- 30 May 2003 (NEW DATE);
A technology transfer concept on Genitally (Sic) Modified Organisms GMO.
The Secretariat wishes to inform you that the conference as scheduled for
21-24 January 2003 at Cairo, Egypt, has been postponed. The new date is 27
- 30 May 2003. The postponement is owing to the rapid development of the
conflict between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq,
which could affect the civil traffic and stability at the region, and also
due to requests made by over 200 prospective participants from different
scientific research centers all over the world to allow them more time for
presenting their papers .
Looking forward to welcome you next May 2003 at Cairo, Egypt. - Dr.
Mahmoud El Hamalawy; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone :
GM Food Conference - Singapore: Feb 27 - March 1, 2003
- Yeoh Guan Huah
Dear Sir, Greetings from the Singapore Institute of Food Science &
SIFS is organizing a Conference, titled "GM Foods - Prospects, Challenges
& Safety" on February 27 - March 1 at Mandarin Singapore Hotel in
Singapore. 22 oral presentations covering patentability, legislations,
biosafety issues, testing methodologies and GM research findings will be
made during the two and a half day conference, to be wound up by a public
forum on the issues and concerns of GM foods.
Please visit our website at: http://www.sifst.org.sg or contact
The Double Helix - 50 Years
- Nature.com Special Web Focus, Jan 27, 2003
"This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological
interest" In April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick wrote these words
as part of the opening paragraph of a Letter to Nature. As part of the
50th anniversary celebrations of the publication of the structure of DNA,
Nature presents this web focus, containing a collection of overviews
celebrating the historical, scientific and cultural impacts of the
discovery of the double helix. All content is free, and over 2003 will
include news, special features, and an archive including all the classic
papers from April 1953.
You can also download now the classic Watson and Crick 1953 paper on DNA
double helix (Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids Watson J. and Crick F
Nature 171, 737 (1953) at
The Eternal Molecule
- Carina Dennis & Philip Campbell, Nature 421, 396 (2003);
As a prelude to the many celebrations around the world saluting the 50th
anniversary of the discovery of the DNA double helix, Nature presents a
collection of overviews that celebrate the historical, scientific and
cultural impacts of a revelatory molecular structure.
Few molecules captivate like DNA. It enthrals scientists, inspires
artists, and challenges society. It is, in every sense, a modern icon. A
defining moment for DNA research was the discovery of its structure half a
century ago. On 25 April 1953, in an article in Nature, James Watson and
Francis Crick described the entwined embrace of two strands of
deoxyribonucleic acid. In doing so, they provided the foundation for
understanding molecular damage and repair, replication and inheritance of
genetic material, and the diversity and evolution of species.
The broad influence of the double helix is reflected in this collection of
articles. Experts from a diverse range of disciplines discuss the impact
of the discovery on biology, culture, and applications ranging from
medicine to nanotechnology. To help the reader fully appreciate how far
the double helix has travelled, we also include the original landmark
paper by Watson and Crick and the two accompanying papers by Maurice
Wilkins, who shared the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick in 1962, and by
co-discoverer Rosalind Franklin, and their co-authors (pages 397?401)
NPR Transcript on Threatened Ugandan Banana
Genetically modified bananas engineered to save Uganda's diseased crop
amidst heavy controversy in the European Union
- NPR: All Things Considered, National Public Radio; npr.org January 23,
Robert Siegel, Host: This Is All Things Considered From Npr News. I'm
Lynn Neary, host: And I'm Lynn Neary. Ugandans eat more bananas than
anyone else on Earth; nearly 500 pounds per person each year. But new
plant diseases are destroying the country's banana harvest. Scientists
have developed a genetically modified banana that could help local
farmers. But as NPR's Eric Niiler reports, a dispute between the US and
the European Union is leaving Ugandans caught in the middle.
ERIC NIILER reporting: In Uganda, the many kinds of bananas aren't just
peeled. They're boiled, baked and even fermented into wine. They're a
staple of the Ugandan diet. Wilbur Forrest-Toucher(ph) heads the banana
program at the Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute in Kampala. He says
that the most common dish is matoke, a steamed and mashed banana wrapped
in its own leaf.
Mr. WILBUR FORREST-TOUCHER (Kawanda Agricultural Research Institute):
(Unintelligible) for food in Uganda, they'll give you that mash called
matoke. You can also boil bananas with beans or ground gnats, and you get
a very good meal.
NIILER: But Uganda's favorite food is in danger. Fungal diseases, viruses
and tiny root-eating worms have destroyed half of Uganda's banana crop in
the past 20 years.
Mr. FORREST-TOUCHER: In some parts of central Uganda, the banana has been
wiped out completely.
NIILER: The crisis has prompted the Ugandan government to embark on a $2.5
million program to develop a disease-resistant banana. Researchers say
they can't use traditional plant-breeding techniques to produce a
resistant variety. That's because bananas are sterile; they don't produce
seeds. Instead, they reproduce by sending out small shoots. Emile Frison
is director of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and
Plantain in Montpelier, France. He's working with Ugandan scientists on
Mr. EMILE FRISON (Director, International Network for the Improvement of
Banana and Plantain): The only solution is, indeed, genetic modification.
So what we want to do there is to introduce genes of resistance from wild
bananas into these varieties that are susceptible now to make them
NIILER: Frison and colleagues have done preliminary work with the new GM
banana for Uganda at a laboratory in Belgium. But they've hit a big
roadblock. They aren't being allowed to bring the new bananas into Uganda
for tests. Ugandan government officials are still weighing the risks and
benefits of this relatively new technology. US agricultural officials and
scientists say the GM crops are safe. The European Union has banned them
because of anti-GM consumer protests. Edith Ssempala, Uganda's ambassador
to the United States, says her country is getting a confusing message.
Ms. EDITH SSEMPALA (Ugandan Ambassador to United States): When developed
countries' scientists recommend different things, then people who are not
as advanced in that science, you know, start wondering.
NIILER: Ssempala also worries that if Uganda accepts the GM banana the
European Union will retaliate and refuse to buy their food exports. Sales
of Ugandan produce to Europe are an important part of the poor country's
Ms. SSEMPALA: It's not just a question of within that science. It's also a
question of trade, so that issue must be looked at, as well.
NIILER: The brawl between European and US officials over GM food is
spilling over to other developing countries, as well. Frison says that
disease has also threatened other banana-growing regions in Asia and Latin
Mr. FRISON: This is one of the problems is that we've been having
transgenic bananas in the greenhouse in Belgium now for the last six
years, but we haven't found a single country where the biosafety
regulations are in place and are being implemented in order to test some
of these varieties.
NIILER: This debate has also affected food aid for starving nations. Last
year, Zambia refused to accept genetically modified corn from the United
States. US trade representative Robert Zoellick toured Africa this month
and said he plans to sue the EU over its GM food ban. In the meantime,
Uganda has put the GM banana project on hold. Eric Niiler, NPR News,
Dossier on Intellectual Property
- SciDev.net, Jan 27, 2003 http://www.scidev.net/dossiers/ip/
We are pleased to announce the re-launch of our [
http://www.scidev.net/dossiers/ip/ ]Intellectual Property dossier, which
includes fully revised versions of the policy brief series
Introduction : Intellectual property rights (IPR) form a cornerstone of
the knowledge economy. Such an economy is built around products and
services that originate in scientific knowledge, the most obvious areas
being biotechnology ? which is rooted in the discoveries of molecular
genetics ? and the information and communication technologies (ICTs),
equally firmly embedded in discoveries in the physical and information
Society has chosen to reward the inventor of useful knowledge by granting
a limited monopoly on its exploitation. In the modern world, this provides
the opportunity to generate a profit on money spent on research and
development, either through excluding potential competitors from using the
products of such research, or by charging others to use them through
licensing deals. By rewarding, and thus hopefully stimulating, scientific
endeavour and technological innovation in this way, IPR ? in the form of
patents, copyrights and trademarks ? has come to perform a vital function
in the global economy.
But as the economic importance of IPR has grown, so too has public
controversy over the economic, social and political consequences of the
rules under which the legal protection of intellectual property is granted
and administered. Some of the controversy has focused on situations in
which the monopolies granted under these rules are considered to be too
generous, or allow for an excessive concentration of economic and
industrial power. Other conflicts, particularly in the life sciences, have
arisen around the definitions of what can and cannot be described as a
human invention, and is therefore considered eligible for patent
Developing countries have become particularly sensitive to such
controversies. The need for economic growth has led to the increasingly
widespread acceptance of the economic models on which this growth has
occurred in the industrialized nations. And this includes the need for IPR
regimes that not only reward individual ingenuity and inventiveness, but
also ? perhaps even more importantly ? provide encouragement and
protection for the investors that supply the financial backing for the
It is for this reason, for example, that members of the World Trade
Organisation are now required to accept the terms of the agreement on
Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), guaranteeing to
introduce and police some form of the intellectual property laws that are
widely regarded as a basic requirement of free trade, at both a national
and international level. Previously, many developing countries had much
less stringent IPR laws. This allowed several to develop significant
industries, such as the Indian and Brazilian generic drug industries,
based in part on copying products invented ? and patented ? elsewhere.
Under TRIPs, such copying will no longer be possible.
Just as happens with free trade, however, tensions emerge when there
appears to be an unacceptable disparity between those who benefit from IPR
regimes and those who are required to meet its costs. In most cases, this
results directly from the fact that most of the research behind the
products that circulate in the global economy is carried out in the
industrialized nations, and that its results are therefore 'owned' by
corporations based in these countries. This is particularly the case in
two fields ? medicine and agriculture ? where IPR is becoming increasingly
important because of the substantial investment required in research and
development, but where access to the products of such research is of
significant interest to the developing nations.
The most obvious example here is the pharmaceutical research that leads to
new drugs. The patents that pharmaceutical corporations own on these drugs
gives them the power to determine who can produce them, and under what
circumstances, in countries where they have a patent. And by definition,
the first responsibility of these corporations is to maximise the economic
return to investors who have provided the financial support for that
research ? not to those who might benefit from such drugs, but may be
unable to afford them due to their high costs.
Other controversies have arisen when research teams backed by
multinational corporations have sought to patent knowledge of biological
processes whose value as, for example, a treatment for disease has been
widely known by an indigenous community for generations. Here the team may
seek to claim the credit ? and thus financial reward ? for extracting the
previously unknown scientific basis of the process at stake. The question
that is increasingly asked, however, is how much of this credit (and
reward) should go to those who may have had 'unscientific' knowledge of
this process for centuries.
In principle, IPR legislation is intended to create a balance between
private and public interests. In other words, when designing IPR rules,
legislators and policy makers seek to ensure that the rights and
obligations of producers and users of intellectual property are balanced
with the social, economic and developmental objectives that governments
intend their IPR laws to support.
One advantage of the patent system, for example, is that it discourages
industrial secrecy; indeed open publication of the full details of an
invention and how it works is one of the conditions of being granted a
limited monopoly over its use. IPR legislation also provides levers,
through compulsory licensing clauses, to ensure that potentially valuable
inventions are put to use. Similarly the TRIPS agreement allows for
compulsory licensing in exceptional circumstances, where it has not been
possible to reach agreement between the owner of the IPR and a potential
In practice, of course, perceptions of the balance between the benefits
and disadvantages of IPR regimes are continually changing. Some of these
shifts result from the evolving nature of the underlying science; modern
genetics, for example, has provided unprecedented opportunities for
identifying and copying biological processes of potential value to humans.
Other shifts result from increased public sensitivity to the social
implications of IPR regimes ? for example, their implications for access
to modern medicines ? that are leading to close political scrutiny of the
relative weight to be given to the various interests that such regimes are
intended to balance. In the case of agriculture, for example, small
farmers, often backed by vocal public interest groups, have often been in
the front line of those protesting over patents on new varieties of seeds
owned by large agricultural corporations.
This dossier includes six 'policy briefs' that attempt to summarise some
key issues that raise the question of whether current IPR regimes provide
an adequate balance between public and private interests.
The first looks at the impact of pharmaceutical patents on access to
essential medicines in developing countries, an issue recently highlighted
by public campaigns over HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa and Latin America. The
second describes how the search for potentially useful biological
resources is criticised by some as a form of 'biopiracy', leading to
demands for better provision for fair and equitable benefit sharing. The
other policy briefs look at the way that genetics research has blurred the
boundary between an 'invention' (which can be patented) and a 'discovery'
(which traditionally cannot be); how IPRs can affect food security; how
they intersect with concerns over human rights; and finally the dilemmas
that the TRIPS agreement has created for developing countries.
Debates around these issues have a common goal: to ensure that both the
definitions and implementation of intellectual property rights are
compatible with broader social and economic goals, and in particular can
be designed to meet the interests of developing countries in an optimal
Patenting policies must be tailored for the poor
IP Policies and Serving the Public
- Roger N. Beachy, Science, vol. 299, No. 606, Jan 24, 2003, p. 473.
It may be time to ask some hard questions about the university patenting
and licensing rush that has emerged after the Bayh-Dole act of 1984. As
scientific discoveries in biology and biotechnology have led to the
development of new drugs, crops, and foods, universities have pursued the
protection of inventions more aggressively than most in the academic
community had envisioned in the 1980s. Although licensing can bring
financial benefit to the institution and the investigator, it can also be
costly in dollars and in faculty commitment. Perhaps more important, it
can mar the public perception of academic institutions as producers of
knowledge that benefits and protects the public.
Many university scientists conduct basic research on problems that will,
if successful, have positive impacts on the public (local and global). A
substantial fraction of university research is focused on problems of
commercial interest to companies that can use those discoveries to make
marketable products. In contrast, there is less focus on research that
will affect small numbers of individuals, on crops that grow on small
acreages, or on products that bring modest profits. Because of
intellectual property (IP) policies and the interest of companies in
licensing potentially valuable discoveries, it can be difficult to use new
technologies to address problems in developing countries that lack
policies for defining IP rights or procedures for premarket approval.
The complex tangle of licenses that slowed the development of
beta-carotene-enriched "golden rice" is a case in point. As many as 16
important patents and 72 potential IP barriers slowed the development of
this crop, which has limited financial potential but is intended to bring
tremendous benefits to poor countries. The patents at issue ranged from
the use of genes in the pathway that produces beta-carotene, to methods
for isolating and cloning DNA, to methods for regenerating transgenic
plants from transformed cells. With substantial effort, agreements were
reached that allowed scientists to proceed with research to develop lines
of golden rice without licensing fees. To deny or hinder development and
testing of the improved rice lines because of IP issues would be unfair to
people in developing countries where vitamin A is in short dietary supply.
To many, it would be morally unacceptable. Scientific advances that
improve health and nutrition and produce vaccines that protect against
infectious diseases (to name just a few examples) may face similar
problems unless adequate safeguards are put in place.
Science could greatly enhance its service to humankind if sufficient funds
were available to support research that truly serves all people. This will
probably not occur until the federal government dedicates additional and
substantial resources to research partnerships that search for treatments
for minor diseases, benefit small markets, and meet the needs of poor and
technically disadvantaged countries. It is equally important that academic
research institutions adopt policies regarding IP that make the results of
research available for use in developing countries, and that their
scientists be encouraged to do research targeted to the public good,
including projects that will benefit developing countries.
At the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, all research and licensing
agreements will include a statement that the "Company and Danforth Center
shall diligently and in good faith negotiate the terms of worldwide
license, making provision for preserving the availability of the
Intellectual Property for meeting the needs of the developing countries."
Although the phrase does not provide specifics, it alerts the parties to
our intent. It has been our experience during the past 3 years that
private-sector companies have been willing to accept the intention of this
phrase, and that it is increasingly seen as good policy by those
I urge all academic and not-for-profit research institutions, in
particular those engaged in biological research, to include similar terms
as they negotiate licensing agreements pertaining to technologies with
potential benefits for poor and developing countries. Although there may
be a modest financial cost of taking such a position, the potential
benefits in terms of regaining public trust, and ultimately of deploying
technologies where they may be needed most, far outweigh the financial or
opportunity costs. And it's the right thing to do.
Indian President Calls for Second Green Revolution Through Technology
- Rediff, January 26, 2003. Excerpts below.
Following is the text of President A P J Abdul Kalam's address to the
nation on the eve of the 54th Republic Day:
Developed India: Vision and Actions
On the eve of the 54th Republic Day of India I greet all the billion
people of our country living in India and abroad.
. On my recent visits to research laboratories, I could see our young
scientists ceaselessly working in biotechnology and other emerging fields
of biomedical engineering to unearth the mysteries of human creation and
the characteristics embedded in the DNA structure for providing better
healthcare to humanity. That filled my mind with hope and reassurance that
such research will ensure that we will be part of the human endeavour to
provide quality health care, diagnosis, and treatment.
Knowledge Society. During the last century, the world underwent a change
from agriculture society, where manual labour was the critical factor, to
industrial society where the management of technology, capital and labour
provided the competitive advantage.
Ability to create and maintain the knowledge infrastructure, develop
knowledge workers, and enhance their productivity through creation,
growth, and exploitation of new knowledge will be the key factors in
deciding the prosperity of this Knowledge Society. Whether a nation has
arrived at the state of knowledge society is judged by the way the country
effectively deals with knowledge creation and knowledge deployment in all
sectors like informational technology, industries, agriculture, health
Second Green Revolution. It is the right time for India to embark upon
the Second Green Revolution, which will enable it to increase its
productivity in the agricultural sector. The production of cereals needs
to increase from the present 200 million tonnes to over 300 million tonnes
by 2020 in view of population growth.
But the requirement of land for the increasing population as well as for
greater afforestation and environmental preservation activities would
demand that the present 170 million hectares of arable land would have to
be brought down to 100 million hectares by 2020.
All our agricultural scientists and technologists have to work for
doubling the productivity of the available land with lesser area being
available for cultivation. The type of technologies needed would be in the
areas of biotechnology, proper training to the farmers, additional modern
equipment for preservation and storage etc. The second green revolution is
indeed graduating from grain production to food processing and marketing
as visualised by the late Shri C Subramaniam. While doing so, utmost care
should be taken for various environmental and people-related aspects
leading to sustainable development