Today in AgBioView: July 15, 2003:
* Left in the Organic Dust
* U.S., EU Battle Rages Over Modified Crops
* A Food Fight the U.S. Is Sure to Lose
* Culturally Appropriate
* Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM crops
* ... Sheila Anderson Responds to Marcus W.
* IPR: Public Sector Collaboration for Ag IP Management
* Public Good Plant Breeding Webcast
* INDIA: Farmers Seek Approval For Illegal Bt Cotton
Left in the Organic Dust
- John Purvis, TechCentral Station, July 9, 2003
For the next several decades, biotechnology will be a leading area of
science and industry, of employment, and for enhancing our quality of
life. It has the potential to improve our quality of life through medical
applications, improved and safer food, and a better environment.
The European Parliament, which adopted my report on the future of the
biotechnology industry in 2001, endorsed a positive approach and called
for the EU to take action to promote this industry and provide the right
environment for it to develop and prosper. At the Lisbon summit in 2000
the leaders of the 15 EU countries committed themselves to making Europe
the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.
Biotechnology was singled out as an area that offered bright economic and
business prospects at a summit meeting in Stockholm in 2001.
The European biotechnology market could be worth over Euro 100 billion by
2005. In the EU there are an estimated 1,870 identifiable biotech
companies, compared with 1,273 in the U.S. (according to 2001 figures) and
the sector employs 87,000 people. Although there has been good growth in
recent years, the U.S. still dominates in R&D expenditures and revenues.
The EU also faces tough competition from many other countries around the
world and there is a danger we will be left behind.
The biggest concern is in plant biotech, which has seen a dramatic drop of
76 percent in research since 1998 in response to negative public and
governmental attitudes to GM crops and plants. Small and medium sized
companies are reducing their research activities and larger companies are
migrating to friendlier environments outside the EU to carry out research
and introduce their innovative products commercially. And who can blame
them? The de facto moratorium on GMOs has meant that nothing has been
approved in Europe for the last five years. In the meantime China, for
example, invested $112 million of its R&D budget on crop biotechnology in
1999 and this will be increased 400 percent by 2005. They have approved 31
applications for commercialisation, 65 for environmental release and 45
for field trials (as reported by the International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, or ISAAA).
GM crops and plants can increase yields and the quality of produce, reduce
the need for cultivation, which saves energy and decreases damage to soil
and wildlife, and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides with
resulting economic and environmental benefits. Consumer benefits can
include improved taste and ripening characteristics and longer shelf life
as well as reduced cost. In Europe, with our abundant supply of food, we
can perhaps afford the luxury of denying ourselves the many benefits that
GM crops offer.
In many parts of the developing world, on the other hand, where food is in
short supply and where growing conditions are difficult due to pests and
diseases and acid or saline soils, the benefits can be life-and-death
critical. Farmers in India, who are growing biotech cotton, have seen
substantial improvements in crop yield and a very desirable reduction in
chemical usage. Producers of other crops all over the developing world
have experienced similar benefits, while producers and consumers in
developed countries are reaping benefits and competitive advantages that
are denied to Europeans.
The use of biotechnology, whether for crops or health, does raise
controversial issues, and as a result has come up against strong
resistance from certain quarters. Advances in science and technology will
often cause concern and it is not therefore surprising that biotechnology,
which appears to be changing our very relationship with creation, has met
with opposition. There are always possible risks with any new technology.
It is therefore vital that adequate safeguards are in place.
GMOs have to pass stringent tests in laboratory and field trials prior to
being approved as safe for use. Such approvals are based on assessments of
risk that have been long established for innovative products whether or
not they involve genetic modification. For GMOs, these have been even more
demanding and involve stringent labelling and traceability requirements.
But ardent opponents will continue to demand proof of zero risk - an
impossible criterion - and as a further resort they condone the
obstruction and vandalising of the trials, which are necessary to
substantiate that safety standards are met.
The opposition to GMOs has shown that public opinion must be taken
seriously. GM products appeared on the shelves without consumers knowing
what they were. No one explained their benefits or answered consumers'
concerns and queries. With the BSE or "mad cow" crisis, many people lost
trust in regulators and scientists. The result has been a backlash, from
which the industry is still suffering. Polls conducted on attitudes to
biotechnology have shown that, for many Europeans, GM food is considered
unhealthy, untrustworthy, unnecessary and even morally wrong. They link GM
food to industrial farming practices and the dominance of big business
(based to some extent on ignorance about the reality of modern farming
technology and methods). "Natural" products (which have in fact been
genetically modified but via conventional breeding techniques) are seen as
safer and healthier.
Politicians, who may recognise the benefits of this technology, are
nevertheless dependent on public opinion for their very survival. Fine
words have too often been followed by swift retreat in the face of
anti-GMO campaigns. As a result the EU does not have an effective,
transparent and predictable legal framework in place for the authorisation
of GMOs. Currently a manufacturer must notify the national authority where
the GMO is to be placed on the market, including an assessment of the
risks to human and animal health and the environment. If the application
is accepted, the information is sent to the European Commission and to the
relevant authorities in all the other EU member states (now 15, by May
2004 these will be 25!). So far when one or more of the other EU countries
has, at this stage of the approval process, raised an objection, it has
resulted in a temporary, but effectively lengthy, ban on the GM product.
In most of these cases the Commission's Scientific Committees have judged
that the ban was unjustified -- and yet the ban stands.
The EU's national governments have said that they will end this de facto
moratorium once strict labelling and traceability rules have been put in
place. The European Parliament voted on new rules at its plenary sitting
in July 2003. This will require any product containing more than 0.9
percent GMOs to be labelled and to be traceable back to source. This
requirement is extremely burdensome but should lead to a lifting of the
ban, while allowing consumers to make an informed choice.
However there is no guarantee that the moratorium will be lifted. The
Commission has so far been unwilling to use the sanctions at its disposal
against those EU countries that impose the moratorium. Now that the
labelling and traceability regulation is in effect, the Commission must be
prepared to use all the sanctions at its disposal in order to lift the
moratorium. Otherwise biotechnology companies will be left with a very
uncertain future and the European economy will be damaged. Our scientists
and innovatory companies will emigrate. Jobs and prosperity will suffer.
The objectives of the so-called Lisbon agenda, to make Europe the most
dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, will
be at risk.
The new traceability and labelling regime is complex and extremely
precautionary. We will have to wait and see how it works in practice. The
European Trade Commissioner, Pascal Lamy, is confident that its
introduction will lead to the end of the moratorium and therefore the end
of the WTO challenge by the U.S.-led coalition. If it does not bring this
about, the idea that Europeans are having this technology forced on them
by a WTO decision is only likely to increase public opposition.
Efforts need to be made to restore public confidence by providing
consumers with well-balanced information about the benefits as well as any
possible risks. I do not believe that we should turn our back on advances
in science and technology, which are likely to benefit our environment and
our farmers, to create jobs and offer greater choice to consumers. God
gave us the ability to apply our minds to improving our lot on this earth.
It is up to us to realise the promise of this new knowledge.
John Purvis is a Member of the European Parliament for Scotland.
U.S., EU Battle Rages Over Modified Crops
- Neil King, Jr., Wall street Journal, July 15, 2003,
The nasty trans-Atlantic spat over bioengineered food is about to get even
nastier. The European Union says its new labeling rules are meant to
replace a ban on new genetically modified crops that the U.S. has
challenged. But U.S. farmers say the solution makes the problem worse --
and they are getting a sympathetic hearing from the Bush administration.
Europe's new rules "are a trade barrier, pure and simple," says Illinois
soybean farmer Dwain Ford, who serves as president of the American Soybean
Association. Most of Mr. Ford's 1,500 acres of beans are bioengineered to
resist herbicides, and most of the crop goes to Europe.
The rules will require that goods containing even tiny amounts of
genetically modified organisms carry a label explaining that. Biotech
products, including animal feed, will also require a paper trail to trace
their history "from the farm to the fork," as some Europeans put it, which
American companies say will be onerous -- and expensive.
With the largest export market for U.S. soy products -- valued at $1.1
billion -- in jeopardy, the Bush administration will feel great pressure
to attack these regulations at the World Trade Organization, just as it
challenged the current ban in May. That would risk stirring deeper ire
among Europeans fearful that biotech foods present a health risk. "We are
certainly analyzing" filing a case down the road, said one U.S. trade
official, who described the new EU rules as "calculated to thwart the
development of biotechnology."
The $500 billion U.S. packaged-food industry is also deeply worried, as
EU-style labeling rules could complicate exports of everything from
cornflakes to candy bars. "They're taking down a hurdle and putting up two
brick walls," says Rhona Applebaum, chief science officer of the National
Food Processors Association, which represents the packaged-food industry.
The fight goes back to 1998, when environmental concerns led seven EU
member states to implement a ban on the sale of any new bioengineered
crops to the EU. The moratorium crushed U.S. corn sales to the EU, cut
U.S. soybean sales to the bloc in half and sparked serious frictions with
After years of threats, the U.S. launched a WTO case against the
moratorium just as the Europeans wrapped up a regulatory regime meant to
lead to a lifting of the ban.
EU officials say the U.S. should cheer the new rules because they may pave
the way for the sale of a raft of new biotech crops that have been blocked
under the moratorium. But both U.S. farmers and Bush officials blast the
plan as unlikely to create new sales, adding that it could actually hurt
sales of the few products that have been permitted over the past five
years. The EU's 15 member states are expected to approve the rules this
month. The regulations will likely go into effect early next year, in the
middle of the U.S. presidential-election campaign.
The U.S. will have a tough time getting Europe to back down. Unlike the
moratorium, the new rules are the result of long-considered action within
the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, and the European
Parliament. And they go to the heart of a country's right to oversee its
own food chain. "Moreover, they are wildly popular in the EU, much more so
than the WTO," says Robert Paarlberg, an expert on the subject at Harvard
University who is also critical of the new EU regime.
Still, the Bush administration is keen to push hard with Europe if only to
thwart the spread of similar rules world-wide, a development that could
prove disastrous to U.S. growers who have moved heavily into biotech
U.S. critics say labeling will scare consumers by suggesting a health risk
that doesn't exist. Even products extracted from biotech grain -- such as
corn oil and corn syrup -- will require labels, although no genetic tests
can tell the difference. More than two-thirds of U.S.-processed foods are
estimated to contain biotech ingredients.
The EU's so-called traceability regulations will be still more onerous,
critics contend. Around 35% of all U.S. corn and 77% of soybeans now come
from bioengineered seeds. But the U.S. bulk-commodity system, with its
huge grain elevators and its trains and ships moving the crops to market,
make it extremely difficult -- and expensive -- to keep separate the
biotech from the nonbiotech strains. "We'll be sending as much paper as
soybeans to Europe," Mr. Ford predicts.
EU officials say the labels will simply inform consumers that a product
contains a genetically modified ingredient. "The Americans act as if the
labels will carry skull and crossbones, but there is nothing in this that
will signal danger," says Charlotte Hebebrand, an EU adviser on food
safety and consumer affairs.
The only way to test Europe's supposed aversion to biotech foods, Ms.
Hebebrand says, is for companies to use modified ingredients, label the
packages and put them on shelves. "European consumers are a lot more
sophisticated that Americans think," she says. The EU has had a labeling
rule in place since 1997, but it was so limited and laxly enforced that
U.S. companies had been able to avoid labeling any products under it.
As for traceability, EU officials argue that keeping a record of crop
origins will both help verify the labels and allow regulators to take
action if a biotech strain is later found to be dangerous. The rules, they
insist, will also prepare U.S. growers for the next generation of modified
crops designed to improve vision or offer added vitamins. "These are
products that the industry, for commercial reasons, will very much want to
keep separate," Ms. Hebebrand says.
U.S. corn and soybean growers most fear the EU threshold for triggering
the labeling rules. Any shipment containing just 0.9% genetically modified
content is deemed to be biotech under the EU rules.
Fred Yoder, president of the American Corn Growers Association, says that
the U.S. corn industry could assure that a shipment is 95% free of
modified corn for seven cents extra a bushel. But he estimates that
compliance with the EU's 99% requirement would cost at least 50 cents a
bushel. Corn now sells for about $2 a bushel.
Mr. Yoder also suggests the requirement is hypocritical. He points out
that the EU allows 2% "foreign material" in any shipment with no need for
tracing or labeling.
"And that includes dirt and rodent hair," he says.
A Food Fight the U.S. Is Sure to Lose
- Kerry Capell, Business Week, July 21, 2003
Once again, Europe and the U.S. are at loggerheads. This time, they're
fighting over food, not foreign policy. On July 2, the European Parliament
passed legislation calling for detailed labeling of genetically modified
(GM) food products.
You'd think Washington would be pleased. After all, the new laws will pave
the way for American GM products to be sold within the European Union,
ending a five-year ban. By the start of next year, European authorities
will require all food, from pizza to potato chips, containing as little as
0.9% GM ingredients to be clearly labeled as such. But U.S. agrichemical
giants such as Monsanto Co. and DuPont complain that the threshold is
ridiculously low and will force exporters to track the presence of GM
ingredients all the way from "farm to fork" -- an onerous and costly
burden. On July 3, the U.S. State Dept. issued a statement saying the new
labeling rules "could lead to the imposition of a new set of nontariff
This isn't the first time tempers have flared over the GM issue. In May,
the Bush Administration filed a complaint with the World Trade
Organization against the EU's 1998 moratorium on the farming and import of
new GM crop strains. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick has even
characterized the European position on GM foods as "Luddite."
But America's tough talk ignores the reality of the European marketplace,
a reality based on consumer preferences rather than government
protectionism. Surveys indicate that more than 70% of European consumers
are opposed to GM foods and 94% are in favor of more detailed labeling.
Even in Britain, one of the most pro-GM European countries, a July poll by
MORI Social Research Institute showed that only one out of every seven
Britons favors GM food.
Are such fears unwarranted? Not when you consider that Europe has
experienced several health crises in recent years that sensitized the
population to hidden dangers lurking in the food supply. The most
publicized of these is mad cow disease, which has killed more than 135
Europeans since 1995. Other scandals, such as dioxin-infested chickens in
Belgium, have only contributed to European mistrust. With no scientific
studies on the long-term impact of growing or eating GM foods, consumers
believe their skepticism is justified. Yet GM advocates in the U.S.
persist in "brushing aside environmental and social concerns as unfair
trade issues," says Dan Hindsgaul, head of Greenpeace International's
genetic engineering campaign.
Certainly, U.S. companies have a lot riding on European acceptance of GM
products. Monsanto and DuPont alone have invested billions in
bioengineered seed technology and are determined not to be shut out of
Europe, one of the world's biggest agricultural markets. American farmers
are losing out, too. The U.S. produces two-thirds of the world's GM crops.
U.S. soy exports to the EU have declined by half over the past five years,
to $1.6 billion, reflecting that 80% of the U.S. soybean harvest is now
GM. U.S. agribusiness believes the EU's new rules will only make a bad
situation worse by sending Europeans fleeing from anything with a GM
label. Might as well slap a skull and crossbones sign on boxes of American
But why shouldn't European consumers have a right to know exactly what
they are eating? By next year, 35 countries covering half of the world's
population, including China, Japan, India, and Australia, will require
mandatory government safety assessments before GM products are allowed
into the market. "The main reason big companies are against labeling is
because they realize that there is a huge potential that consumers may
then choose not to buy GM products," says Nita Pillai, senior coordinator
of the global food program at Consumers International.
Of course, Americans have been chowing down on GM foods for more than a
decade: Bread, cooking oil, even infant formula already contain GM
ingredients, something that U.S. labels don't reveal. Yet Americans don't
seem overly concerned about the widespread presence of GM products,
despite such isolated scares as the incident three years ago when
StarLink, a genetically modified corn not meant for human consumption,
showed up in supermarkets and fast-food chains. Studies may yet prove
conclusively that GM food offers wonderful benefits with zero risk. But
that day hasn't arrived. Until it does, no amount of bullying from across
the Atlantic will persuade Europeans otherwise.
- Roger Bate, TechCentral Station, July 7, 2003
The priorities of famine relief would seem obvious to most of us. Yet it
increasingly appears that only the na´ve think that its purpose is first
and foremost to avert starvation.
At the World Food Summit in Rome last year Oxfam International commented:
"food aid programmes have historically been used inappropriately, with
industrialised countries using them to dispose of surpluses and create
So there you have it, give someone food because you have more of it than
you need, and that's wrong. Make it something they want more of and, of
course, that's even worse.
But it gets better. The latest buzz word in food aid circles is that food
must be 'culturally appropriate'. Now feeding certain foods to those who
eat only kosher and halal would certainly be inappropriate, but we know
this because of the tenets of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. Imagine
deciding, based on your own taste, but on behalf of others, what is and is
not appropriate to eat? Picture two virtually identical, and equally safe,
ears of corn, the staple of choice of sub-Saharan Africa. Someone decides
that one is all right and may save your life, but that the other is not
and you may starve instead. Shockingly, this is not an absurd fiction but
a real deliberation taking place in Africa and costing lives right now.
USAID deliveries of corn in which GM and non-GM varieties are freely mixed
have been feeding hungry Africans for years (almost as long as they have
been feeding hungry Americans). Over the last twelve months though, they
have become strangely problematic. The corn which millions in the US pay
good money to consume every day and which is exported both in aid and
trade around the world has become mysteriously feared as a 'poison' which
may harm African health.
In 2002, six African nations expressed concern over these aid shipments.
Accepting American assurances of its safety all but Zambia were finally
persuaded to come to some arrangement for distribution.
Levy Mwanawasa, the Zambian president, told the United Nations last year
that it was not his government's intention to "sacrifice lives of the
Zambian people by accepting GMOs". When pressed, the Zambian government
accepted that its citizens had been consuming such corn for years but
would not change its decision. A later address by the president unraveled
the mystery. "If Europe has rejected the GMOs why should we accept them
just because we are poor," he stated.
Europe has a long tradition of promulgating its mores in places where they
have little context but this latest example is surely among the least
excusable. The EU's anti-GMO stance is holding up, but only just. With the
moratorium approach no longer tenable and the prospect of an aggressive
American challenge through the WTO, Europe is looking for allies wherever
it can find them. Sub-Saharan Africa is as good a place as any, and its
nations have been persuaded that they must hold on to their 'GM free'
status if they are to maintain trading links with the EU.
The EU's precautionary principle is once again being taken to absurd
limits, but it is not money that is being lost this time but lives.
African nations are being told that genetically modified crops will
destroy their agricultural biodiversity. What this really means (unless
the US, Canada and Argentina's biodiversity has been destroyed over the
last decade without anyone telling me) is that their opportunity to trade
with the EU will be affected. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. For a
generation, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy has protected its farmers
from any real competition struggling African nations might be able to
throw up. Now it is telling them that to maintain what small markets they
have, they must refuse a technology that could eventually allow them to
feed their people and get a real competitive edge in the marketplace.
Fortunately, not everyone believes GM technology is some American
conspiracy to take over where European colonization left off. The United
Nations Economic Commission for Africa soberly warns that "the greatest
risk for Africa is to do nothing, allowing the biotechnology revolution to
pass it by".
It recommends that African-focused biotechnology be developed, with a
focus on crops, such as cassava, millet, sorghum, sweet potato and yams.
Drought tolerant GM crops are certainly on the horizon, as are other crops
that can stand the challenge of growing in sub-Saharan Africa, but such
developments will only be feasible in partnership with the companies of
the west who have pioneered biotechnology. If an anti-biotech consensus is
allowed to prosper unfettered, then the promise such developments hold out
will be postponed for many years.
But some people are not accepting Europe's precaution. Jennifer A Thomson,
head of the Microbiology Department in the University of Cape Town, is
from a country that has decided to embrace biotechnology: "GM crops and
foods are just one part of the overall strategy to ensure sufficient food
for South Africa and the rest of the continent. Europe has enough food --
they don't need GM foods. But we have different needs. Don't throw out GM
foods simply because other countries don't want them."
Roger Bate is co-editor of Fearing Food, Risk, Health and Environment
'GMOs are the new Titanic'
It is strange that America is supposed to be a country that believes in
freedom of choice, but when a country like Africa exercises their freedom
to choose better food, they are treated like criminals. Why don't we stop
trying to shove our mutated products down people's throats? Monsanto and
other countries just want to keep Africans dependent on their patented
crops. Just wait 'til some African tries to plant one; they would be sued.
How in God's green earth can you call that 'free trade'? If we let a few
corporations control the world's food supply, we WILL become extinct. The
arrogance ('fatal conceit,' as Hayek called it) of these people is
Why don't we stop taxpayer subsidies of US farm products -- that would
really help Africans, in a way that would also satisfy the Reason-TCS
crowd. If America actually treated people around the world with respect,
and traded with them all on this basis, terrorism would disappear. But
instead we pursue endless wars for corporate 'interests.' Let's get back
to natural and organic foods, and feed the people and earth, which is
crying out for deliverance from these misguided policies. Don't our
children deserve real nourishment and a clean environment?
It is difficult in the extreme to respond to the posting of 'Brent' --
since his submission is, to use the modern phrase, 'all over the show.'
The outset of his posting is to decry 'choice' -- and, like Brent, I think
it safe to say that those who favour free markets are , more importantly,
those who favour choice -- and that is precisely what GM foodstuffs give
people -- and precisely what Dr. Bate was saying : that governments which
prevent people from choices harm their citizens.
While there is not doubt that the organic foods Brent wants, almost
always, cost more than non-organic ones, those who want the poor of
Africa, and other places, to have open to them the freedom to chose to buy
GM foods certainly don't wish to deprive them of the right to buy organic
foods, if that is what they prefer. Rather, Bate, and others who would
like the poor of the world to have, at least right to make a choice to
consumer GM foods, do not, like Brent, wish to deprive consumers of
choices -- rather they wish to increase the choices which they have.
Brent, on the other hand, wishes to permit particularly the poor of the
world to have only those choices which he, in his wisdom, would impose on
them and/or constrain them to have. In this, he shares much with that
African tyrant, Robert Mugabe.
To speak to , and/or refute, the other ramblings of Brent would take much
too much space.
That said, he is at least correct when he asserts that it would be
desirable that the US (and, he should have added, other countries ) cease
to subsidise their agricultural sectors . I would add it would also be
desirable if 'tax subsidies' were not available for charitable groups,
such as anti-GM groups, the value of which is, at best, unknown. As a
result of these subsidies, there are too many resources devoted to growing
food, at current prices, and too many charitable groups like anti-GM
A Modest Proposal
- Jonathan Swift
Sentence all the self-righteous Europeans who are trying to stop GM food
from feeding starving Africans to a year of living in rural areas of
If they survive then the can go back to Europe and tell their friends that
the Africans can live without GM food.
Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM crops
- Nick Garland, UK Prime Minister's Strategy Unit,
It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Strategy Unit has today
published "Field Work: Weighing up the Costs and Benefits of GM crops".
You can view it on our website at http://www.strategy.gov.uk
The report contains:
* An explanation of where GM crops fit in to wider biotechnology and
agricultural research (i.e: GM technology is just one branch of
biotechnology; GM crops are just one set of GM organisms; and GM crops are
just one aspect of agricultural biotechnology).
* An assessment of the policy context within which GM crops are relevant -
including potential impacts on rural, agricultural, science and food
safety policies, as well as on the environment and international
* An analysis of the economic costs and benefits associated with GM crops,
and an assessment of the available evidence and its implications.
* An analysis of how the costs and benefits are likely to vary - and what
trade-offs may arise - under a range of different scenarios, including one
with no commercial cultivation of GM crops.
* An assessment of possible shocks or surprises affecting scenario
* Conclusions arising from the scenario analysis, and an explanation of
what happens next.
We hope very much that you will be able to comment on "Field Work". All
responses should be sent to arrive in the Strategy Unit by Friday 17
October. All submissions will be published on the SU website, and
forwarded on to DEFRA. Please send your comments to:
- GM Crops Team, Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, London;
Response from Sheila M. Anderson:
Mr. Garland - may I offer congratulations to you and your colleagues for
complete, balanced, and realistic insights found in GM Crops Report. There
are numerous additional benefits, perhaps more subtle. Indeed, scientific
investigation and precision enable growers to benefit from efficiencies in
the fields. Additionally, knowledge of what is being consumed with
increased detail gives comfort at the fork.
Research, with infinite possibilies, means more highly skilled jobs,
typically higher paying, for students who pursue careers in chemistry,
botany, biology, agronomy, pharmaceuticals, medicine, and more. Not only
better food, a better future, are the most significant characteristics of
this science. And, some companies are taking the fibres, produced through
crops, to create new materials, which lead to new products, with entire
new economic contributions.
In effect, the discoveries of life, at the most basic levels, are as
exciting as the discoveries of space exploration. The more we know, the
more we prosper. So I not only knowingly and gladly consume the GM
products available in my country, the US, I ask for more.
Given the bacterial risks inherent in farming with organic methods, where
one does not know with any certainty what is being consumed, given the
choice, I would never accept highly over-touted "organic" products.
Marcus Williamson chips in:
Hello Sheila - What is your commercial interest in GM crops and GM food?
Look forward to hearing from you? Thanks & regards, Marcus Williamson
Sheila Anderson responds:
I have NO commercial interest of any kind whatsoever. But, I am a consumer
of food. And, I increasingly realize that none of us know what we are
eating. "Organic" means a method of farming, but does not reveal whether
toxins, or bacteria, or viruses, or molds are in the food we consume. The
diseases and allergies people suffer from foods are not addressed in major
part. "Conventional" farming, using chemical sprays all over everything
again do not tell us what we are eating, in terms of what's inside the
plants, and trades off benefits with additional problems. Nothing is
perfect or without some risk. But, give me the food which has been studied
down to its molecular level, because then the invisible components may be
identified, and there is in the scientific technology knowledge of many
dangers, and insights into how to mitigate or totally remove them.
I don't think anyone who is ethical can object to research removing the
allergic components in peanuts, or soy, or other crops, especially if to
do saves the life of even one person. And, to use scientific exploration
of plants, leading towards enhanced nutrition, is a wonderful reason to
encourage the technologies.
And find it to be common sense that the more known about the "invisible"
components of what we all eat, the safer the food supply would be. What is
clear to me is that the discoveries of life at the molecular level are
leading to exciting, beneficial discoveries, closely regulated, carefully
tested and retested and tested again. We don't have a choice. We must eat.
I'd like to eat food someone has analyzed down to the last cell, so it is
clear that I am consuming produce without toxins left behind by the
infestation of bugs, or inherent in the cellular structure of the plants,
or has added nutrients which will last longer.
So, I question the associations and the common sense of anyone who would
raise objections to the peaceful pursuit of knowledge, and the beneficial
applications of such discoveries. I also support exploration of outer
space, for those efforts have led to my desk top computer, the use of
email, internet web sites for businesses of every kind, more electronic
monitoring goodies in my car, a mobile phone without which I probably
could not travel, etc.
Just imagine if plants can be irrigated with salt water, and the deserts
of the Middle East could be farmed, and the centuries old battles over
control of fresh water were to disappear. Is there any person on this
planet with an iota of moral sensitivity who could in good conscious say
"stop the research, abandon the science, forget about the benefits of new
technical discoveries, make excuses, and ignore the possibilities"?
Besides, if you've seen the original corn or tomatoes or know about the
history of wheat and watermelons, or the hybrid colors of roses, you know
there have been genetic modifications all along. The only difference now
is closer examination of what happens, how it happens, and how to regulate
what happens. That looks like due diligence to me, in very specific ways.
And, then there is the concept of "property". In the US, we discovered
that ownership of property is the way to give everyman, and woman, a means
to self-sufficiency. Margaret Thatcher, visiting here some years ago,
described the difference between Hong Kong and China - both with the same
people, the same culture, the same religious backgrounds, the same genetic
histories. One location without any natural resources thrived, while the
other far vaster and with natural resources struggled. What was the
Give the impoverished areas of the world enough food to live beyond mere
survival, and the legal means to protect the ideas that comes to their
minds, and step back, for they will gain. And, as they gain, the
conditions leading to terrorism and war and the threats of riots and
intimidation may be abated or disappear entirely.
Let us pray for that miracle.
Intellectual Property Rights: Public Sector Collaboration for Agricultural
Science, Vol. 301, No. 5630, Jul 11, 2003, p.174-175
- Richard C. Atkinson, Roger N. Beachy, Gordon Conway, France A. Cordova,
Marye Anne Fox, Karen A. Holbrook, Daniel F. Klessig, Richard L.
McCormick, Peter M. McPherson, Hunter R. Rawlings III, Rip Rapson, Larry
N. Vanderhoef, John D. Wiley, Charles E. Young
The fragmented ownership of rights to intellectual property (IP) in
agricultural biotechnology leads to situations where no single
public-sector institution can provide a complete set of IP rights to
ensure freedom to operate with a particular technology. This situation
causes obstacles to the distribution of improved staple crops for
humanitarian purposes in the developing world and specialty crops in the
developed world. This Policy Forum describes an initiative by the major
agricultural universities in the United States and other public-sector
institutions to establish a new paradigm in the management of IP to
facilitate commercial development of such crops.
The impact of public-sector research is evident in many technology
sectors, and this is particularly true in agriculture. Dating back to the
establishment of the Land Grant College system in 1862, universities and
other public-sector institutions have been the leaders in developing
improved crop varieties that were transferred to farms and to the
agricultural industry through cooperative extension services in the United
States or equivalent organizations internationally. However, this model is
changing rapidly because of increased intellectual property (IP)
protection of agricultural inventions, as well as the development of a
research-intensive private sector that is making notable contributions to
enhancing the productivity of U.S. agriculture. The private sector
logically focuses on crops such as corn and soybeans where markets are
large, which leaves the development of small specialty crops for the
United States and subsistence crops important to the developing world
mostly in the hands of the public sector.
In the past 25 years, fundamental changes in the nature and ownership of
innovations in basic and applied agricultural research have complicated
the mission of our public research institutions. As the importance of
biotechnology in biological research increased, the possibility of
patenting and licensing biotechnology expanded through changes in the
legal and policy framework. The Supreme Court decided in 1980, in Diamond
vs. Chakrabarty, that living, human-made microorganisms can be patented.
Also in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act was passed to encourage U.S. universities
to patent their innovations and to license them to private-sector
companies in order to encourage their commercial use (1). Since that time,
formal mechanisms for transfer of public research results to the private
sector for further development have accelerated, and there has been a
marked increase in the number of public-sector patents and the licensing
of technology to the private sector.
Agricultural technologies pose a particular challenge for university
technology transfer programs in balancing the objectives of technology
commercialization with humanitarian purposes or for applications to
specialty crops. Some offices have addressed these challenges by
instituting licensing practices that foster commercialization while
preserving rights for philanthropic purposes or by working to keep certain
technologies in the public domain (2). Similarly, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture continues its policy of making technologies broadly available
(3). However, these practices are not universally applied across
institutions, with the net result that, although many significant
discoveries and technologies have been generated with public funding,
these discoveries are no longer accessible as "public goods."
Our institutions have found that the public research sector finds itself
increasingly restricted when wishing to develop new crops with the
technologies it has itself invented, including so-called "enabling
technologies"--the research tools necessary for further experimentation
and innovation. In agricultural research, applied research and genetic
improvement of crops are derivative processes based on pre-existing plant
material, and each incremental improvement now brings with it a number of
IP and germplasm constraints that have accumulated in the plant material.
When IP rights for agricultural materials and technologies are held by
multiple public- and private-sector owners, this fragmentation produces
situations where no single institution can provide a commercial partner
with a complete set of IP rights to ensure freedom to operate (FTO) with a
particular technology (4).
Along with major commercialization problems associated with public
acceptance and regulatory approval, limited or conditional access to a
wide range of patented technologies has been identified as a significant
barrier to the applications of biotechnology in the development of new
crops. This is particularly true for subsistence and specialty crops, the
historically important work of public-sector research (5, 6). A prominent
example of the complexity resulting from fragmented technology ownership
is "GoldenRice" (pro-vitamin A rice) in which more than 40 patents or
contractual obligations associated with material transfer agreements
represented potential constraints for commercial development (7).
Large agricultural biotechnology companies have assembled the IP assets
needed to develop new crop products by investing in targeted research, by
licensing important technologies, and by a series of strategic mergers and
acquisitions. Several companies have effectively used these proprietary
technology platforms to develop new varieties of major crops that enhance
farm productivity and to reduce environmental impacts both in the United
States and internationally (8, 9). Meanwhile, work on crops of less
commercial interest has progressed slowly. Therefore, we, as leaders of
our institutions, are now collectively asking whether institutions such as
ours can do a better job in fulfilling our mission in support of
agriculture in the United States and developing countries.
One of our institutions conducted research to evaluate the structure of IP
ownership in the area of agricultural biotechnology (10). This study found
that roughly one-fourth of the patented inventions were made by
public-sector researchers (see the figure), which is substantially larger
than the IP portfolio held by any single agricultural biotechnology
company. It is, however, highly fragmented across institutions and across
technology categories. And much of this IP has been licensed, often under
terms that are confidential but which have likely resulted in greatly
restricted access to the underlying technologies.
This study suggested that, apart from a few important exceptions,
public-sector scientists have invented many of the types of technologies
that are necessary to conduct basic biological research and develop new
transgenic plant varieties. For instance, they have developed technologies
to transfer genes into plant cells, have characterized specific DNA
elements that drive unique patterns of gene expression; and have
identified many genes that confer important plant traits. Such discoveries
underscore the fact that public-sector research institutions have been
significant sources of technological innovation in agriculture. They also
suggest that, in the future, end products can still be delivered with FTO
for specific purposes.
A number of strategies can be envisioned to enhance FTO with public-sector
IP. Informed decisions regarding dissemination of new knowledge via open
publication or protecting it with a patent are clearly important. While
new technology is judiciously patented, FTO can be enhanced if
public-sector institutions systematically retain rights to use their
newest and best technologies for subsistence and specialty crop
development when they issue commercial licenses. It will also require that
they systematically make their current and future technologies known and
available to each other. We believe a collective management regime would
enable an effective assessment of FTO issues and could begin to overcome
the fragmentation of public-sector IP rights and re-establish the
necessary FTO in agricultural biotechnology for the public good, while at
the same time improving private-sector interactions by more efficiently
identifying collective commercial licensing opportunities.
To develop this strategy and to realize what we believe will be
significant benefits both for U.S. agriculture and for the world's food
security, we are establishing the Public-Sector Intellectual Property
Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA). We have been aided by the Rockefeller
and McKnight Foundations who also see the importance of PIPRA for
furthering their goals of achieving food security for the poor and
excluded of the world.
Although PIPRA is a public-sector initiative, we recognize that continuing
and enhancing our good relationships with the private sector will also be
a critical component of developing and implementing a successful
collective strategy. We have the following near-term objectives:
A review of public-sector patenting and licensing practices. We will
explore and clarify the implications of our IP patenting and licensing
practices. We will seek "best practices" that will encourage the greatest
commercial development of publicly funded research innovations while also
retaining rights that public research institutions need to fulfill their
mission of research for the broader public benefit.
A collective public IP asset database. There are several efforts under way
to develop databases of patented agricultural technologies so that
public-sector researchers can be informed about FTO obstacles at the
initiation of their research. Two of the most useful are the databases
under development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic
Research Service and at the Center for Application of Molecular Biology to
International Agriculture (CAMBIA), located in Australia (11). These
efforts, although extremely valuable, lack important information about the
most current licensing status of patented technologies. PIPRA will
complement them by developing a common database that provides an overview
of IP rights currently held by the public sector, including up-to-date
information about licensing statuses.
Shared technology packages. PIPRA is exploring the possibility of pooling
specific public-sector technologies, making technology "packages"
available to member institutions and to the private sector for commercial
licensing or, at the very least, for designated humanitarian or special
use. Patent pools have been used effectively by companies to expedite the
development and diffusion of innovations that draw on many technology
building blocks with multiple patents. Although we recognize that
public-sector institutions have little prior experience with patent
pooling, a well-known exception is Columbia University, which participated
with nine companies in the pool of patents for MPEG-2 digital video
technology, PIPRA will explore the feasibility of assembling complementary
sets of key agricultural technologies that might help public-sector
researchers obtain FTO in crop biotechnology and significantly reduce the
transaction costs now associated with negotiating the large number of
licenses required to develop a new cultivar. PIPRA will also explore
whether such packages might create additional opportunities to generate
royalty income to support public-sector research by providing convenient
one-stop-shopping for commercial licensing.
This is a new initiative for us, but one that reflects--and means to
continue--the long-standing research collaborations that have naturally
existed among agricultural scientists (among others) across institutions,
while recognizing that significant progress in biological research now
requires locating and negotiating for the use of multiple tools with many
different IP owners. More planning, thought, discussion, and participation
are needed to make this collective effort work, and our hope is that each
of you who reads this Forum will initiate discussions within your
institutions about IP management. What is the balance between the positive
effects of IP rights on your institutional mission and the limitations
these rights place on your research and your ability to apply your
discoveries for the greatest public benefit? Open up the question for
discussion, and let us know what ideas are generated. PIPRA seeks wide
participation to mobilize the full scientific capacity as well as the
underlying IP for public-sector agricultural research.
Several organizations are beginning to express their interest and support,
including the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development
(BIFAD), an advisory board on agricultural development priorities to the
U.S. Agency for International Development that involves many public-sector
research institutions (12). We urge public-sector research institutions
that are interested in joining this effort to contact us (13).
References and Notes
1 D. C. Mowery et al., Res. Pol. 30, 99 (2001).
2. R. N. Beachy, Science 299, 473 (2003).
3. M. Ruff, U.S. Department of Agriculture, personal communication.
4. M. A. Heller, R. S. Eisenberg, Science 280, 698 (1998).
5. B. D. Wright, Calif. Agric. 52(6), 8 (1998).
6. G. Conway, G. Toenniessen, Nature 402, C55 (1999).
7. R. D. Kryder, S. P. Kowalski, A. F. Krattiger, ISAAA (International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) Brief (no. 20)
8. R. H. Phipps, J. R. Park, J Anim. Feed Sci. 11, 1 (2002).
9. J. Huang, S. Rozelle, C. Pray, Q. Wang, Science 295, 674 (2002).
10. G. D. Graff, S. E. Cullen, K. J. Bradford, D. Zilberman, A. B Bennett,
11. See www.cambiaip.org
12. L. Paulson, U.S. Agency for International Development, personal
13. For more information about PIPRA, including contact information, visit
Public Good Plant Breeding Webcast
- Tracey Brown
We are pleased to announce that you can now view the webcasts from the
'Public Good Plant Breeding: what are the international priorities?' event
at the Natural History Museum on 22nd May 2003. The event was organised by
Sense About Science in association with the Natural history Museum, the
John Innes Centre and BBSRC, with thanks also to The Plant Journal.
By following the link at
you will be able to download the presentations given by Professsors M.S.
Swaminathan, Peter Raven and Phil Dale. M.S Swaminathan's webcast includes
Sir Neil Chalmer's opening comments to the event and Tracey Brown's
The meeting arose from the pressing need for international debate about
the current challenges and opportunities for plant breeding as the Green
Revolution reaches its limits. Growing pressures on the global food supply
are creating further demands on land for food and animal feed production.
While some regions over produce, others remain unable to grow what they
At the same time, we are seeing the development of new crop varieties to
address yield, pests, diseases, salinity, drought and environmental
impacts. We see new techniques for innovating plant varieties, and the
development of plants with new roles, such as for alternative energy
sources and as hosts for vaccine and antibody production.
The meeting on 22nd May was just the start. It established that it is time
to review plant breeding internationally; to think beyond the confines of
narrow arguments about some techniques and beyond what appears currently
possible to fund or commercialise. To consider plant breeding outside of
these short-term constraints needs an international discussion on the
problems to solve and the scientific capacity to do it. This will be
launched formally later in the summer. If you would like to be part of
this discussion by sending a written contribution or would like to
register for further information please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the website at
For queries or technical difficulties please contact
Kind regards, Tracey Brown, Director, Sense About Science
INDIA: Farmers In Gujarat Seeks Approval For Local (Illegal) Bt Cotton
- BharatTextile.com, July 15, 2003
Farmers in Gujarat is demanding for the approval local BT cotton
Navbharat-151 seeds, farmers complaints that government is favouring
genetically modified (GM) cotton seed of a multinational company.
About Navbharat-151 farmers says that in the recent years it has shown a
good results. Farmers say they prefer a cheaper variety called
"Navbharat-151", developed by Ahmedabad-based Navbharat Seeds Company.
GEAC had ordered last year the destruction of this illegal BT cotton. The
state government, however, did not implement the decision.
President of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, or Gujarat Farmers' Society, Bipin
Desai said that "Mahyco's BT cotton has failed everywhere and yet the
government has not withdrawn its approval, On the other hand, the
non-approved variety Navbharat-151 seeds have shown very encouraging
results in Gujarat, yet it has not received official approval. Isn't this
Samaj vice-president Labhshankar Upadhyay said "The (ruling) BJP
(Bharatiya Janata Party) talked about Swadeshi (self-reliance). But it
promotes a foreign company at the cost of an Indian firm. And we stand to
lose,". "The government-approved variety has failed, and farmers should
be compensated by the government. Isn't it surprising that the approved
variety failed, and the unofficial variety gave better results?" Upadhyay
BT cottonseeds have been genetically engineered to produce a toxin that
can kill the bollworm that harms crops and is a major headache for cotton
farmers. The farmers have demanded that Navbharat-151 seeds should be
officially approved at the earliest, as they have given higher yields,
compared to the officially approved variety. "And even if no permission
is granted to Navbharat-151, farmers are not going to stop sowing the same
as it has been more effective in fighting bollworms," said Upadhyay.
The Samaj has estimated that farmers have benefited to the tune of
Rs.6,000 to Rs.8,000 per acre with the use of Navbharat-151 seeds. "As
the Navbharat crop requires less time, some farmers were able to take a
second crop and earn Rs.8,000 to Rs.10,000 more at the end of the year,"
The two leaders also cited a report prepared by a committee of experts
appointed by the state government to study the BT cotton scenario. The
committee recommended in November 2002 that the approval granted to the
Mahyco variety be reviewed and the case of Navbharat-151 and similar
varieties be reconsidered "in the interest of farmers".
"Navbharat-151 BT cottonseeds have been planted by farmers in large areas.
As they have given good yields this year, there is a possibility of
increase in the area under cultivation for Navbharat seeds. "Therefore,
the government should recognise the seeds and let farmers increase
production, increase quality and benefit economically," the committee