Today in AgBioView: August 20, 2003:
* Removing fears about biotechnology
* Farmers and contracts -- a response to the Andrew Apel post
* Kenya grapples with biosafety leg
* Genetic food ban battled
* Economists seek ideas to fight African food shortage
* Confusion continues over Cartagena Protocol
* Gene Flow Common, But Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Raise New Concerns
About Age-Old Phenomena
* Research Ethics and the Innovation Process
* Innovative Processes, Not Just Products, Are Targets for Activists
* The Power Of Innovation
* Insatiable Taste for Gloom
Removing fears about biotechnology
Source: Duncan Mboyah, Kenya, 19 August 2003
Scientists need to communicate with the public in easily understood
language to dispel anxiety about biotechnology, United States scientist
Professor C.S Prakash has said.
Addressing a scientist's communication workshop on biotechnology in
Nairobi, Kenya recently, Professor Prakash of Tuskegee University told
scientists to stop communicating to fellow scientists only.
Lack of proper communication of agricultural biotechnology issues to the
public, policy makers and journalists was to blame for the
misunderstanding of new technology in the world and especially Africa,
Professor Prakash said.
As result of this, negative media publicity had raised the public's
anxiety since they were unaware of the safeguards surrounding
"Learn to speak to society through easily understood language, so that the
latest inventions can be adopted without resistance," said Professor
Prakash, who also noted that the future of biotechnology hinged on how it
was perceived by policy makers and the public.
Professor Prakash observed it was unfortunate that public concerns over
the safety of genetically modified foods and their environmental and
socio-economic impacts had neither been addressed by scientists nor
communicated in a way the public could understand.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) had been consumed by millions of
people in the US for the last four years without any harmful effects,
after 15 years of thorough testing, he said.
Professor Prakash told scientists to respond to misinformation about
biotechnology, network with journalists, write newspaper commentaries and
give regular lectures at public forums in a bid to allay public fears.
Kenyan legislators attending the workshop suggested more forums were
necessary to enable them to understand what biotechnology was all about,
before the country's national Biosafety Framework Bill was taken to
Parliament for enactment later this year.
"From the look of things, biotechnology is a very noble idea of
eradicating poverty, but unfortunately the public and the legislators do
not understand the protocols and conventions guiding it," legislator
Mwancha Okioma said.
From the workshop, he could single out biotechnology as one way of
eradicating poverty amongst his constituents and henceforth improving the
country's economy, Mr Okioma said.
Legislator Betty Tett observed that anything new in man's environment was
feared until explanations were given to enable acceptance.
Executive Director of New Zealand's Life Sciences Network (LSN), Francis
Wevers told the workshop that when GMOs were introduced in his country,
there was a lot of unbalanced media coverage, uninformed journalists and
He noted that even scientists were fearful, as was the risk averse
agricultural business community.
In response to the confusion, the LSN was formed with membership from
universities, research institutes, national farmers' organizations and
national industry and export organizations, to help assuage public fears.
"Our strategy was to engage, educate and inform journalists, politicians
and different stakeholders," Mr Wevers said.
The strategy was necessary as opponents of GMOs were organized, committed,
small in number but vocal and had strong links with the New Zealand Green
Mr. Wevers noted that in its message, the LSN explained the appropriate
regulation for public assurance, case-by-case assessment of risks and
benefits, and science based decision-making.
"Out of this campaign, we achieved balanced media coverage, anti-GMO
campaigns lost political attention and a recent anti-GMO protest in the
capital city attracted less than one hundred people," Mr Wevers said.
Members of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) were
advised to avoid attacking individuals opposed to them, to always use a
scientific basis for their statements and to build alliances in order to
have a broad base of support outside agricultural biotechnology.
"It is through this approach that the New Zealand Government allowed
importation, development and release of GMOs, regulated by the
Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA)."
Kenyan journalist Mr. John Wachai told participants that very few
newspapers in Africa have science editors since most institutions offering
media training do not have specialised training departments.
"Renowned journalism training institutions such as Nairobi University,
Daystar University and the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication trained
general journalists, and those writing science issues at the moment do so
out of their own choice," he said.
Mr Wachai challenged scientists to present their facts in a simple manner
to enable journalists to communicate the issues to the public, some of
whom had never been to school.
He commended ABSF for offering training opportunities for science
journalists in the region, and appealed to other organizations to come
foreword and help equip journalists with scientific skills to enable them
to communicate new developments in science with to the public.
An entomologist with CAB International Dr. Walter Ogutu told participants,
including scientists from 12 African countries, to adopt the New Zealand
communication methodology of involving the concerned parties and the
Dr Ogutu observed that the approach, which is equivalent to the bottom up
approach in development, could make society see the new technology as
"It is even better to send our legislators, scientists, journalists and
other stakeholders to New Zealand for a fact finding mission on the
viability of GMOs," Dr Ogutu suggested, reacting to a call from
legislators for time to see for themselves how GM foods have been adopted
in other countries, before they enact Kenya's Biosafety Bill that will
legalise importation and production of GM crops.
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Farmers and contracts -- a response to the Andrew Apel post
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2003 18:07:38 -0500
Several days ago, Andrew Apel wrote about a farmer who signed a contract
in which the farmer promised that his crop would be 100% free of
transgenic material. When the crop was not 100% free, the purchaser
refused the crop (or at most, accepted the crop without any premiums for
being 100% free). As Andrew correctly pointed out in his post, the farmer
thought he had lost organic certification when in fact and in law the
farmer had not lost organic certification. What the farmer had done was
to promise more than the farmer could reasonably expect to control. What
advice about remedies for the farmer?
1. Farmers should not sign contracts containing clauses promising crops
100% free of transgenic traits. Farmers should sign contracts that only
contain promises that the farmers can control and prove. For example, the
farmer can sign a contract stating that the farmer has planted seed stated
by the seed dealer to be non-transgenic seed; the farmer can state that
the farmer has taken reasonable care to avoid transgenic traits in the
crop. The farmer should not promise that the crop will be 100% free of
transgenic traits at delivery because of cross-pollination between
transgenic and non-transgenic crops or possible mixture in transportation
or harvesting equipment.
2. When a farmer has signed a contract like the one described by Andrew
Apel, the farmer possibly has a claim for fraud or unconscionability,
depending upon the actual negotiations between the farmer and the
purchaser. However, claims for fraud or unconscionability in situations
like the one described by Andrew are very difficult to win on either legal
or factual grounds. Freedom to contract means that farmers must read and
understand the contracts they sign. Freedom of contract means that
generally parties to a contract are allowed to agree to the quality
specifications of the product unless there are lies in the negotiations
(fraud) or unless a clause is oppressive (unconscionability).
3. The farmer may have a claim for fraud depending on how the purchaser
of the crop treated the crop upon delivery. If the purchaser simply
rejected the crop, the farmer has the crop and can sell it on the open
market like a commodity crop. The farmer loses the premium that farmer
had hoped to gain but the farmer did produce a crop.
If the purchaser accepted the crop but paid only the commodity price, the
farmer likely wants to know what the purchaser did with the crop. If the
purchaser used the crop as a non-GMO crop (or even as an organic crop),
the purchaser may have committed a fraud at the time of the purchase. For
example, Korea allows 3% transgenic traits or less to be labeled as
non-GMO; Japan allows 5% tolerance. In other words, if the purchaser
rejected the crop by saying that the presence of a low level of transgenic
traits made the crop solely a commodity crop, but the purchaser then in
fact used the farmer's crop as a non-GMO crop in the Korean/Japanese
markets (because the farmer's crop had, as an hypothetical, only 0.8%
transgenic traits), the purchaser may have committed a fraud by the
4. If the farmer lives in Minnesota, Minnesota statutes sections 17.90 to
17.984 set forth statutory provisions relating to agricultural contracts.
Organic production contracts fall within the coverage of these statutes.
One requirement, among many, of these statutes is that purchasers using
agricultural contracts, on a cover sheet to the contract, must disclose
the material risks of the contract. Rejection for failure to meet the
quality standards may be a material risk that must be disclosed in plain
English on the cover sheet. Failure to abide by these Minnesota statutes
relating to agricultural contracts can carry various civil and
The farmer may contract the Minnesota Attorney General's office, if the
farmer thinks that these Minnesota statutes have been violated. The
Minnesota AG has an ombudsman who is to help with disputes arising from
agricultural contracts. The Minnesota AG also has investigatory power
relating to alleged unfair practices in agricultural contracts.
Iowa and Indiana have comparable statutes, much less comprehensive, to the
Minnesota statutes about agricultural contracts. The Iowa statutes are, I
think, on the Iowa Attorney General website.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
300 Timberdell Road
Norman, OK 73019-5081 U.S.A.
Kenya grapples with biosafety leg
Source: Kimani Chege, Kenya, 19 August 2003
African biotechnology crusaders are working around the clock to convince
their governments to embrace technology as a remedy to the food crisis in
Through workshops and brain storming sessions with policy makers,
scientists and crop-biology experts are assertively lobbying for the
passing of key biosafety legislation.
In Kenya biotech enthusiasts recently organized a three-day communication
workshop, in which members of Parliament shared their thoughts about
biotechnology with scientists.
Under the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), an international
biotechnology group, the meeting sought better ways of convincing policy
makers to pass legislation that supported biotechnology.
The meeting was addressed by top scientists from all over the world,
including Professor. C S Prakash from Tuskegee University in the United
States and the Executive Director of the Life Sciences Network in New
Zealand, Francis Wevers.
Kenyan parliamentarians requested more information from scientists to help
them understand the science involved in biotechnology, before any Bill is
introduced in Parliament.
Kenya is in the process of drafting a biosafety Bill and biotechnology
policy that will help the country undertake the research and adoption of
Research and trials with genetically improved sweet potato, Bt maize and
Irish potato are currently going on at the Government's Kenya Agricultural
Research Institute (KARI), in collaboration with major international
Tissue culture technology on banana, cassava, and citrus has been embraced
in Kenya with much enthusiasm. However further developments have been
hampered by ineffective laws and policy maker's lack of information about
The country is presently acting under a set of rules developed in 1998 to
guide it on the adoption of biotechnology.
The story is the same for other countries in Africa, who are developing
laws to cope with the technology as it emerges. Only South Africa and
Nigeria have active biotech laws, which are still under review.
Zambia, a country that shocked the world by rejecting genetically modified
food donations when the country was starving, is showing some change in
Recently scientists and academics at Zambia University developed a
biotechnology society to help advocate the technology in the country. The
Biotechnology Outreach Society of Zambia (BOSZ) will mount an aggressive
awareness campaign that will involve all stakeholders to discuss issues
relating to biotechnology.
Genetic food ban battled
Even if EU markets open, farmers face resistance from consumers
By WARREN GILES
The U.S., Canada and Argentina called on the World Trade Organization to
outlaw a European Union ban on genetically engineered foods that U.S.
farmers say has cost them $1 billion in lost sales over five years.
The world's three biggest growers of gene-altered crops asked the
Geneva-based trade arbiter to order the EU to lift a roadblock to
approving modified seeds that a French-led group of six countries put up
in 1998. The EU counters that it has taken away the barrier.
"Every step of the process has been completed, but still there are no new
approvals," said Lisa Dry, communications director for the Biotechnology
Industry Organization, which represents Monsanto Co. and other genetic
engineering companies in the U.S. "If that's not a moratorium, I don't
know what is."
At stake for the U.S. are markets for transgenic seeds produced by
companies including Monsanto, Dow Chemical Co. and Pioneer Hi-Bred
International, a unit of DuPont Co., to help farmers grow crops that
resist pests and disease. The U.S. argues that other countries, from
Brazil to Zambia, are using the EU's restriction to justify prohibitions
on the crops.
Poor countries, especially in Africa, could improve their food security
and curb hunger if they invested in that technology, President Bush has
The EU says labeling legislation it approved last month makes the case at
the WTO irrelevant. U.S. farm and food groups have called on the Bush
administration to challenge those regulations, too.
The U.S. on Monday made the formal request to constitute a trade panel in
Geneva, which the EU blocked. Under WTO rules, the U.S. can repeat the
request before the end of the month, and the EU won't be able to stop the
case from progressing.
A trade ruling will address only part of the issue. European consumers
oppose foods derived from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, surveys
show. Opponents cite economic, environmental and health concerns,
including worries that a handful of companies will control food
supplies.The crops are produced through artificial insertion of genetic
material from other organisms, including bacteria.
More than 70 percent of European say they won't eat genetically modified
foods, even if they are cheaper, according to an EU survey.
The European Commission, which drew up the new labeling laws that make
genetically modified organisms traceable through the food chain, says
approval of those rules by the EU's 15 member states enables the six
nations behind the moratorium to drop their prohibition on new products.
The EU has threatened to take the six - France, Germany, Italy, Austria,
Luxembourg and Greece - to court to press them to approve new biotech
Economists seek ideas to fight African food shortage
August 19, 2003
Policymakers meeting at Durban conference know that the need for economic
recovery on the continent is urgent
International Affairs Editor
WITH a recovery in agriculture central to a wider African economic
recovery, it is likely that policy makers will be looking to this week's
conference of agricultural economists being held in Durban for some fresh
The urgent need for African economic recovery is clear. SubSaharan Africa
is the only region in the world to have experienced a large increase in
the number of undernourished people in the past 30 years.
If this trend continues, Africa cannot possibly meet one of the Millennium
Development goals of halving hunger in 30 years.
There have been some gains in African agriculture recently, but there have
been some spectacular disasters too.
Nine years ago, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe opened the meeting of
the International Association of Agriculture Economists, a body which
brings together international economists from research, academic and
Then, Zimbabwe was an example to Africa for both small- and large-scale
agriculture. Today the country is in deep crisis with more than half the
population dependent on food aid.
Zimbabwe is likely to be discussed at the conference this week, although
it is not on the formal agenda.
In many ways Zimbabwe shows the limitations and frustrations of
agricultural economists and that agricultural recovery is firmly in the
hands of politicians in certain countries.
"Economists can turn around lots of things, but not fundamental governance
problems," says the outgoing president of the association, Joachim von
Braun, who is also the director-general of the Washington-based
International Food Policy Research Institute.
He says there are issues that donors and governments should address as a
matter of urgency to bring rapid, proven results to the problems and
challenges facing African agriculture.
Market access to advanced industrial countries is one of the issues near
the top of his list for agricultural recovery, but the institute's team is
not hopeful the World Trade Organisation talks in Cancun next month will
solve this problem.
If agricultural protection is lifted in developing countries, a number of
studies suggest that Africa will see a $3bn annual increase in national
income, as agriculture makes up 30% of the continent's exports.
Von Braun would like to see greater public investment in rural
infrastructure, such as roads, storage facilities, and banking.
Although agriculture makes up between 25%- 50% of most sub-Saharan
countries' gross domestic product, investment in agricultural
infrastructure is only between 4% and 6%.
During the 1980s and 1990s most African governments embarked on
fundamental economic reforms to their pricing regimes to lower the
discrimination against their domestic agricultural sectors.
Most governments have depreciated their exchange rates and allowed farm
gate prices to rise, giving farmers a greater incentive. But the lack of
infrastructure continues to bedevil efforts to make markets work more
Price volatility is far greater where infrastructure does not allow
farmers to get their produce to larger markets, and allow consumers a
choice of where to purchase products.
In some situations, says David Orden, a senior research fellow at the
institute, prices can vary by as much as a factor of four, depending on
local conditions. This makes it very difficult for farmers to be guided by
The institute's team underscores the need for improved seed, resistant to
drought, to make recovery possible.
Von Braun says he is somewhat encouraged by the development of the Nerica
rice variety because of its reduced need for water as well as its higher
yields. But, he says, what is really required is greater drought
resistance in Africa's staples, particularly maize, sorghum, cassava, and
Because of Africa's mainly dry conditions, pests and complex diseases, he
believes that in the long run the continent cannot do without genetically
modified crops if there is to be any sustained agricultural recovery.
Many African countries are taking their time to decide whether or not to
allow modified varieties out of fear that their export crops could be
excluded from European Union markets.
But governance remains the overarching issue for Von Braun. Economic
reform is not enough when there are problems of rule of law because
agriculture can only grow if there is long-term stability, he says.
The institute is hosting an AllAfrica conference in Uganda next year, to
discuss assuring food and nutrition security on the continent by 2020.
The theme of the Durban conference is Reshaping Agriculture's
Contributions to Society.
Delegates will grapple with the fact that demands on the agricultural
sector are continually increasing.
In developing countries, agriculture, fisheries and forests are required
to supply expanding demand. But they are also being asked to address
chronic rural poverty and food insecurity problems, and become more
In transitional economies the task of structural and institutional
adjustments remains at the fore, as do the rules of trade engagement
between different groups of countries.
The challenge is to reshape agriculture and the food chain to meet the
demands of society.
The mission is to bring together economists and leading policy makers to
debate and generate a better understanding of the way the new agenda might
Confusion continues over Cartagena Protocol
On September 11, the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety will officially
become international law. The protocol governs the trade of genetically
modified organisms, seeds and other agricultural commodities that contain
genes spliced into their DNA from other plants and animals through modern
The agreement has been blocked, stalled, and at times ignored. But now
that the protocol will become international law, the real question now is:
Will states comply?
The Cartagena Protocol is the first international agreement regulating the
trade and movement of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although it
covers a wide swath of such commodities, the protocol was careful not to
tread into the trade of processed foods, which is by far the largest
volume of GM exports.
So while the protocol covers the trade in genetically modified soybeans,
it does not cover soy sauce made with such soybeans.
Despite this fact, processed foods, along with biopharmaceuticals, were
the two sticking points that the United States and a coalition of
GM-exporting countries such as Argentina, Australia and Canada--the
so-called Miami Group--eventually managed to exclude from the scope of the
protocol in its negotiations.
Concern about compliance mostly revolves around the fact that the United
States is not a member of the protocol. This has caused some countries to
quietly voice concern about the possible fallout should the United States
or other nonmembers force them to decide between accepting its GM exports
or facing the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement body for
violating free trade rules.
The protocol was stalled for nearly three years as uncertainty over its
future and concern about trade implications created a serious lack of
enthusiasm among countries and led many of them to question whether to go
through the expensive implementation process.
Eventually the Europeans, who are generally adverse to GMO imports, came
to the rescue and pushed the World Bank's Global Environment Facility to
fund a 36 million dollars implementation program that set up legal
frameworks and provided the incentives and the know-how to prepare the
treaty to be passed in the necessary number of parliaments and come into
At the heart of the protocol is an information-sharing system that allows
countries to ascertain whether a scientific assessment has been conducted,
evaluating the potential impacts and risks of the GMO. Based on this
assessment, the country can make an informed decision on whether the GMO
should be permitted in the country, restricted, or banned altogether.
There has been tremendous concern over the impact of GMOs on human health
(anti-GMO activists have dubbed it "Frankenfood"), but the protocol's main
object is environmental protection--preventing genetically altered seeds
and agricultural commodities that could, if not checked, enter into a
local ecosystem and upset the local biodiversity, create super-weeds or
inadvertently contaminate natural crops.
A soft underbelly that the United States may use to its advantage is the
protocol's potential conflict with WTO rules. The differences between the
protocol and the WTO were never satisfactorily resolved during the
protocol's negotiation phase, and there remains uncertainty over which
agreement will prevail under international law.
Some of the problems between the agreements are procedural, such the
criteria used for conducting risk assessments. But there are more
The protocol and the WTO have very different interpretations of the
precautionary principle: The WTO is quite strict, while the protocol has a
much less rigorous approach.
In February 2004 the protocol's members will meet officially for the first
time in Kuala Lumpur and are expected to activate a built-in clause that
obligates parties to begin negotiating mandatory labeling requirements for
commodities. This also is a concern for the WTO as a potential technical
If it is the case that the United States is going on the offensive in the
battle of GMO versus non-GMO worlds, then the Cartagena Protocol could be
the only safe haven for those countries wishing to reject GM imports and
take legal refuge in a multilateral treaty.
But only time will tell if it will be strong enough to counter more
entrenched agreements such as those under the WTO and if the entry into
force of the Cartagena Protocol will mean the end of the beginning or the
beginning of the end for a GM-safe environment.
Gene Flow Common, But Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Raise New Concerns
About Age-Old Phenomena
New Brief from Pew Initiative Summarizes Issues about Spread of Transgenic
Washington, DC - Gene flow is not unique to genetically modified crops
(GM), but the possible spread of transgenic DNA to wild and domesticated
relatives raises a new set of issues for scientists and policymakers to
consider, according to a new issue brief released today by the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
The brief, titled "Have Transgenes, Will Travel: Issues Raised by Gene
Flow From Genetically Engineered Crops," summarizes the ecological and
economic concerns experts mention when considering what could happen if
novel traits from transgenic crops spread to other populations. It was
developed as an accessible introduction to the issues for non-scientists
and draws heavily on articles and interviews with leading plant
researchers. Highlights include:
* A primary ecological concern is that transgenic plants will breed with
wild relatives and confer a trait not otherwise found in nature to the
resulting plant, thereby altering the gene pool for that crop and
(potentially) threatening biodiversity.
* Economists have pointed out that specialty markets (such as organic
crops) could be harmed economically if genetic material from transgenic
plants were to spread and mix with a crop intended to exclude transgenic
* Despite the theoretical concerns presented by gene flow, it is unclear
if the spread of DNA from transgenic crops is an ecological help or a
hinderance. Depending on the type of trait passed on, the general fitness
of a plant could increase or decrease as a result of acquiring that trait.
* Concerns about gene flow from transgenic plants could be addressed by
technologies currently under development that, if applied, could render GM
crops sterile and unable to breed.
Gene flow is not peculiar to transgenic plants. It happens any time one
plant breeds with a related species, thus passing along their combined
genes to offspring. Some argue that gene flow from GM plants raises unique
concerns and deserves special attention because GM plants have the
capacity to spread novel traits into surrounding crops and ecosystems via
pollen or seed. Others, however, have argued that gene flow has happened
since the beginning of time, can be thoughtfully controlled and is not a
sufficient reason to stop the adoption of a powerful technology like
"Gene flow is a natural process, but the introduction of biotechnology has
brought new attention to the process and raised both economic and
ecological issues," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew
Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. "As new transgenic crops are tested
and grown, preventing unwanted gene flow to other crops will present
technical and regulatory challenges as well as possible economic conflict.
We also need a better understanding of transgenic gene flow into wild
plant populations if we are to frame appropriate policies. This brief is
intended to help explain to policymakers and the public what is known and
not known about transgenic gene flow."
The brief can be viewed at
The Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes invites
you to attend (or remotely access by web) our next Innovation Seminar:
Research Ethics and the Innovation Process
Thursday, August 21, 3:00 in EGRC Building, Room 313
Dr. Gary L. Comstock, an internationally recognized philosopher and
director of the Ethics Program at North Carolina State University, will
discuss three ethical concerns that arise the innovation process. In the
discovery phase, these concerns focus on the honesty and integrity of
individual researchers. In the start-up phase, questions revolve around
potential conflicts of interest between university faculty members'
allegiances to their students and their businesses. In the technology
transfer or consumer acceptance stage, concerns focus on potential
conflicts between the values of transparent, democratic, decision-making
and utilitarian maximization of benefits. Comstock will suggest ways to
address these concerns, and leaving time for audience participation.
The link for web viewing is:
Dr. Comstock is perhaps best known as the founder of the Bioethics
Institute, a faculty development workshop that has helped hundreds of life
scientists from around the world to integrate discussions of ethics into
their courses. Dr. Comstock recently published the book, "Vexing Nature?
On the Ethical Case Against Agricultural Biotechnology." It explains how,
after writing essays against genetic engineering, he changed his mind to
become a "cautious proponent" of genetically modified foods. He also
edited the book, "Life Science Ethics."
Prior to his current position, Dr. Comstock was professor at Iowa State
University. He has held an appointment at Oregon State University; is a
Member of the Center of Theological Inquiry, at Princeton; past president
of the Society for Agriculture and Human Values; and a popular speaker
who has lectured in Asia, Europe, Central America, and Canada. His work
has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, and Bulgarian. In 1998 he
won his Colleges Award for Excellence in Outreach. Dr. Comstock has served
as principal investigator or project director on more than fifteen grants
totaling more than a million dollars, including major awards from NSF and
USDA. He earned his Ph.D. from University of Chicago and his B.A. from
Innovative Processes, Not Just Products, Are Targets for Activists
By Michael Schrage, Michael
Absolutely no animals were harmed testing the safety of this page.
Copyediting was not outsourced to child labor in developing countries. To
my knowledge, no genetically modified organisms were used in this
magazine's paper production or pulping process. Please don't boycott my
Global innovators are challenged by an intensifying commercial challenge
not only to create new products, but also to justify the processes they
employ to produce those products. Colorful cosmetics that make us prettier
are wonderful; cruelly testing them on animals is not. Creative fashions
made of affordable new textiles are terrific; ruthlessly exploiting
third-world child labor to produce them is not. Herbicide-free grains and
vitamin-enriched vegetables are healthy innovations; unless, of course,
they're the wicked Frankenfood monstrosities of recombinant DNA.
Processes, not products, have become the prime targets of activists,
regulators, and litigators who recognize that the most cost-effective way
to disrupt the introduction of a new kind of technology is to shatter the
vital links of its supply chain. Global innovations no longer compete
purely on features, functionality, and price; they compete on the global
processes that create them. Because the manufacture of novel products can
require novel processes, the most innovative companies prove particularly
vulnerable to the most inventive activists.
That means successful innovators had better be clever and comprehensive
about their marketing of both how they innovate and what they innovate.
The tale of genetically modified foods in Europe, the United States, and
Africa offers a perfect case study in the pitfalls of process-marketing
Bitter disagreements over genetic modification on both sides of the pond
make intercontinental disputes concerning the United Nations and the
environment look tame. Europeans have been consistently hostile to the
introduction of genetic engineering into the food chain. They say
genetically modified foods are innovations that represent the unknown, the
untested, the unsafe, and the inherently unnatural. A coterie of French
chefs has organized public boycotts of genetically engineered foods in
their restaurants, and these chefs have encouraged other fine dining
establishments across the continent to follow suit. Indeed, activist
Europeans have had an effect. Several African countries have refused
genetically modified seeds and foods from the United States, despite
chronic food shortages that threaten the health of their people. The
coordinated opposition to such processes and products is as global as any
By consistently lobbing clumsy responses to public criticism, such
genetic-engineering pioneers as Monsanto have been the nascent
technology's own worst enemies. These companies have placed themselves in
the awkward position of arguing that their new processes don't
fundamentally change the products--as if manipulating the molecules of a
tomato to extend its "freshness" doesn't really change the fruit. A large
part of the industrialized world--literally and figuratively--isn't buying
Indeed, the purveyors of genetically modified foods have been so
thoroughly demonized that they now seek regulatory protection worldwide,
and they are fighting all efforts that would force their customers to
disclose whether they use any genetic engineering in their products. In
other words, what might have been seen as a "feature" in an altered tomato
is being regarded as a "bug." Opponents of modified foods dismiss the
notion that genetic engineering might allow for foods that are less
expensive, more robust and every bit as safe and nourishing as so-called
No simple or obvious market solution exists for the innovators of
genetically modified food or for any company looking to tread new ground
in any industry. Much like companies that are obligated to comply with
international process standards to signal their investment in quality,
innovators are also being challenged to more fully disclose their
compliance. A software company might produce better, faster, and cheaper
products by outsourcing its development to Russia, and that's information
many key customers may want to know. The Pentagon, for example, might look
askance at certain security subsystems' being coded and tested in St.
Petersburg. Perhaps public school systems will be precluded from acquiring
PCs whose motherboards were produced by underage laborers in Malaysia.
Soccer moms may want to avoid purchasing cosmetics that were tested on
To the extent that human rights, economic development, and public safety
issues might become purchasing criteria of early adopters, innovators will
have to focus both time and care on assuring critical consumers that the
integrity of the processes match the value propositions of the technical
developments. Innovators now need "process" marketers to complement their
"product" marketers. The dark underbelly of the processes that generate a
brilliant innovation may ultimately subvert its success in the future
For companies that aspire to global reach, branding their processes will
matter as much as branding their products. Treating supply chains as
separate and distinct from the products they create will be impossible.
The Power Of Innovation
Business Today (India)
August 31, 2003
By Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
National pride to me symbolises the convergence of the aspirations of our
people with the political vision of the country. Over the last decade,
there has been a great shift in national pride-for the better. In the
1990s, national pride emphasised our past achievements. Today, it's about
our confidence in the future. In the past, we basked in the glory of our
forefathers, but today we perceive ourselves as creators of new history,
directing our own destinies. The ''Made in India'' label is no longer
something that we need to defend. Rather, it is something that we can
project with a sense of national pride. Information technology has
provided India with a powerful branding platform, which has raised
national pride to an all-time high. We've gone from being a non-brand to
being a known-brand.
In the coming decades, Brand India will only get more powerful. As
information, innovation, and imagination will be the prime drivers of the
new knowledge economy. And India-as a rich reservoir of these
attributes-is ideally placed to emerge as its new leader. Today,
biotechnology is playing an increasingly important role in addressing
unmet medical needs, augmenting food and agricultural production, and
addressing environmental sustainability. Therefore, I perceive
biotechnology as the next big economic opportunity for Brand India.
Research and development (R&D) is the soul of this emerging domain and
India exhibits global advantage through its large reservoir of scientific
talent, engineering prowess in process development and manufacturing, and
rapidly developing clinical research capabilities.
Success in biotechnology will largely depend on our ability to offer
high-value innovation at lower costs. It is, therefore, imperative to
evolve fiscal and regulatory policies that address issues such as capital
intensive research and manufacturing, long gestation timelines for product
commercialisation, and investments in patenting and technology licensing.
Biotechnology has the potential to generate revenues worth $5 billion (Rs
23,000 crore) and create a million skilled jobs over the next five years.
This can propel India into a significant position in the global arena.
However, the biotech sector is burdened with enormous economic
expectations. In spite of the fact that the nation strives to attain
global recognition for its biotech capabilities, government policies do
not reflect its global aspirations. Investment is inadequate, funding is
scarce, infrastructure is expensive, and regulatory regimes are deficient.
Despite the difficult environment, entrepreneurs are bravely setting up
new ventures in the country. What this reflects is an intrinsic belief in
biotech as a business of the future.
Although India is a signatory to WTO and trips, investors remain sceptical
about the protection of intellectual property (IP). International
investors and VCS continue to voice their concern and Indian industry
finds it difficult to allay these fears. However, 2005-when the new patent
regime comes into force-will likely prove to be a watershed year. I expect
a boom in foreign investment in R&D. Already several biotech companies
have managed to cross these IP hurdles and are now successfully working
with international partners on the basis of confidentiality and
non-disclosure agreements. These spell out the terms of sharing potential
intellectual property that is likely to emanate from such partnerships.
Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has a greater difficulty in
demonstrating its support for an internationally compliant patent regime
that ensures protection of IP. For the two industries to grow and to
foster original research, it is imperative that our national policy
signals an environment that provides for protection of IP and data
Emulating Successful Models
Custom research is a services model that most Indian biotech companies
have opted for at the start-up stage in order to earn early revenues to
fund infrastructure and salaries. These companies plan to move on to the
product development phase once they attain profit levels sufficient enough
to sustain original R&D. There also exist opportunities to move up the
value chain through discovery-led research programmes on shared IPR and
milestone payments. However, this again depends on the existence of a
strong patent regime. This segment is expected to generate revenues in
excess of $1 billion (Rs 4,600 crore) by 2010.
Biogenerics is another low-risk route that is being pursued by biotech
companies in the country. Not only are the regulatory hurdles in India for
such biogenerics lower than those in the US and Europe, but also the
market opportunities are more immediate. What's significant about the
biogenerics business is that it offers India an opportunity to become a
leader in the area of recombinant protein producing technologies based on
expression vectors (the piece of DNA that contains all of the functional
domains for replication) that is not yet commercialised in the US and
As of January 2003, there are four indigenously developed biogenerics in
the Indian market: Recombinant Hepatitis B Vaccine, Interferon Alpha 2b,
Erythropoeitin and GCSF. The year ahead is expected to see the launch of
Recombinant Human Insulin, Streptokinase, and Recombinant Cholera vaccine.
Monoclonal antibody technology is also being developed indigenously. This
is expected to provide the biotech sector with a manufacturing advantage
and, more importantly, high value intellectual property.
The regulatory approval of BT Cotton in 2002 has provided a fillip to the
future of genetically modified crops. The ambivalence of Europe and some
other countries over genetic manipulation offers India an opportunity to
become a global player in agri-biotechnology. Added to this is the
discovery opportunities in the area of phyto-pharmaceuticals.
India's software skills offer us an edge in bioinformatics. The
opportunities stretch across the value chain from clinical data management
and instrumentation software development to mining of genomic and
proteomic data. Several global companies have established informatics
divisions in India to take advantage of cost competitive skills in data
management, structure analysis, and data mining.
Bioinformatics is a segment that offers attractive innovation and
discovery opportunities to Indian biotech companies in designing new drug
molecules, mining novel bio-markers, generating new pharmaco-genomic data
and creating high value medical wisdom based on phenotypic and genotypic
data. The first such software program for Type II Diabetes Mellitus is
currently being validated on extended patient populations. Therefore, in
the years ahead, we can expect a large number of collaborative initiatives
among software, biotech and pharma companies.
India's vast population provides enormous clinical research opportunities.
The cost of drug development is largely attributed to the cost of
conducting clinical trials. It's an expensive and long-drawn process that
tests the drug on an increasing number of subjects. Indian CROs (Clinical
Research Organisations) have an opportunity to access the $10 billion (Rs
46,000 crore) global market for clinical trials. The presence of a large
talent pool of medical and para-medical professionals is conducive to
building a strong clinical development infrastructure. A government policy
to permit Phase 1-4 clinical trials is on the anvil. The sector is likely
to play a major role in India's biotech future. CROs across the world
already have recognised the opportunity in the country and set up shop in
anticipation of policy changes.
Apart from Phase 1-4 clinical trials, Indian companies have a large
commercial opportunity in pre-clinical and ''proof of concept'' studies,
which can allow biotech companies in, say, the us and Europe to
forward-integrate their drug development programmes at lower costs and
shorter lead times. This could also serve as a low-cost validation option,
even if these trials were required to be repeated in the West.
Alternatively, the monetary risk could be shared with an Indian partner
who is keen to backward integrate into research and discovery. Such
bio-partnering opportunities need to be encouraged strongly by the VC
community as a de-risking strategy.
The Indian biotechnology sector is in its early phase of development and,
arguably, at a relatively low level on the value chain. But the country
has everything it needs to take biotech to a higher level. There are
approximately 200 biotechnology companies in the country, with a combined
revenue of $500 million (Rs 2,300 crore) and 10,000 scientists in their
research programmes. There are 40 national research laboratories employing
15,000 scientists. There are more than 300 college-level educational and
training institutes offering degrees and diplomas in biotechnology,
bioinformatics and the biological sciences, producing nearly 500,000
students on an annual basis. There are more than 100 medical colleges that
churn out 10,000 qualified medical practitioners every year.
Given this vast pool of skilled researchers, India is in a good position
to create a biotechnology business that is globally competitive. The
sector is gradually building critical mass both in terms of infrastructure
as well as markets. Our success in building a global business will depend
on the industry's ability to apply its people resource in a knowledge
intensive manner, and create niches in areas such as phyto-pharmaceuticals
and drug development. A strong patent regime, regulatory reforms that
permit Phase I clinical trials, and pragmatic fiscal support to R&D will
enable India to realise its global aspirations in biotechnology.
Insatiable Taste for Gloom
The Christchurch Press (New Zealand)
August 16, 2003
by Denis Dutton
You've heard the news: after years of overcast, cool summers with damp
garden parties and drenched concerts in the park, the British have
something novel to worry about, an unusually hot, sunny summer.
You'd think they'd be grateful, but that's not how the human mind works.
For every silver lining, a dark cloud must be found.
It's frightfully hot in the underground, there's insufficient air-
conditioning in shops, and trains are running slow for fear of buckled
tracks. Why, a 92-year-old man was found dead on a park bench. So what
else is new? It's the hottest average European summer in half a century,
which means that 50 years ago it was pretty hot too.
There is a psychological pattern in this. We love bad news. Don't blame it
on editors. Our addiction to gloom, doom, and misfortune is as much a
persistent fact of the human psyche as our love of sweet and fat.
During the million plus years of our hunter-gather evolution, we developed
more than just genetic preferences in sex and food. We also evolved
universal tastes and preferences for how we process information, the kinds
of stories that engage our interest.
It's no use demonising Rupert Murdoch. Our news tastes predate Morse's
telegraph or Gutenberg's printing press by a million years. Journalism did
not create them, it simply serves them. Herewith a basic diagnosis of the
news preferences of Homo sapiens.
First, we enjoy good news but pay more attention to bad news. This might
have been a useful preference for Pleistocene hunter- gatherers trying to
avoid danger, but it makes for distorted understandings today. In 1998,
much was made of the "disastrous" El Nino that caused floods, mudslides,
crop damage, and at least 10 deaths across California, as well as tornados
with dozens of fatalities in Florida. Anyone who followed the news of that
episode would have been aware of these terrible facts.
Later on, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society totalled up
the costs of the 1998 El Nino and balanced it against the benefits: 850
fewer human deaths from cold, lower oil use, fewer ice- caused traffic
injuries, and diminished spring floods.
The costs of that El Nino were $ US4 billion ($ 6.7), while the benefits
were $ 19b ($ 32b), plus the incalculable value of the hundreds of lives
spared. Few ever saw this final reckoning. The mainstream media ignored
it, undoubtedly pursuing their next climate disaster.
Second, we are more impressed by personal stories of joy and distress than
rational facts and figures.
Journalistic puff pieces about alternative medicines, for instance,
usually begin with a heart-warming tale of hope and apparent healing.
This always trumps authentic medical research showing that the therapy
doesn't work. So a joyful mother tells us how she cured her colicky baby
with aromatherapy. Did it work? Of course it did. Who ever heard of a
This eye for the personal, probably a heritage of having evolved in
non-literate bands where information was always communicated face to face,
is well understood by astute feature editors. Television producers, who
think the zoom lens was invented for close-ups of tears rolling down
cheeks, know how to exploit it. But it means that important though
abstract issues are not adequately reported or understood.
Third, we are persistently rational in the extent to which we prefer to
see important unexpected news events as part of large, coherent plans.
When religion held sway, weather disasters were seen as rational acts of
god, usually punishment inflicted on us.
Today, even people who've given up on God still like the idea of a
rational world. Hence their love of conspiracy theories. That Princess
Diana stupidly placed herself in the hands of her rich and irresponsible
boyfriend and his drunken chauffeur is hard to accept, so many will prefer
to blame it on a plot involving the Queen and the MI6.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the events of September
11 have generated equally loony theories. It makes for a more
Along with our desire to ascribe intelligible causes to unexpected events,
conspiracy theories also feed our desire to find someone to blame, or to
extract a moral lesson from every tale of misfortune. We feel more
comfortable living in a morally just world.
The New Zealand media are particularly adept at finding some hapless soul,
usually a harried social worker, to blame for any violent family
breakdown, or some doctor to pillory for every misread X-ray or
Even the weather has been turned into a stage where good or evil act out
their parts. Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports that the French media are
blaming the European weather on the Americans, for not signing the Kyoto
Protocol. This is odd, since the treaty would not have any effect for
years. Of course, Fineman says, France is not at fault, "even though its
auto fleet contains millions of diesel engines and its nuclear power
plants are turning rivers hot enough to boil mussels".
By the way, the world is not more prone to natural disasters today than in
the past. There were big tornados and deadly heatwaves in the 1930s, and
dreadfully cold weather in the 17th century. What has changed is
Years ago a hurricane in Central America or a landslide in Laos would
barely register a wire report. Today, video footage from anywhere can be
uploaded through satellites and broadcast everywhere. Since a dramatic
weather event is likely to be happening somewhere on Earth every day,
television will always have plenty of footage for extreme weather.
We have not overcome what were probably the tastes of our ancestors for
sexual gossip, drama, and morality stories in whatever was news in the
Our ancestors needed accurate information to survive, and you'd think we'd
prefer accurate news today. But some scientists have argued that our
ancestors were none too choosy about the truth of their myths and
ideologies. Even false ideas, fervently believed, can powerfully unite a
people. The history of religion, down to the modern era, seems to bear
this out. Why do we expect that the news and entertainment values of the
modern media should be much better?
This is a depressing notion for those of us who value truth and fact over
delusion and wishful thinking. But maybe we should all just relax and
enjoy the weather. In a letter last week my sister-in-law in Germany
expressed pleasure in the splendidly warm summer. And in a little noted
side-effect of the heat, French and German wineries are predicting a
spectacular year, perhaps exceeding in quality the legendary 1947 vintage.
Great weather? Superb wine? Surely the media will be able to turn that
news into tales of deadly heat stroke, skin cancer, and alcoholism. Don't
shoot the editors. They are giving us what we want.