* Pioneer, Gates to Give African Farmers Biotech Seed
* Don't Forget the World's Food Gap
* E-mail Visionary Sees Future In Plants
* A Menu for Feeding 9 Billion
* Alone Again
* Now, Pawar Bats for GM Crops to Meet Food Security
* Create Public Confidence on GM Crops: Jairam Ramesh
* Europe's Farmers Call for Access to GM Crops
* Stakeholder Study on Biotech Perceptions in Egypt
* Conference Seeks Sweeping Changes to Global Agriculture
* Monsanto's Seeds of Growth - 'Don't punish innovation with antitrust law.'a
Pioneer, Gates to Give African Farmers Biotech Seed
- Philip Brasher , Des Moines Register, Feb. 17, 2010 http://www.desmoinesregister.com
Washington, D.C. — Pioneer Hi-Bred is joining with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help scientists in Africa develop genetically engineered corn varieties that would allow poor farmers increase their yields with less fertilizer.
The aim of the project is to increase corn yields by 50 percent over the average now reached by African varieties, said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, a Johnston-based unit of DuPont. The project represents the latest effort by U.S. seed giants to promote their products as being potentially beneficial to small-scale farmers in Africa, a continent with chronic food shortages but where countries have been reluctant to permit genetically modified crops.
“If you look at the issues the world faces, we’ve got a tremendous need for increasing productivity,” Schickler said in an interview. Experts say global food production needs to double by 2050 to meet the needs of growing populations in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
Pioneer’s arch-rival Monsanto Co. is two years into a similar project with the Gates foundation to develop drought-tolerant corn that is to be made available to small-scale farmers in eastern and southern Africa. Both Pioneer and Monsanto have agreed to make the seeds available royalty-free to small-scale farmers.
Both projects involve making improvements in conventional African varieties using molecular breeding techniques as well as introducing the companies’ patented genes to either improve the crop’s resistance to drought, in Monsanto’s case, or its use of nitrogen fertilizer, in Pioneer’s.
Corn is a staple food throughout eastern and southern Africa, but yields are typically only a fraction of what they are in the United States because of the poor soils, insufficient rainfall and farmers’ lack of access to fertilizer, insecticides and high-quality seeds, experts say.
Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, highlighted the Monsanto project, without mentioning the company by name, in a speech at the annual World Food Prize symposium last fall in Des Moines.
Monsanto, which has been testing its drought-tolerant corn in South Africa and hopes to begin field trials in Kenya and Uganda this year. Monsanto hopes to have its drought-tolerant seeds to small-scale farmers in Africa by 2016, four years after the projected release of a commercial variety in the United States.
Pioneer’s goal with the African project is to first develop the improved conventional African varieties through the molecular breeding techniques and then introduce the transgenic material toward the end of this decade, Schickler said. The first conventionally bred varieties could be available within four years, according to Pioneer.
The use of molecular markers allows scientist to more precisely identify important genes within the plants. Improving the nitrogen efficiency of crops would allow crops to grow better in poor soils or mean that farmers could use less fertilizer, which can wash off fields and pollute streams and rivers. Nitrogen runoff from fields in corn fields in Iowa has been linked to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
In Africa, many poor farmers use little or no fertilizer already because of its cost. “African maize farmers must deal with drought, weeds and pests, but their problems start with degraded, nutrient-starved soils and their inability to purchase enough nitrogen fertilizer,” said Wilfred Mwangi, associated director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s Kenya-based corn breeding program
Both Pioneer and Monsanto are working with scientists at the research center that has long been associated with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug, who is considered the father of the Green Revolution, which resulted in increased production of wheat and rice in Asia but largely missed Africa.
A U.S. critic of agricultural biotechnology, Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the companies may be trying to improve the global image of genetically modified foods, which have met resistance in Europe, Africa and other regions. The companies appear to be trying to “enhance some sense that the technology is needed because it produces better” than conventional crop breeding, she said.
South Africa is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that currently allows commercial production of a biotech food crop. Schickler said it had not been decided yet whether African farmers will get seeds that would combine the traits for drought tolerance and nitrogen efficiency.
Don't Forget the World's Food Gap
- Tom Daschle, Politico, Feb.16, 2010 http://www.politico.com
Late last month, leaders from around the world convened in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual conference of international leaders to address shared global challenges. While efforts to restore stability and prosperity to our financial system rightfully framed the conference agenda, I was most encouraged by the forum’s consideration of a topic even more fundamental to the survival of people around the globe but one that has received far less attention in the press and among policymakers: In order to feed a global population boom of 9 billion people by 2050, we will need to more than double our current levels of food production and develop a set of innovative strategies to combat a host of global-hunger-related and nutritional issues.
The urgency of this challenge cannot be understated. Indeed, the United Nations has said that world food output needs to grow by 70 percent by 2050 to address this dramatic increase in global population. Today, malnutrition is associated with half of all deaths in children under the age of 5 each year, and more than 1 billion people currently suffer from hunger and poverty. These numbers can be expected only to grow as our population increases by one-third over the next four decades.
Great challenges demand even better solutions, and better solutions can come only from the collaboration and competition of those willing to advance new ideas and technologies. Recently, I agreed to chair the new DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation and Productivity for the 21st Century, which seeks to do just that, by exploring how agricultural innovation can help us meet the food, feed, fiber and fuel demands of the coming decades. Innovation will lie at the heart of the agricultural revolution necessary to accomplish our goal of feeding the world by 2050 without increasing pressure on our world’s already strained and limited resources. In fact, innovation in agriculture won’t just provide more; it can also provide “better” — growing crops with nutritional benefits and developing seed that increases yield worldwide.
I have worked on agricultural issues both in and out of Congress for more than 30 years and am encouraged by the efforts of the current and previous administrations, the U.N. and a host of global organizations such as The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Still, in the coming months, I believe it is critical that agricultural leaders, in government, in companies, in NGOs and, of course, on farms, organize an agenda that rests on a set of core pillars.
First, we must support scientific and technological innovation in agriculture. In the past 25 years alone, farmers in the United States have boosted corn production by more than 40 percent. And products in the ag pipeline offer the promise of nutritional outputs that will improve products and boost yields. In order to realize these new technologies, we must foster innovation by incentivizing and encouraging investment in biotech and broader agricultural research and development.
Second, we must facilitate an open, competitive marketplace. The most significant scientific achievements occur when we combine the best of competition and collaboration. The ability of multiple companies to offer differentiated products and services in an open marketplace promotes agriculture productivity, accelerates innovation and increases choice. One way to achieve this is through strengthened legal and legislative safeguards designed to encourage innovation while protecting intellectual property rights in agriculture. Within this regulatory structure, facilitation of American agricultural exports is key; global regulatory barriers to market entry must be removed.
Third, we must collaborate to innovate. In order to face 21st-century food demands in a way that promotes health and protects the environment, innovation in science and competition must be accompanied by collaboration among parties who have traditionally been somewhat divided. This will require collaboration between companies, environmental groups, farmers, NGOs and governments to ensure that efforts are not mutually exclusive. For example, we must move past old illusions about food vs. fuel. Advances in agricultural innovation can help to both feed and fuel the world. In the face of climate change and national security threats, we must continue to innovate so that the agriculture industry can meet the demand for both food and fuel in the coming decades.
Finally, we must empower farmers worldwide with the tools necessary to meet this growing demand. Partnerships must be forged between governmental leaders and local farmers in the developing world to facilitate the ability of these countries to increase their crop yields, enhance resistance to pests and improve crop performance in challenging climates.
The challenges we face are daunting. But I remain confident that harnessing the innovation of our policymakers, scientists and farmers around the world will put us on track to feed the world and preserve its resources. Indeed, we have no other choice.
Tom Daschle, a Democrat, served as a senator from South Dakota from 1987 to 2005 and was Senate majority leader. He is a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, the distinguished senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
E-mail Visionary Sees Future In Plants
- Martin Mittelstaedt, Globe and Mail (Canada), Feb. 16, 2010 http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
'Jack Grushcow is developing genetically modified crops to replace the petroleum used to make plastic and engine oils'
In the early days of his business career, Jack Grushcow had a brilliant stroke of timing. He founded a Vancouver software company that pioneered e-mail, a venture that was noticed and taken over by software giant Microsoft Corp., which popularized the concept through the Outlook system familiar to computer users the world over.
Mr. Grushcow, having already proved his acumen as a business visionary, is making a second attempt at a breakthrough. This time, he says to forget about software. The next big thing will be plants. He's hot on the trail of genetically modified crops able to replace the petroleum used to make plastic and engine oils.
His company, Linnaeus Plant Sciences, expects to be testing genetically modified plants within a year. Between getting the plants to grow, full regulatory licensing and commercial introduction, the entire process could take five or more years. But Mr. Grushcow is optimistic that designer plants will pay off. Plants are “like the philosopher's stone, if you imagine water and sunshine and being able to synthesize almost every chemical you use,” Mr. Grushcow says. “To me, it's incredibly appealing.”
To date, most of the effort to use plants as petroleum substitutes has been done through the bio-fuels craze of turning corn, soybeans and sugar cane into gasoline or diesel. Mr. Grushcow has chosen a different fork. Instead of fuels, he says plants should be used as feedstocks to knock off high-end uses for petroleum, including polymers for plastics and nylon. Other possibilities are engine and hydraulic oils.
A trip to a gas station illustrates the allure of the strategy. Consumers might complain about $1 a litre gasoline, but it's dirt cheap compared with engine oils at more than $4, and synthetic oils that are pricier still. “When you burn [crops as fuel], let's face it, that's pretty well the bottom of the heap when it come to value,” Mr. Grushcow contends. Biofuel “makes no sense.”
Linnaeus is currently trying to modify camelina, a non-food oilseed from the mustard family, by inserting genetics from the castor plant. Castor seeds yield a highly valuable oil able to duplicate many high-end uses of petroleum, but the plants have the drawbacks of a limited supply and the fact they contain ricin, a deadly poison.
Linnaeus is hoping to get some of the qualities of castor oil from camelina, which is beginning to attract interest among farmers because it's drought tolerant, it's suitable for marginal agricultural land, and it's a sparse fertilizer user, among other attributes. French chemical giant Atofina is helping Linnaeus bankroll some of its research, in return for an extra supply of castor-like oil for making a plant-based nylon.
Other companies are looking at camelina too, but as another potential source of biodiesel rather than as a feedstock. Mr. Grushcow's approach is definitely going against the grain of major players in the industry. “With more than 12 years of experience working with camelina, exclusive access to the majority of the world's camelina germplasm, and a wealth of intellectual property around the genetic modification of the crop, we have chosen to focus our company's efforts on camelina's use as a sustainable, next generation biofuel,” says Sam Huttenbauer III, the CEO of Great Plains Oil & Exploration, a Cincinnati-based company.
Mr. Huttenbauer declined to comment on Linnaeus' approach. Much of the impetus for using plants as fuels comes from government mandates stipulating that they be added to gasoline or diesel. JoAnne Buth, president of the Canola Council of Canada, says conversion to fuel provides a stable, guaranteed market for crops.
Linnaeus has a staff of four, with its research office at the National Research Council's Plant Biotech Institute in Saskatoon, although it also has other laboratories doing work for it on contract. While waiting for the hoped-for payoff on its camelina seeds, Linnaeus is trying to develop greater acceptance for plant-derived oils by selling hydraulic fluids made from canola.
The company scored last month by providing plant-based hydraulic oil for about 200 trash compactors used by Toronto Community Housing, a city-owned entity that is Canada's biggest residential landlord.
Although hydraulic fluids aren't a household name, they're key to running many types of machinery, with 60 million litres sold annually in everything from fork lifts to road graders. Compactors use 20 to 30 litres each. Hydraulic fluids often leak out of equipment, but Linnaeus's oils are biodegradable and don't pollute groundwater, as do those made from petroleum, an environmental benefit that helps offset a price about 50-per-cent above conventional oils.
“To me the hydraulic opportunity is the tip of the iceberg, but it's the first step in a longer term process,” Mr. Grushcow says. Linnaeus is 100 per cent owned by Mr. Grushcow, who has been working on plant research since the mid 1990s, indicating the difficulty of taking ideas from conception to commercialization.
Mr. Grushcow said the early days of selling the world e-mail in the 1980s were challenging too, and his employees nicknamed him Willy Loman, the fictional tragic hero of Death of a Salesman fame, following some of his marketing trips
After “a week of trying to sell this stuff,” he remembers being “kind of beaten up for it.” One bank executive, whom he tried to convince that e-mail would be the next big thing, told him: “‘Why would I use e-mail? If I want to talk to Joe, I just stick a Post-It note on his door and he calls me.'”
Microsoft bought Mr. Grushcow's Consumers Software Inc. for an amount reported to exceed $15-million in 1991. For the past 15 years, Mr. Grushcow has been pouring money into plants, betting that, as a cash infusion did with e-mail, having farmers replace petroleum production will eventually pan out.
“Nobody has the patience to be an investor or a venture capitalist in a company like mine because the time horizons are so long. But we're building significant platforms for petroleum substitution, so I don't mind being patient,” he says.
A Menu for Feeding 9 Billion
- Andrew C. Revkin The New York Times, Feb. 16
Science Magazine has removed the pay wall from “Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People.” The paper concludes, as many have before, that keeping up with humanity’s needs as numbers and appetites crest toward mid-century poses big challenges. But it expresses optimism that a sustained focus on efficiency, technology and policy innovations can do the trick. Here’s the summary:
Continuing population and consumption growth will mean that the global demand for food will increase for at least another 40 years. Growing competition for land, water, and energy, in addition to the overexploitation of fisheries, will affect our ability to produce food, as will the urgent requirement to reduce the impact of the food system on the environment. The effects of climate change are a further threat. But the world can produce more food and can ensure that it is used more efficiently and equitably. A multifaceted and linked global strategy is needed to ensure sustainable and equitable food security, different components of which are explored here.
The authors include a menu of possible uses for genetically modified crops, but stress that technology alone is far from sufficient if policies are not shifted to advance the appropriate use of the right agricultural strategy or tool in the right place. Over all, a focus on “sustainable intensification” of production of crops and livestock will be vital to limiting impacts on remaining undeveloped ecosystems. Aquaculture holds great promise, if practiced appropriately and efficiently, as does livestock production, the authors say, noting the reality that meat will long remain a part of most diets, particularly in populations moving out of poverty.
In the end, they say, one reality has to be a shift from simply boosting production to a new, interdisciplinary focus on getting the most food value with the least loss of land and other resources. The kicker?
We must avoid the temptation to further sacrifice Earth’s already hugely depleted biodiversity for easy gains in food production, not only because biodiversity provides many of the public goods on which mankind relies but also because we do not have the right to deprive future generations of its economic and cultural benefits. Together, these challenges amount to a perfect storm.
Navigating the storm will require a revolution in the social and natural sciences concerned with food production, as well as a breaking down of barriers between fields. The goal is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of production, environmental, and social justice outcomes.
This edition of Science also contains an analysis by the State Department’s Nina Fedoroff and 14 other authors, titled “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century.” It centers on technological innovation, as well, including advancing agriculture in saline conditions and environmentally-sound aquaculture. But its central take-home point is that society needs to reexamine its approach to genetically modified crops. Here’s the nut:
The world has consumed GM crops for 13 years without incident. The first few GM crops that have been grown very widely, including insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant corn, cotton, canola, and soybeans, have increased agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes. They have also had environmental and health benefits, such as decreased use of pesticides and herbicides and increased use of no-till farming.
Despite the excellent safety and efficacy record of GM crops, regulatory policies remain almost as restrictive as they were when GM crops were first introduced. In the United States, case-by-case review by at least two and sometimes three regulatory agencies (USDA, EPA, and FDA) is still commonly the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps the most detrimental effect of this complex, costly, and time-intensive regulatory apparatus is the virtual exclusion of public-sector researchers from the use of molecular methods to improve crops for farmers. As a result, there are still only a few GM crops, primarily those for which there is a large seed market, and the benefits of biotechnology have not been realized for the vast majority of food crops.
There’ll be more here in coming months on other models for advancing agriculture without threatening the environment.
A 'GM' Eggplant?
- Editorial, The Indian Express, Feb 16, 2010 http://www.indianexpress.com/news/alone-again/580210/0
That Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s decision to put the introduction of Bt brinjal on hold overlooked the dominant scientific opinion on the subject is now well understood. This point was hammered home when both a current and former director of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research spoke of how the decision failed to take into account some basic scientific facts — such as that, if the Bt gene were problematic, it would already have affected Indians through widespread exposure to imported soya.
But what has become very clear over the last couple of days is that it was, also, well outside the mainstream of political opinion. On Friday, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal told the Indian Express: “Some matters are best left to the scientific community to resolve. The government must trust the scientists on their decisions.”
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has in the past — as well as quite recently — spoken of his support for Bt brinjal. He has, indeed, come out in favour of the speedy testing and introduction of genetically modified crops. And, on Sunday, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan spoke out as well about the processes followed by Ramesh, saying that the sloganeering populism that marred the environment ministry’s “consultation” process affected a decision that should have been taken on the basis of scientific evidence alone. A lack of unanimity, he pointed out, could not for ever hold up a decision being taken on the basis of what was unambiguously the dominant view.
With these statements — and the more that will undoubtedly follow — Ramesh stands increasingly, visibly, isolated on this question. And thrown into ever sharper relief is how his decision was in the end neither political nor scientific: it was merely his own. It was a straightforward exercise in discretion — a discretion that he arrogated to himself — and, as such, was inevitably divorced from any logic that supporters or protestors could have argued.
The “consultation” process stands revealed as hollow, a mere façade for whatever the environment minister wished to decide. Perhaps, if we are lucky, the coalescing of political and scientific opinion that the brinjal decision was a mistake will speed up its reversal, and aid the process of introduction of other genetically modified variants in the future.
But, at the very least, this increasing outcry should show up the subversion of genuine institutional methods at arriving at decisions.
Now, Pawar Bats for GM Crops to Meet Food Security
- Times of India, Feb 17, 2010 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
NEW DELHI: Strongly arguing for the genetically modified crops, which he said could solve the country's food security problem, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Wednesday asked scientists to double efforts to remove all misgivings about GM crops from the minds of policy-makers and the public.
"We have to improve our productivity in a situation when the population doubles and there is no possibility of additional land and water," Pawar said. He, however, said the final decision on this issue could only be taken by the environment ministry.
Inaugurating the two-day conference of vice-chancellors of agricultural universities and meeting of directors of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) here, Pawar said: "The recent decision on Bt Brinjal should not be seen as a setback to our efforts, but a challenge which we need to surmount."
In a strongest possible defence of genetically modified crops, Pawar took a position diametrically opposite to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who put a moratorium on commercial release of Bt brinjal pending more tests.
"Conventional technologies of agriculture are inadequate to meet the formidable challenges. The most compelling case for bio-technology, and more specifically transgenic crops, is their capability to increase crop productivity, lower production costs, conserve bio-diversity, efficient use of external inputs, and improvement of economic and social benefits and alleviation of abject poverty in poor and developing countries," the minister said.
Later, talking to reporters the minister said genetically modified crops could solve the country's food security problem. However, he said, "We will respect the decision taken by the environment ministry, which can give us the ultimate guidance." He said he wanted to "resolve the issue of food security of the country."
Create Public Confidence on GM Crops: Jairam Ramesh
_ Press Trust of India, Feb 17
Chenna i- Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh today said public confidence has to be created and state governments taken on board on the issue of genetically modified food crops. "I think we need to create public confidence. There is no great harm in being a little cautious, in taking little more care in what we are doing," Ramesh told reporters here.
"We got to have credible regulatory institution. We have been discussing it for the last five years. Secondly, you need to get state governments on board. Today you don't have any state governments supporting this," he said.
Noting that distinguished Indian scientists had raised questions about GM crops, he said they were not for a ban on GM foods but were saying "be cautious and make sure that everything is right. "I have not announced a ban. Let us be clear about this. We are in a moratorium phase.
Europe's Farmers Call for Access to GM Crops
- Crop Biotech Update, Feb 12, 2010 http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate
A global poll run of six leading farming magazines gave farmers an opportunity to air their opinion on the technologies which they think would feed the world. Votes were expressed in the UK Farmers Weekly and the Dutch Boerderij, and farmer views from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada also joined in. Results showed that 37.1% of the farmers are amenable to new technologies, and genetic modification was by far the most popular of the five presented key factors. Farmers voted for education and training at 20.3%, investment in research and development (18%), removal of trade barriers (14.7%), and government intervention in food production (10%).
Morten Nielsen, Director of Agricultural Biotech at EuropaBio commented that, "Throughout history, farmers have used new technologies in order to meet the needs of society; these results show that things are no different today. Food security and climate change will be two of the major challenges that the world will face in the 21st century. This will require significant changes in how we produce food and while policy makers can play a part, at the end of the day farmers need practical solutions to practical problems. This poll reinforces the message from many European farmers who have been calling for access to GM crops for several years."
For details, see the press release at http://www.europabio.org/PressReleases/green/PR_09022010Farmers.pdf
Stakeholder Study on Biotech Perceptions in Egypt
- Crop Biotech Update, Feb 12, 2010 http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate
The Modern Science and Technology University (MSA) and Egypt Biotechnology Information Center (EBIC) conducted a study to determine stakeholder perceptions about crop biotechnology. A case study of 22 different stakeholders (scientists, media, private and public sector, and farmers) were interviewed to get glimpses into their respective views about the technology. Scientists claimed that "crop biotechnology presents an agricultural application for the world and the future for Egypt." Prof. Osama Momtaz, Deputy Director of the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute, added that "for Egypt, crop biotechnology is a necessity not a luxury."
Farmers expressed their satisfaction with biotech maize, noting that they benefited more than from using conventional varieties. Consumers showed their interest about the applications of biotechnology. They expressed their concern for popularized information so as to better understand the technology.
For more information, contact Dr. Ismail AbdelHamid, director of the Egypt Biotechnology Information Center, at email@example.com
Conference Seeks Sweeping Changes to Global Agriculture
- March 28-31 2010 at Montpellier, France http://www.egfar.org/egfar/website/gcard
Up to 1,000 World Food Prize Laureates, ministers, farmers, community development organizations, leading scientists, and innovators will gather for the first ever Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD).
The meeting has been tasked by the G8 to turn debates on future needs in agriculture into constructive actions to reshape its future. After decades of lagging agricultural investment, GCARD will seek to strengthen and harness the use of agricultural research to meet the enormous challenges of doubling the food supply over the next 40 years, lifting a billion people out of poverty and hunger, and doing so in ways that are environmentally sustainable.
The GCARD process will address the below questions: * What are the development needs where AR can play its best role? * How best do we turn research in development impacts at scale? * How can more effective pathways be developed to create impact for the poor? * What investments, institutions, policies and capacities are necessary?
Monsanto's Seeds of Growth
- Ronald A. Cass, Feb11, 2010 http://www.forbes.com
'Don't punish innovation with antitrust law.'
No one wants to see a welcome sign that says "America: Land of Some Opportunity." It would be an especially bad message to send if you wanted to encourage investments that drive economic growth, job creation, and exports.
Over the past 30 years, American investments in invention and creativity--activities protected by intellectual property law--produced world-class businesses in computer hardware and software, semiconductors, entertainment and biotechnology, making global icons of Avatar and Intel, Microsoft and Monsanto, Viacom and Viagra, among others. Market skeptics and less successful competitors, however, are pressing governments to use antitrust laws to limit returns to market-leading patent and copyright holders, pitting antitrust against intellectual property law. That's a dangerous game.
Antitrust and intellectual property laws are complements, not opposites. Intellectual property law is designed to provide incentives for increased invention, development and diffusion of practical ideas and creative works. Antitrust is supposed to deter serious interference with normal operation of competition in commercial markets.
In a world in which more and more business involves competition based on ideas, intellectual property law helps protect some investments that provide the building blocks for future competition. Of course, being property laws, they function by granting exclusive control rights for a time. Any grant of exclusivity can be cast as limiting competition, but that is hardly useful to legal analysis. Antitrust doesn't prohibit everything that limits competition in any way--a law that broad would bring commerce to a standstill by stopping the entire array of contracts and rights that underlie modern business. No one contends that antitrust law goes that far. Yet many scholars, lawyers and pundits casually assert that IP law conflicts with antitrust simply by limiting competition in some dimension.
Cases dealing with high-technology products are the common setting for claims that competition is unfairly impeded when a leading firm keeps others from building on patented or copyrighted technology that its rivals--having failed to supplant it with their own offerings--deem critical to success. Inevitably the technology at issue represents the result of successful investment in research and development, and gives the investor only temporary leadership unless it continues to innovate and successfully commercialize the right innovations. Just as Avatar doesn't give James Cameron permanent hegemony over cinematic entertainment, other successes built on good ideas don't guarantee continued leadership. Giving innovators exclusive rights to their innovations doesn't prevent competition; it channels the competition into the search for better ideas and better ways of bringing them to consumers.
Surprisingly, inquiries by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Justice into competition in agriculture have elicited comments similarly miscasting market-leading innovation as an antitrust culprit to be eliminated, rather than an IP success to be emulated. Take, for instance, suggestions that the seed industry needs regulation because one company (Monsanto ( MON - news - people )) dominates competition for production of seeds that incorporate that company's own patented, herbicide-resistant trait or very similar traits. The seed industry is highly competitive; farmers choose seeds each year and can switch producers if they please; hundreds of firms produce and sell seeds; and other major firms (including firms far larger than Monsanto) invest heavily in developing their own competing seeds and seed traits.
In fact, the primary push for regulation here comes from DuPont ( DD - news - people ), a firm roughly three times Monsanto's size that has far-flung interests and about the same share of the seed market as Monsanto. Monsanto, however, has enjoyed far more success in some important segments because of their research and development triumphs--which is why DuPont and its advocates are pushing the argument that competition has to be analyzed in terms of how well firms succeed in just those segments where Monsanto is on top.
One think tank, the American Antitrust Institute, even claims that analysis has to be restricted to how well firms do in selling seeds that incorporate Monsanto's patented trait. Obviously, Monsanto dominates that race, just as Coca-Cola ( KO - news - people ) dominates sales of soft drinks based on the formula for Coke and Ford dominates sales of cars built around Ford engines. It is hardly a sensible way to define the relevant market, even if it suits the desire to paint Monsanto as a dominant firm. While businesses often seek to have government restrain more successful rivals, if competition in seeds is being pitched as a David against Goliath struggle, DuPont is going to have a hard time squeezing into the David costume.
Hypocrisy aside, the push to have government limit competition by firms that have had success in research and development--to have regulatory authorities take away rights associated with patents and copyrights by restricting right holders' freedom to set license terms--threatens to undermine the very investments that are producing America's signature successes. Government inquiries organized around the prospect of reining in businesses that successfully innovate prompt those businesses to spend money protecting rights tied to the fruits of innovation. Like a tax on research and development-fueled success, that diminishes the rewards from innovation and reduces incentives to invest.
Anyone interested in stable laws and economic growth should hope that officials at Agriculture and Justice recognize what is at stake in their inquiries, and quickly signal their support for innovation and for the intellectual property laws that promote it. It's far better for the companies to compete in research and marketing rather than in lobbying, and more likely to safeguard the seeds of our long-term success.
Ronald A. Cass, former commissioner and vice chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission, is dean emeritus of Boston University School of Law, chairman of the Center for the Rule of Law and president of Cass & Associates, PC. Dean Cass also is a senior fellow at the International Centre for Economic Research.
A 'GM' Eggplant?