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June 29, 2000


sisters, IPP, Foreign policy


A thoughtful post, the most poignant message from which is the need
tobalance risk and benefit. But it is worth bearing in mind that risks
areoften exaggerated and it seems unlikely that environmentalists,
consumerorganisations and others who prosper from fearmongering will stop
trying tosell us scary stories.Climate Change is a case in point.
Australians are being sold the scarestory that the Great Barrier Reef is
under threat in order to change publicopinion on imposing restrictions on
emissions of greenhouse gases. Therecent 'bleaching' of coral has nothing
to do with climate change -- it wasa result of ENSO, which is a periodic
change in the temperature patterns ofthe oceans seemingly unrelated to
longer-term climate change.In Britain and Holland we are told that sea
level rise is a great danger --which is a concern in our countries because
many of our largest towns(London and Amsterdam, for example) are ports and
would be inundated. Butthe reality is that median IPCC projections
indicate relatively low levelsof sea-level rise (about 0.5m by 2100),
which could easily be accomodated byadapting current protection
systems.Environmentalists adapt their arguments to be most scary to their
targetaudience. They do the same for GM. Hence, when it became apparent
that themajority of European consumers cared not one jot for the
supposedenvironmental effects of GM crops, but that we were very fearful
of what wewere eating (following the BSE debacle), environmental groups
shifted theirfocus to the supposed dangers of eating the stuff. It makes
littledifference that scientists have done hundreds of tests on each
cultivar tocheck for possible allergenicity etc. .. what people are made
to fear is the'unknown'.I don't think it helps very much to claim that GM
foods are less risky thannuclear power. A well managed nuclear power
station might not harm a singleindividual, whilst environmentalists will
continue to claim that GM cropswill wipe out all 'natural' varieties and
eventually destroy all ecosystems(or whatever daft jibberish it is that
they claim results from horizontalgene transfer), leading to mass
starvation.What might help is explaining that all technologies are risky
and thatalthough by definition the unknowns relating to GM cannot be
foreseen, thisis true for the unknowns relating to all new technologies.
If peopleunderstood and accepted that generally new technologies provide
benefitsthat outweigh the unforeseen risks, the world would become a safer
place. Ofcourse by safe I do not mean risk free; that is impossible. But
unless webegin to accept that it is worth taking some new risks in order
to get ridof old ones, the environentalists and consumer fear groups are
going tocontinue to stifle innovation, which will ultimately harm us all.

Julian Morris

Subj: IPP and Developing Countries
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 4:39:03 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Jill Lenne and Dave Wood" <113077.3244@compuserve.com>

Comment on the Apel/Beant/Cross exchange:

As a RAFI watcher for some years, I think Andrew Apel is right about RAFI
double standards, but quite wrong about the details:

Andrew says:

"Attitudes such as this are widespread, the result of a campaign by Rural
Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), which advocates the notion
that developing countries should have intellectual property rights on
everything, without applying for patents, while developed countries should
have intellectual property rights on nothing, in spite of patents."

In fact RAFI vehemently does not want developing countries or their
farmers to have patents or IPP of any sort, ever. Rather the opposite:
they are a major proponents of the `No patents on life' idea (that is, for
others -

RAFI's offices are in the US and Canada, who have, and will not give up,
IPP regimes, as RAFI is well aware). A main plank of RAFI policy over the
past several years has been to push strongly for free access to global
genetic resource collections, specifically the 600,000 samples in the
CGIAR genebanks. Free global access to these important collections is also
promoted by the World Bank as in the `public domain' or under `trust',
although the legal status of the collections is very questionable. (My
view, for what it's worth, is that farmers deposited their varieties in
`geneBANKS' - the usual terminology - and a bank must respect ownership of

The CG genebanks are temporarily managed under an agreement between the
samples (at the time of collection the samples were divided - a duplicate
to the CG, and the original the country of collection). Accepting RAFI's
claim for free access would run directly counter to the national
sovereignty provisions of the Convention of Biological Diversity over the
original samples, which have always been under national control. The only
things developing countries will get out of it is an as yet unsubscribed
International Fund in recognition of `Farmers' Rights' (administered
through FAO), and, more importantly, free access to the genetic resources
of other countries - but so will the US, Canada, the EU etc, and any

Anyone, biotech company, plant breeder, you, me, subject to minor
anipulation, can then place any varieties derived from a `free' sample
unmder IPP or patents (but not the sample itself). Farmers' Rights sounds
great, but has proved a nightmare to define diplomatically and to fund
(there are also `community rights' with equal problems).

Negotiations under FAO for the future of the CG collections under a
`multilateral system' have slowed to a crawl - countries with big national
genetic resource collections - such as Brazil and India - may be wondering
what's in it for them, and in the meantime passing national laws to
protect national genetic resources (and the US, which, with its advanced
technology, stands to benefit perhaps most from free access, is not even a
party to the Convention on Biological Diversity). It's a mess.

The closest I can get to what drives RAFI (and Andrew brought the topic
up, not me) is that they work in the interest of North American ag.
exports (nothing wrong with that, so does the USDA, but RAFI's methods are
a bit opaque). 1) No source country should protect in any way `global'
genetic resources; 2) Biotech companies should not export N. American
technology to agricultural competitors (their `Terminator' campaign was a
good example of this). I could be wrong! Peeling away all the onion skins
round this makes my eyes water: everything is wrapped in punning rhetoric

What is certain (the Beant/Cross exchange) is that if countries don't
respect IPP, they will have to rely only on the services of the rapidly
declining public sector - this is simply too risky. Even the CGIAR - a
mainstay of international public-sector plant breeding for developing
countries - is now outgunned by the private sector for some crops. There
are possibilities of bilateral deals between developing countries and the
private sector over genetic resources (as for hybrid rice in China) but
these will of course be undermined by any multilateral, free-access system.

Dave Wood

Subj: Biotech in Foreign Policy Journal
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 3:50:59 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: "Smith, Karla"
To: "'AgBioView-owner@listbot.com'"

In the Summer 2000 edition of Foreign Policy Journal:

Can Biotechnology End Hunger? When Malthus Meets Mendel by Mark Strauss

Yes: Stop Blocking Progress by Klaus M. Leisinger

No: Poor Farmers Won't Reap the Benefits by Miguel A. Altieri