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March 13, 2000


Critical Questions in Agricultural Biotechnology


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org

Mr. Barun Mitrra who runs the Liberty Institute
(a progressive, free market thinktank) in India has sent me following
questions with the hope that experts in this list would address them. He
and I are involved in conducting a media workshop for journalists in India
to provide a forum for dialog between scientists and other experts in
biotechnology with those in the media. Barun feels that for biotechnology
to be accepted, we scientists need to address some of the sociatal concerns
head-on. I list his questions below, and we wish to prepare this document
of Q & A for the workshop and will later it available on the Web. Please
help us here!

- Prakash
From Barun Mitra

Here are some critical questions that keep coming up during discussions on

They are only indicative of the range of issues raised by the critics of
GE. We need to adequately respond to these and related questions. Hope you
will find these useful in preparing your Q&As.


Q 1. Is genetic engineering the only way of increasing food production?

Q 2. Is it possible to deal with widespread malnutrition with genetic

Q 3. How can GE ensure environmental sustainability as well as increase
food production when pressure on environmental resources like land and
water is growing?

Q 4. How can GE deal with possible environmental threats such as "super

Q 5. How can undesirable "genetic drifts" be controlled?

Q. 6 What about the health risks from GE, such as antibiotic resistance?

Q 7. Shouldn't it be possible to demand zero risks from GE?

Q 8. What is the sound scientific basis for considering GE to be safe?

Q 9. How can modern profit driven agro-biotechnology meet the basic needs
of the poor?

Q 10. Would not the poor farmers in developing countries become dependent
on commercial biotech corporations?

Q 11. How can the interest of developing countries be safeguarded?

Q 12. Won't GE crops accelerate the trend towards fewer varieties of crops?
Will not such a loss of crop diversity make agriculture more vulnerable?

Q 13. What are the social and ethical implications of GE?

Q 14. Shouldn't the consumers have the right to know whether they are
consuming GE?

Q 15. Shouldn't GE crops be labeled? If not, why not?

Q 16. Shouldn't biotech companies bear total liability for any harm to
environment and public health?

Q 17. If food security is primarily a question of distribution insecurity,
then how can increased production using GE address the question of food

Q 18. Is it fair to grant patent on GMOs?

Q 19. Doesn't patenting life forms encourage violence, first by treating
life forms as mere machines and denying their self-organising capacity, and
secondly, by denying self-reproducing capacity (by allowing patents on
future generations of plants and animals)?

Q 20. When patent is granted on GMO being novel and not occurring in
nature, how can the IPR holders then seek to escape the responsibility of
consequences of releasing the GMOs? How can they treat the issue of
biosafety as unnecessary?

Q 21. Won't herbicide and pesticide resistant GE crop lead to intensified
use of agro-chemicals?

Q 22. Won't IPR put restrictions on creativity of nature (i.e., inherent
to living systems that reproduce and multiply in self-organised freedom) by
shifting common rights and excluding intellectual commons' knowledge, ideas
and innovations? Apart from corporate control over minds, IPR may become
intellectual theft or bio-piracy?

Q 23. Doesn't the emergence of GE threaten to change the meaning and value
of biodiversity from life-support base for poor communities to raw-material
base for private corporations?

Julian L. Simon Centre
259, J-Block (2nd floor), Saket, New Delhi 110017. India

Tel:(91)-(11) 6512441 / 6528244 Fax:(91)-(11) 6856992 / 6527868

eFax: (603)737-2753 This US fax no. may be used to send faxes.
WEB SITE: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/libertyinstitute
E-Mail: mailto:liberty@giasdl01.vsnl.net.in

Address for Postal Correspondence -
96/10 Pushp Vihar Sector I, New Delhi 110 017. India.