Biotech industry "stunned and amazed" by GM meltdown (2/4/2004)

If you want to know just how bad it's been of late for the GM industry, you only have to read some of today's less mealy-mouthed contributions to CS Prakash's AgBioView.

A theme running through several items today is "Loss of Innovation". The argument is that if you check the introduction of GM agriculture, you are placing a block on technological (especially biotechnological) development and progress.

As Dr Andy Stirling, an expert in policy research in this area, has pointed out, this is a startlingly simplistic perspective, although obviously a politically and commercially convenient one.

To treat any particular technological development as being self-evidently good is absurd. Technologies do not spring from nowhere and nor are they hard-wired in nature. Technological directions are deliberate choices, and those choices are subject to power.

But while our possible technological futures are diverse and open to choice, there are growing pressures on those choices in a globalising world. The real debate is about who chooses technology and to what end.

Obviously, Australia's biotechnology industry organisation, which is responsible for the press release below, and Andrew Apel, who is responsible for the other AgBioView piece and who edits an agbio-industry newsletter, have a particular vested interest in limiting societal influence and control over their industries.

But Stirling points out that just as scepticism is the key to good science, dissent is actually the key to robust and innovative technologies. This means that it is in the long-term interest of soieties to allow more, not less, attention to the politics of technology.

By contrast, those who seek to prevent particular technologies, and the interests and 'expertise' which supports them, from being subject to scepticism and dissent, are simply seeking to narrow society's choices as to the technological path we proceed along.

It is they who seek to exclude dissent, diversity and *innovation*, and it is reasonable to ask whose interest that serves.

Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 2, 2004:
* 4 States in 5 Days ... a Loss for Innovation
* Re: Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation

4 States in 5 Days... a Loss for Innovation
- AusBiotech, 1 April 2004

AusBiotech, Australia's biotechnology industry organisation is stunned and amazed at a week in politics that has seen GM moratoria placed in four states in five days.

In such a short period of time, many of AusBiotech's members and biotechnology players have been left wondering at the timing, coordination and coincidental moratorium periods and legislation announced in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.

"This marks a sad day for colleagues in the agriscience and biotechnology industries, as the sheer enormity of this decision impacts the competitiveness of Australia's technology and the ongoing confidence and support of local researchers, " said Dr Tony Coulepis, Executive Director, AusBiotech.

"Not only have biotechnology colleagues questioned the transparency of our government processes, but also the state governments ' confidence in the national regulatory body - the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). "

AusBiotech urges the agriscience and biotechnology communities to unite and work towards the future development and needs of these innovative industries and to minimise the international criticism of such an action.

"The moratoria decisions will have a much wider impact than the multinational companies they directly effect at the present time. These decisions erode away the international confidence and perception of Australia as a globally competitive biotechnology and agriscience country and sadly makes the task for our researchers even harder to remain competitive, " Dr Coulepis said.

Internationally, experience has shown that Moratoria impacts investor confidence and support to the agriscience sector, as evidenced in Europe, and already indicated for Australia by international investors.

In Europe, a 2002 survey showed 61% of the private sector cancelled R&D projects in this emerging technology as a result of moratorium actions.

"Now more than ever, agriscience stakeholders need to unite to support the national OGTR regulatory system and other innovative technologies that are also on the agenda for review."

"As the Australian biotechnology industry organisation, many of our members are questioning what will be next in line for such a harsh treatment against all scientific and logical argument?"

AusBiotech is seeking reassurances from political leaders that technology and excellent research does count and Australia's global competitiveness is not something to play with.

Media Contact: Paris Brooke, Communications Manager, AusBiotech tel: 03 9208 4318 / 0407 715 574 www.ausbiotech.org

Paris Brooke Policy and Communications Manager AusBiotech Ltd Australia's Biotechnology Organisation 576 Swan St Richmond Vic 3121 Ph. +61 3 9208 4318 Fax. +61 3 9208 4201 Mob. 0407 715 574 [email protected] www.ausbiotech.org

Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2004 11:50:19 -0600
From: "Andrew Apel" [email protected]
Subject: RE: Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation

In "Bayer decides against GM crop cultivation in the UK" (AgBioView, Wed, 31 Mar 2004) Sivramiah Shantharam pointed out that Bayer's decision not to commercialize its GM maize in the UK points out that excessive regulation of GM technology "makes it prohibitively expensive to comply with" "is as good as banning it..."

Depending on your perspective, it is either interesting or disappointing to see the United States going down the same road, though for different reasons.

In the UK, it has been decided that the value of GM crops is to be determined by their ability to produce larger quantities of weeds; Chardon LL maize, now abandoned by Bayer, only gained guarded approval because associated weed control practices were less effective--clearly signaling that the UK has decided that the purpose of farming is not so much to produce food, as to maintain farms as something like picturesque parks at public expense which activists may occupy and lay waste to at their convenience.

In the US, it has been decided that the value of GM crops is determined by its value to the farmer and the environment; but more sophisticated products are in the pipeline, and the new trend here, also in the direction of making things prohibitively expensive, is meant to appease food processors--who care nothing of the environment whatsoever. The Pew Charitable Trusts, in the guise of being an "honest broker" or "conciliatory voice" recently released a report highly critical of US regulatory policies which have to date proved quite effective in preventing the slightest food health risk.

Seeing the trend in the US toward making regulation and production of GM crops prohibitively expensive, an entrepreneur is now developing plans to grow the next generation of GM crops in abandoned mines, using artificial lighting and air filtration to prevent pollen movement.

A lot of these next-generation crops do nothing more than produce compounds already found elsewhere in nature, such as in the human body. Others are designed with general health benefits in mind, such as vaccines or improved nutrition.

Doubtless many in the UK believe the loss of weeds justifies hyper-regulation, just as many in the US fear the damage frightened, uninformed consumers might do to the perceived value of branded products (even though the ridiculous StarLink episode proved to be an expensive failure with no perceptible damage to taco sales).

Amongst all of this is a misplaced faith in regulators; are they sufficiently godlike to be worth every least cost they impose on novel technology? Do they inherently know that their costs immediately confer benefits on us? Is the highest possible cost of regulation automatically the most beneficial? And are we gullible enough to believe such claims?

Regulation in the UK has driven out a GM maize product but the US, for differing reasons, is heading down that same path. In spite of beating the world in its flow of innovations, US regulations are becoming less friendly, not more friendly, to biotech, and often for reasons as sensible as how many weeds we can produce.  

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