|Investment in GM drying up in US / industry plans attack on local bans (12/6/2004)
Investment in genetically modified food is drying up in the world's biggest GM market, the United States, because consumers in the rest of the world are not willing to buy its products. - item 1
"We're looking at a number of things to remedy the situation.... a court challenge to Mendocino's ban, an attempt to pass state legislation to prevent counties passing such bans or persuade the federal government, which regulates biotech products, to halt local bans." - Crop Life International responding to the rebellion they're facing on their home turf - item 2
1.Backlash curbs GM investment
1.Backlash curbs GM investment
Investment in genetically modified food is drying up in the world's biggest GM market, the United States, because consumers in the rest of the world are not willing to buy its products.
Speakers at the Bio 2004 conference, which ended in San Francisco yesterday, forecast continued fast growth in investment in genetically modified medicines, including those made in modified plants and animals.
But Roger Wyse of San Francisco-based Burrill and Company, the biggest investment firm focused on life sciences, said the consumer backlash against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) had forced a lull in projects aimed at modifying food.
"We are probably looking at three, four or five years before the GMO issue subsides sufficiently that we will feel comfortable investing in it," he said.
New Zealand-born Dr John Bedbrook, the first person to clone a plant gene in the early 1980s and now head of GM crop developer Verdia, said the European Union had a very fragmented regulatory framework for the technology.
"That has stymied commercialisation in Europe. It has confused people.
"As a New Zealander I can see that they have exported that confusion to the colonies, and that is a really bad thing."
Dr Bedbrook, whose company was sold last week to the chemical giant DuPont for US$64 million ($102.4 million), urged his colleagues at the conference to be more active in moulding public opinion to see GM food as just as safe as GM medicines.
He said the key was a transparent regulatory system which the public could trust to assess safety issues.
California consultant Ken Moonie, who has joined Dr Bedbrook on the Government's World Class New Zealanders programme to advise New Zealand businesses, said the GM backlash was "the biggest challenge we are facing".
"There are a lot of exciting things going on in New Zealand, where lower-cost technology is happening," he told the Bio delegates.
"But people in this room and people interested in technology need to do something about the anti-GM sentiment."
Biotechnology in its modern sense means anything which uses knowledge of living things at the level of individual molecules or genes, and includes new drugs and plant breeding which use this knowledge without actually changing an organism's genes.
But a big chunk of the research and new products discussed at the Bio conference does involve inserting, knocking out or shifting genes in bacteria to make new medicines, or in plants and animals to add new nutritional qualities into food.
Speakers yesterday outlined several new projects to genetically modify goats, hens, corn, tobacco and safflower to make them into biological factories producing medicines in their milk, eggs, plants and seeds.
The Massachussetts company making an anti-bloodclotting medicine by putting a human protein into goats milk, GTC Biotherapeutics, in January became the first applicant to seek approval for a transgenic product from the European Medicines Evaluation Agency.
GTC vice-president Greg Liposky said the protein had already been tested on 190 people in the US and clinical trials would start in Europe as soon as they were approved.
2.Mendocino's GMO vote sparks action
This spring Mendocino County, California, voters banned production of genetically modified (GMO) crops and animals there. Mendocino is the first county in the United States to implement such a ban, inspiring people across the country and the world to follow suit.
Indeed, halfway across the world, major agricultural areas in Australia, including Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, passed or will soon pass GE crop bans.
Of course, Monsanto and its GMO peers don't like the idea. The Organic Consumers Association reports the biotech lobby will soon introduce a bill in California to nullify the Mendocino ban and make it illegal for other California counties to pass similar laws.
Allan Noe, vice president of Crop Life International, a group affiliated with Monsanto and corporate agribusiness, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "We're looking at a number of things to remedy the situation.... a court challenge to Mendocino's ban, an attempt to pass state legislation to prevent counties passing such bans or persuade the federal government, which regulates biotech products, to halt local bans."
The Organic Consumers Association has launched a campaign called the Biodemocracy Alliance to defeat this legislation and spread GE-Free zones across at least a dozen of California's 59 counties as well as counties all over the United States.
On another similar subject, the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues (CGFI), another agribusiness and biotech-affiliated group, will use a new label on "qualifying" products, tentatively called: "Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly" Which products? GMO foods, factory farmed meat, and dairy products.