NABC Report 06: Agricultural Biotechnology & the Public Good

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Published 1994 by NABC.

On May 18, 1994, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically engineered food product for commercial sale and dozens of other products are in the pipeline promising to provide a vast array of new agricultural products. But is this development in the best interest of the public? NABC 6 was the first NABC meeting to specifically address the global nature of agriculture. The workshops determined eight comprehensive key issues ranging from ownership and access to germplasm to the need for more unified biosafety standards.

Biotechnology can have enormous positive impact on public good, but policy issues are critical in determining who benefits from technology transfer on the national and global level. However, we need to see biotechnology as a point on a continuum of technologies and make sure that it does not replace other valid technologies and thus limit the tools available to producers and consumers.

Certain members of the audience were concerned about negative effects of agricultural biotechnology on human health and the environment, and doubted whether biotechnology can bring universal benefit to developing countries. However, feeding the growing world population using current agricultural practices, the amount of land used for agriculture would have to be expanded from a land mass about the size of South America to that of Eurasia. Increasing agricultural productivity per acre is vital and can be aided by new products developed through agricultural biotechnology. However, public acceptance remains uncertain. Communication and education are important in placing biotechnology solidly on the continuum of technologies and remove the stigma of “Frankenfood”. The current trend of removing funding for public research and handing it over to the private sector has the potential of putting possibly lucrative developments squarely in the hands of corporations rather than in those of the public – a type of “biopiracy” that forces producers, especially in developing countries, to pay for patented life forms previously free for them to use.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 10 of 23
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    Workshop report on environmental stewardship and agricultural biotechnology
    Harwood, Richard; DeWitt, Jerry (NABC, 1994)
    Workshop report and recommendations
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    Workshop on setting the agricultural biotechnology agenda
    Raynor, Patricia T.; Thorburn, Thomas L. (NABC, 1994)
    Workshop report and recommendations
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    Biotechnology and the environment
    Batie, Sandra S. (NABC, 1994)
    Much of the debate about biotechnology and the environment is not so much about the nature and magnitude of the risk, but rather, who should bear the costs if a course of action proves to be in error. Should biotechnology products be readily approved for use, placing the burden of error on the environment? Or should the products be very cautiously screened, placing the bur-den of error on the inventors and users of the product?
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    Public policy, biotechnology and the structure of agriculture
    Browne, William P. (NABC, 1994)
    Numerous perspectives exist on the relationship between emerging biotechnology innovations and the structure of agriculture emphasize what can be done to influence that relationship. The author argues that the historic interplay of public policy and marketplace forces will continue pretty much unabated, extending most trends but adding to them new expectations. As always, public policies will not encourage smaller-scale production agriculture and a new policy dimension will be added—reliance on biotechnology to reduce environmental hazards.
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    Genetic engineering (“Biotech”): use of science gone wrong
    Clark, John Bell (NABC, 1994)
    Even if genetic engineering does not lead to unforeseen mutations and runaway alien varieties, the disruptions to balances in nature are predictable— a genetic characteristic always results in an end product or products in the organism, substances which nature assimilates gradually over time. By natural selection, nature eliminates its mistakes. Without allowing for natural corrections, biotechnology places us above nature.
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    Workshop report on biotechnology and the structure of agriculture
    Buttel, Frederick H.; Guthrie, Tom (NABC, 1994)
    Workshop report and recommendations
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    Agriculture in the 1990s and beyond
    Kleckner, Dean (NABC, 1994)
    Industrialization presents many opportunities and challenges to America’s farmers. We need to capitalize on those that offer the most promise and are also alert to coming Farmers see themselves as society’s creators and doers who are under ever greater pressures. Only removing regulation and government control will let them flourish.
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    Moving beyond dialogue
    Youngberg, I. Garth (NABC, 1994)
    The time has come for the biotechnology industry to explore the principles and processes of participatory decision-making, and to implement concrete decision-making opportunities involving all elements of the agricultural biotechnology constituency, including farmers, public interest group representatives and other citizens. These individuals should be involved in the strategic phases of basic and applied agricultural biotechnology research, development and marketing. The characteristic of participatory decision-making would create authentic opportunities to directly influence the biotechnology agenda.
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    How the agenda is set
    Offutt, Susan (NABC, 1994)
    The advent of biotechnology has hastened the day of reckoning by accentuating the linkages among farming practices, the natural resource base, food processing, and consumption requirements and desires. Given the complexity of the food and agricultural system, how can the contributions, and limitations, of numerous perspectives be appreciated? Any reconsideration or redesign of the process has to accommodate the continued prospect of argument over the beneficial nature of new technologies because benefits will always be accompanied by risks and costs.
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    Global interdependence and the private sector
    Lesser, WilliamH. (NABC, 1994)
    Developing countries need biotechnology products and must pay for what is used. At the same time developing countries take out patents on their own genetic materials, largely unimproved germplasm. However, we do not presently have a real market for these materials/technologies, a market which operates efficiently as do markets for major agricultural commodities. Principal limitations, in my viewpoint, are the weakness/lack of Intellectual Property Rights in many recipient countries and the virtual absence of laws controlling access to genetic materials.