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 - 20 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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    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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    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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    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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    Workshop report on biotechnology and the structure of agriculture
    Buttel, Frederick H.; Guthrie, Tom (NABC, 1994)
    Workshop report and recommendations
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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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    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.
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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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    Biotechnology-global interdependence
    Sawyer, Richard L. (NABC, 1994)
    Multiple interests and pressures on Earth today are moving us rapidly towards problems and progress. As major gains are made on some fronts, new problems emerge on others. Unresolved religious, tribal and ethnic differences are causing confrontations. The Green Revolution of the 1960s allowed food production to catch up temporarily with the food requirements of a growing population. However, the increases in cereal yields have slowed and decreases are now being reported in some areas highly dependent on these crops. Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are attempting now to engineer a new rice to help keep yields abreast of population needs for the immediate future. Only through biotechnology does such a possibility exist.
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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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    Workshop report on agricultural biotechnology and global interdependence
    Germida, Jim; Coffman, W. Ronnie (NABC, 1994)
    Workshop report and recommendations
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    Choices from the past
    Fitzgerald, Deborah (NABC, 1994)
    We need to be concerned about the important relationships between citizen groups, federal researchers and policymakers, and scholars and donors. We need to keep old strategies available to all, such as students who will think of new applications for them, or for corporate sponsors. We need to keep old solutions, as well as old problems, available, to recognize creativity both at the lab bench and in the field, and to reward innovation, both material and magical.
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    Addressing agricultural development in Egypt; a national program perspective
    Madkour, Magdy A. (NABC, 1994)
    The government of Egypt is increasingly aware that it must use its own limited resources in a cost effective way to develop its own appropriate biotechnology applications. Inability to acquire technology developed else-where could deny Egypt timely access to new, important advances that could overcome significant constraints to increased agricultural productivity. A very significant contribution could be the protection of the crops from losses to pests, pathogens and weeds, which currently ranges from 20 to 40% despite the widespread use of synthetic pesticides. Biotechnology offers great benefits by replacing the present policy of blanket sprayings of crops with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides.
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    Agricultural Biotechnology in DevelopingAgricultural biotechnology in developing nations: place, role and contradictions
    Silva, Jose de Souza (NABC, 1994)
    Agricultural biotechnology holds the scientific/technological potential to deliver many benefits to developing nations; yet, its present development world-wide is not without contradictions. The political process through which powerful socioeconomic and political forces interact shape the nature and direction the biorevolution, Agricultural biotechnology is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to assure access to food by all social groups.
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    Agricultural biotechnology for sustainable productivity: a USAID initiative for plant biotechnology in the developing world
    Dodds, John (NABC, 1994)
    Significant changes in world geography and politics and an ever-growing world population continue to put increasing pressure on food producers to deliver more food grown in the same or less space with greater nutritional value and less effect on the environment. At the same time, the understanding of plant biology and agriculture also has grown, providing the scientific com-munity new tools with which to contribute to the resolution of these challenges. The capacity to take advantage of these new research opportunities has rapidly advanced among industrialized countries while developing countries are often unable to keep pace. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) addresses the discrepancy in national science and technology capabilities through programs of collaboration among developed and developing countries which seek to enhance the sustainability of agricultural productivity.
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    Agricultural biotechnology and the pulbic good
    Shand, Hope J. (NABC, 1994)
    Biopiracy refers to the development of new biotechnologies based on genetic material and informal innovation of the southern hemisphere when it does not benefit the original owners of the genetic materials and processes. To counteract this, the notion of intellectual property rights over living materials needs broad societal review. Intellectual property laws are designed to promote innovation, but are failing to protect the control of biological products and processes. Patents are important marketing tools for biotechnology firms, but they may be stifling the free flow of information and genetic. The principle of farmers’ rights should be strengthened and implemented as a protocol to the Biodiversity Convention.
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    Current and next generation agricultural biotechnology products and processes considered from a public good perspective
    Hardy, W.F. (NABC, 1994)
    A hierarchical structure of public good based on relative importance is presented, arranged from the greatest to the least: freedom of choice; knowledge; human health; economics; environment; sustainability; global interdependence and other. Other public good category include issues that apply only to limited subsets of people. Public good requires the transfer of technology from the research and development products and processes in the marketplace. Without commercialization or equivalent delivery to the users, there is no public good.
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    Biotechnology for the public good
    Cook, R. James (NABC, 1994)
    As Americans, we expect and take for granted an ever increasing supply and choices of quality, affordable food while also generating a positive balance in international trade. We also expect that this can be achieved with decreasing use of pesticides, all the while accepting the transfer of agricultural land to roads, housing and recreation as well as the transfer of some of it back to nature. To meet these expectations, agriculture must convert from a resource-based to a knowledge-based enterprise. The new tools of biotechnology offer the latest means to this increase this knowledge base while meeting the many expectations of agriculture.
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    Commercialization of genetically modified plants: progress towards the marketplace
    Fraley, Robert T. Fraley (NABC, 1994)
    Agricultural productivity increases over the last 40 years were driven by significant advances in several areas: plant breeding, farm mechanization, the use of crop chemicals, irrigation systems and modern farm management practices. Adding agricultural biotechnology to this set of tools promises unprecedented improvements not just in productivity but also food quality, even the use of plants as production facilities for chemicals and a reduction of our dependence on petroleum imports.