NABC Report 06: Agricultural Biotechnology & the Public Good
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.
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