Agricultural biotechnology: Beyond food and energy to health and the environment
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This conference focused on issues such as plants as new sources of medicinals; bioremediation, phytosensing, and ecorestoration; gene-to-product development; and regulation, consumer acceptance, and risk management.
The products and processes addressed here are almost all at the research stage, whereas there is up to 15 years’ experience with commercial products in the enzyme and crop areas. Economic and environmental benefits of the products discussed could be large, e.g. plants engineered to produce low-cost medicinals with ease of scale-up stated as a unique advantage compared to traditional methods of manufacturing pharmaceuticals, plants that remediate soils in situ instead of wholesale excavation and landfill placement, and trees modified for lower lignin content so as to decrease processing costs while increasing pulp yields with less environmental impact. However, all have major not-yet-well-defined regulatory hurdles to navigate. This report provides cutting-edge information on a cross-section of these novel products and processes and includes open dialog on regulatory and related issues. It emerged that some academic scientists believe that biotechnology products are over-regulated, because regulation is based on process not trait.
All, including those from industry and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, support the necessity for regulation. The bottom line is cautious optimism for commercial use of these products; at this time there are few green lights, many yellow and some red.