the activists’ myth that agricultural biotechnology is just another
ploy by big North American corporations to monopolize the global agricultural
economy is, well, just a myth. Another fabrication to mislead policymakers
and the public.
THE FACTS: Public Research Thrives
According to an article published recently in Nature Biotechnology, many countries have publicly-supported groundbreaking research to produce GM crops. The new study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) looks at the development of biotech. crops by research institutes in 15 developing countries. It assesses the state of the research, the types of genes being used, and the biosafety and regulatory challenges poor countries face.
“Our study debunks many misconceptions about biotech crop research,” said Joel Cohen, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow and author of the article. “Many people assume that large multinational corporations control the global development of genetically modified foods, but the reality is that poor countries have vibrant programs of public biotech research. Often this research draws upon indigenous plant varieties to cultivate improved crops for local use by small-scale farmers.”
Biotech research is being done on 45 different crops, including cotton, corn, cacao, and cassava, focussing mostly on improving resistance to diseases and pests, which can devastate yields for farmers in poor countries. Most of the work is currently at the stage of laboratory, greenhouse, or confined field trials; very little is yet available for farmers.
“Unfortunately, most poor countries lack the knowledge, capacity, and funding to develop and comply with biosafety regulatory requirements. As a result, GM crops face difficulties moving from the lab to farmers’ fields,” noted Patricia Zambrano of IFPRI, who contributed to the study.
The study is the first to draw the connection between regulation and specific crops and genetic traits, showing the policy implications of the research. Such information is critical to policymakers for improving biosafety regulation.
“Poor countries are often unwilling or unable to test commercial GM crops because of national policies or regulatory systems that are not prepared to grant approval for general use,” Cohen explained. “Researchers in industrialised and developing countries need to work together to provide science-based information for decision makers, so that they can enhance the clarity of regulatory policies and procedures.”
The study recommends an increase in small-scale, confined field trials to test crops and receive feedback from farmers. It also stresses the need for improved information sharing among developing countries.
“The information in this study will assist developing countries to strengthen the effectiveness of research and regulation, so that they can maximize benefits to small-scale farmers,” said Mark Rosegrant, director of Environment and Production Technology at IFPRI.
THE STEWARD, from the Hawaiian Alliance for Responsible Technology & Science (April 2005) (reproduced by permission of the publishers).