SEVEN SCIENCE ACADEMIES' STATEMENT - points of interest
These comments on nuances in the recent Seven Science Academies’ pro-GM statement, compiled by the Royal Society, may be of interest. Not least - given USDA’s recent decision to continue developing Terminator, and in the UK the ACRE subcommittee’s recent enthusiasm for Terminator type technologies - their acknowledgement that, as Saleim Fakir summarises it, “given the tradition of seed saving in developing countries, especially small-scale and subsistence farmers, GURT technologies, or what are referred to as terminator seeds, are likely to have negative economic consequences on these farmers”. The ACRE sub-committee deemed it beyond their remit to consider such factors.
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“Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture”: Report by a Working Group Representing Seven Science Academies - Released July 11, 2000 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
Remarks By: Saliem Fakir, World Conservation Union Country Office,
Posted on the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture
The report on “Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture”, compiled by the Royal Society of London, the US National Academy of sciences etc, makes interesting reading, although it is sort of bland in terms of its critique.
The two most interesting sections are those dealig with the role of public and private sector, and intellectual property rights (IPR). Given that this is written by members of the scientific community, the conclusions they draw are all the more striking and fascinating.
For instance, they argue for a balance in research funding between private and public sector funding. The reasons being, as the report notes, is that in the private sector “research priorities are driven by market forces.” and elsewhere, the report continues this line - “Whereas fundamental research is still being carried out by the public sector, the strategic application, in sharp contrast to the “Green Revolution”, takes place largely in the private sector where much of the intellectual property is controlled”.
The report’s next insight argument is that the main reason why public sector funding should not diminish, as is the case now, is simply, “If such research were wholly private, even in perfectly functioning market, the demands of rich consumers for innovation in their own interests would overwhelm the price signals from poor consumers and small-scale farmers”.
On intellectual property rights, it raises caution about the increased private sector control over intellectual property, and the lack of similar counter-balance from the public sector. In particular, it points out that historically, the private sector has benefited from knowledge and resource transfers from the public sector and the CGIAR institutes, and has not in any significant way ploughed back the returns from IPR to these institutions.
The issue of IPR raises questions as to whether in fact this is likely to stifle further innovation, or constrain the public sector’s ability to use knowledge or resources that help new innovations to be generated. In fact, the report is suggestive that while Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURT) can have benefits, the private sector uses them to control the use of their technologies. And, given the tradition of seed saving in developing countries, especially small-scale and subsistence farmers, GURT technologies, or what are referred to as terminator seeds, are likely to have negative economic consequences on these farmers.
The report initially struck me as yet another exercise by scientists to push us further down the track of uncritically looking at the issue of GE technologies, but in fact, as one reads further, one gets a sense that there are finer political nuances and an attempt to be balanced emerging from the text. A useful reading I think, if anybody is interested.
The web address was given by one of the participants earlier. [link available off of http://www.biotech-info.net/fakir_remarks.html ]
- for much more on the feeding the world topic see:
- for more on the highly controversial role of the Royal Society in
the GM debate see: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/rs.htm