Genes, Trade, and Regulation: The Seeds of Conflict in Food Biotechnology

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Overview

Agricultural (or "green") biotechnology is a source of growing tensions in the global trading system, particularly between the United States and the European Union. Genetically modified food faces an uncertain future. The technology behind it might revolutionize food production around the world. Or it might follow the example of nuclear energy, which declined from a symbol of socioeconomic progress to become one of the most unpopular and uneconomical innovations in history.

This book provides novel and thought-provoking insights into the fundamental policy issues involved in agricultural biotechnology. Thomas Bernauer explains global regulatory polarization and trade conflict in this area. He then evaluates cooperative and unilateral policy tools for coping with trade tensions. Arguing that the tools used thus far have been and will continue to be ineffective, he concludes that the risk of a full-blown trade conflict is high and may lead to reduced investment and the decline of the technology. Bernauer concludes with suggestions for policy reforms to halt this trajectory—recommendations that strike a sensible balance between public-safety concerns and private economic freedom—so that food biotechnology is given a fair chance to prove its environmental, health, humanitarian, and economic benefits.

This book will equip companies, farmers, regulators, NGOs, academics, students, and the interested public—including both advocates and critics of green biotechnology—with a deeper understanding of the political, economic, and societal factors shaping the future of one of the most revolutionary technologies of our times.

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Editorial Reviews

Perspectives in Political Science
[An] important and definitive book on agricultural biotechnology and the deepening trade dispute between the United States and the European Union. . . .. Bernauer has done a first-rate job of exploring this contentious trade issue in an understandable way.
— Dennis Pirages
Quarterly Review of Biology
Bernauer's book is the best single reference currently available treating the regulatory struggle surrounding GE (genetically engineered) foods and food crops. . . . Bernauer does not just skim the surface; with remarkable stamina and a sure analytical touch he lays the details of each issue carefully and thoroughly before readers. At a moment when polemics dominate most discussions of GE food policy, the Bernauer volume has arrived just in time.
— Robert Paarlberg
Perspectives in Political Science - Dennis Pirages
[An] important and definitive book on agricultural biotechnology and the deepening trade dispute between the United States and the European Union. . . .. Bernauer has done a first-rate job of exploring this contentious trade issue in an understandable way.
Quarterly Review of Biology - Robert Paarlberg
Bernauer's book is the best single reference currently available treating the regulatory struggle surrounding GE (genetically engineered) foods and food crops. . . . Bernauer does not just skim the surface; with remarkable stamina and a sure analytical touch he lays the details of each issue carefully and thoroughly before readers. At a moment when polemics dominate most discussions of GE food policy, the Bernauer volume has arrived just in time.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2005 Don K. Price Award, Science, Technology, and Environmental Politics Section of the American Political Science Association

"[An] important and definitive book on agricultural biotechnology and the deepening trade dispute between the United States and the European Union. . . .. Bernauer has done a first-rate job of exploring this contentious trade issue in an understandable way."—Dennis Pirages, Perspectives in Political Science

"Bernauer's book is the best single reference currently available treating the regulatory struggle surrounding GE (genetically engineered) foods and food crops. . . . Bernauer does not just skim the surface; with remarkable stamina and a sure analytical touch he lays the details of each issue carefully and thoroughly before readers. At a moment when polemics dominate most discussions of GE food policy, the Bernauer volume has arrived just in time."—Robert Paarlberg, Quarterly Review of Biology

Foreign Affairs
The past decade has witnessed a growing transatlantic conflict over genetically modified (GM) crops. Great advances in microbiology have opened the way for revolutionary improvements in agricultural productivity and in reduced use of pesticides and herbicides. But many people, especially in Europe, fear genetic modification — despite the fact that they have been eating products genetically modified through selective breeding all their lives. Bernauer, a political scientist based in Zurich, does not take a position on whether GM foods are, on balance, good or bad. He is concerned instead with the political dynamics of the current U.S.-EU impasse on GM products, stemming from disagreement over their health and environmental impacts, and with the deleterious effects that this impasse will have on consumer confidence in GM foods, on the world trading system (especially the World Trade Organization), and on developing countries, which have the potential to benefit most from GM crops. After a thorough exploration of this ongoing controversy, Bernauer proposes a course of action, aimed at political compromise, to break the impasse.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691113487
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/17/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Genes, Trade, and Regulation

The Seeds of Conflict in Food Biotechnology
By Thomas Bernauer

Princeton University Press

Thomas Bernauer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691113483


Chapter One

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

Agricultural (or ''green'') biotechnology, the most cutting-edge contemporary technology in food production, faces an uncertain future. Will it follow the example of nuclear energy, which turned out to be one of the most unpopular and uneconomical innovations in history? Or will it revolutionize food production around the world? Are prevailing public and private sector strategies for coping with the most important political, economic, and societal challenges to agri-biotechnology effective in terms of creating a long-term global market for the technology? What policies could be adopted to shape the evolution of the technology in ways that benefit humanity and the environment?

In this book I argue that global regulatory polarization and trade conflicts have exacerbated already existing domestic controversies over agricultural biotechnology and have thrown the latter into a deep crisis.

Regulatory polarization has emerged as European Union (EU) countries have imposed severe regulatory constraints on agri-biotechnology, whereas the United States has opened its market to most agri-biotech applications. Other countries have either aligned with one or the other of the world's two largest economies, or they have been struggling to find some middle ground.

The analysis in this book shows that regulatory polarization has been driven by differences across countries in public opinion, interest group politics, and institutional structures. It also shows that regulatory polarization has created strong tensions in the world trading system. International conflicts over regulatory differences, which tend to act as non-tariff barriers to trade, have been intensifying since the first genetically engineered (GE) crops appeared on international markets in 1996.

The largest part of the book concentrates on: describing how regulatory polarization has emerged (chapter 3); explaining why it has emerged (chapters 4 and 5); and assessing the likelihood of escalation of international trade tensions over regulatory differences (chapter 6).

In light of this analysis I conclude that prevailing public and private sector policies do not add up to an effective strategy for mitigating or overcoming regulatory polarization, diffusing trade tensions, and creating a long-term global market for the technology. The dominant public sector policies include: establishing ever more complex and stringent regulations that are increasingly divorced from scientific evidence and insufficiently backed by robust institutional structures for implementation (this is largely the European Union's strategy for increasing public acceptance of green biotechnology); threats of escalating trade disputes over differing regulations to force open foreign markets for the technology (a strategy favored by parts of the US government, the US biotech industry, and US farmers). The dominant private sector policies include: educating consumers about the benefits and (low) risks of the technology; highlighting consumer benefits of future GE products; ad hoc efforts to accommodate consumer demand for non-GE products through market-driven product differentiation (crop segregation and labeling); lobbying the US government to force open foreign markets via trade disputes.

Continuing regulatory polarization and trade conflict darken agri-biotechnology's prospects for three reasons.

First, regulatory polarization locks in or even increases fragmentation of international agricultural markets, and it implies reduced market access for agri-biotechnology and its products. It thus reduces scale economies and returns on investment into the technology. And it discourages further private sector investment in a new sector that could otherwise grow into a market worth several hundred billion dollars. Because of uncertainties about market access for GE products, it also exerts a chilling effect on adoption of the technology by farmers around the world.

Second, as I will show in chapter 6, trade conflicts over differing agri-biotech regulations are very difficult to solve, particularly within the World Trade Organization (WTO). Thus, they threaten to tax international institutions and impact negatively on efforts to liberalize global trade in agricultural goods and services. They exacerbate problems of global market fragmentation and uncertainties about market access caused by regulatory polarization. And they amplify already existing domestic controversies over the technology. All this, again, impacts negatively on investment, research and development, and adoption of the technology.

Third, regulatory polarization and trade conflict slow down public sector support for agri-biotechnology. This concerns in particular support by richer nations for developing countries where the technology might be needed most for increasing agricultural productivity. EU countries, Japan, and other agri-biotech adverse states have been highly reluctant to include biotechnology in their development assistance programs. So have non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Moreover, many developing countries have refused help of this nature for fear of losing agricultural export opportunities in biotech adverse markets. This situation creates a ''legitimacy trap.'' Agri-biotech proponents have made ''feeding the poor'' one of their key selling points. Continuing emphasis of this legitimating argument, but failure to deliver on this account, could undermine the legitimacy of the technology in both rich and poor countries.

The book ends with suggestions for policy reforms that could help to avoid the seemingly unavoidable trajectory that leads from regulatory polarization to trade conflict to stagnation or decline of agri-biotechnology (chapter 7). These suggestions focus on establishing strong regulatory authorities backed by robust liability laws, market-driven product differentiation based on mandatory labeling of GE products, and support for developing countries.

The genie is out of the bottle. Food biotechnology and its applications are with us, and the technology is developing rapidly. Based on current knowledge about the benefits and risks of agri-biotechnology, neither blanket bans nor libertarian solutions appear warranted. As with many other new technologies, complex trade-offs between public safety concerns and private economic freedom have to be found. Whether one supports or opposes food biotechnology, the starting point for politically stable and economically and ecologically sensible trade-offs must be a sophisticated understanding of where we stand, how we got here, where we are likely to go, and what the pressures towards particular futures are. If this book can help both supporters and critics of agri-biotechnology in this process I will have achieved more than I could hope for.

Finally, I have tried to present conceptual (or theoretical) arguments and the associated evidence in a way that makes the book accessible to non-social scientists and non-experts in biotech issues. I am confident, however, that social scientists and biotech experts will also find much theoretical and empirical food for thought.

Technological Revolution

Breathtaking innovation in biotechnology has brought humankind to the doorstep of a third ''green revolution'' within less than a century. The first green revolution, which began in the 1930s, was initiated by three developments: large-scale application of Gregor Mendel's work, carried out in the 19th century, on inheritance in plant breeding; discovery of inexpensive methods for the production of nitrogen fertilizer; and development of high yield hybrid corn. Rapid yield increases throughout the 1970s in corn and other temperate-climate crops were, in addition, obtained through increasingly effective fertilizers, pesticides, crop species, machinery, and farm management. The average farmer in modern agriculture is thus able to feed up to 30 non-farmers. The second green revolution, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, carried the same technologies to the developing world and crops grown in the tropics (notably, rice).

The third green revolution, which is still at an early stage, was born in the 1970s1 and commercialized in the 1990s. It has been led by agricultural biotechnology.2 According to the proponents of this technology, it will result in another massive increase in productivity, with a predicted feeding ability far beyond 1:30. It is also expected to provide qualitative improvements in the food supply (e.g., healthier food).

Controversy

The advent of agricultural biotechnology sparked a worldwide public controversy of breadth and intensity unseen since the peak of the antinuclear energy movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The controversy over green biotechnology forms part of wider ranging societal controversies over various applications of biotechnology, notably, cloning and other biotech-related reproductive technologies, stem-cell research, xenotrans-plantation, transgenic animals, and genetic testing. Debates over such biotech applications also tie in with more general issues, such as world trade and globalization, intellectual property rights and the patenting of life forms, the future of agriculture, poverty and hunger, and the role of science in society.3 All of these issues involve clashes between natural science paradigms and political measures designed to cope with uncertainty and ethics. They also involve disputes over how to balance economic competitiveness and politically legitimate and viable regulatory systems for new technologies.

Most analysts regard 1996-97 as the watershed years in the controversy over green biotechnology. In those years, the first agri-biotech mass commodities appeared on international markets: Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn. At the same time, the first successful cloning of an animal (Dolly, a sheep) from an adult cell took place at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Ever since, regulatory authorities around the world have been struggling with the issue. Media coverage has exploded. NGO campaigns and consumer revolts have become part of the political landscape of many countries. International trade tensions over differences across countries in agri-biotech regulation have built up. And the concept of the modern life sciences firm that integrates agrochemicals, crop sciences, pharmaceuticals, and health and food products has experienced a profound crisis.4

The proponents of the technology claim that it will, in the medium to long term, help in reducing hunger, public health problems, and environmental stress. It will, in their view, result in cheaper and better food and it is necessary to prevent massive food shortages and environmental degradation as the world's population approaches 9-10 billion in 2050. Consumer benefits are said to include food with less organic contaminants and microorganisms, less pesticide residues, more vitamin A and other vitamins, higher iron and protein content, less cholesterol, longer shelf-life, and better keeping quality. Future products are expected to contain more micronutrients, less toxins, edible vaccines, and less allergens. Environmental benefits are said to include increased yields, which reduces the need to convert forests and habitat into farmland, reduced use of insecticides, herbicides, and nitrogen fertilizers, improved water quality and biodiversity, and soil conservation. Benefits to farmers purportedly include higher and more stable yields, more cost efficient and convenient pest control, reduced fertilizer cost, and higher profits.5

The critics of agricultural biotechnology maintain that the medium- to long-term health and environmental risks of GE (or transgenic) organisms are poorly understood, and that the technology promotes excessive corporate power through patenting of the food chain. They also invoke a range of ethical concerns, arguing, for example, that the technology involves ''tampering with nature.''

Stakes

Whether consumer health, the environment, and the hungry will, in the long term, benefit or suffer from agricultural biotechnology remains open and contested. If the proponents' predictions materialized at some point in the future, humanity and the environment would benefit enormously. However, the public health, environmental, and commercial risks could also be considerable. Some readers may recall the prediction by Admiral Lewis Strauss, the head of the US Atomic Energy Commission, who claimed in the 1950s that nuclear power would eventually be too cheap to meter.6 Nuclear power turned out to be one of the most uneconomical and unpopular technological innovations in human history. It has not collapsed entirely. But it has never reached the adoption rate and market share that its proponents originally predicted.

Will green biotechnology suffer the same fate? We will probably know in 10-20 years from now. In the meantime, a better understanding of the political, economic, and societal determinants of the future of green biotechnology can help stakeholders to make well-informed predictions. It can contribute to more accurate assessments of public and private sector strategies for coping with challenges to agri-biotechnology. And it can be helpful in devising policy solutions that promote applications of agri-biotechnology that benefit both rich and poor inhabitants of our planet in ecological, human health, and economic terms.

For proponents and opponents of green biotechnology, the public health, environmental, and ethical stakes are obviously large. So are the more narrow economic stakes for biotech firms, farmers, food processors, and retailers.

As of 2002, the world market for transgenic crops and GE food products and ingredients was estimated at around 17 billion USD. It consisted largely of insect-resistant corn and cotton and herbicide-tolerant soybeans. By 2006, this market, in which soybeans and cotton will still hold the lion's share, is predicted to reach over 20 billion USD. The potential market for ''white biotechnology'', i.e., the use of GE plants for the production of vaccines, renewable sources of energy (e.g. ethanol), biodegradable plastics, and other goods could be much larger, possibly up to 100-500 billion USD per year by 2020.7 The area planted to GE crops stood at over 58 million hectares (145 million acres) in 2002 and is likely to grow further.8 Investment in agri-biotech research and development is difficult to estimate, but runs into billions of USD per year. Input suppliers (agri-biotech firms), GE crop farmers, as well as food processors and retailers that support agri-biotechnology have a lot to lose if the tide turns against this technology. Finally, billions of dollars in exports of GE crops or processed foods that contain GE organisms are also at stake.

Continues...


Excerpted from Genes, Trade, and Regulation by Thomas Bernauer Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Chapter One: Introduction and Summary 1
Chapter Two: Challenges 22
Chapter Three: Polarization 44
Chapter Four: Interest Group Politics 66
Chapter Five: Regulatory Federalism 102
Chapter Six: International Trade Conflict 118
Chapter Seven: Coping with Diversity 168
Notes 185
References 213
Index 225

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Recipe

"Despite working from the same body of scientific assessments, governments in Europe and North America have arrived at polar opposite conclusions about the safety of genetically engineered foods—national differences that have magnified into a global food fight. Where other studies of this problem wear blinders as they attempt to brand novel foods 'good' or 'bad,' this refreshingly clinical analysis instead trains the analytical tools of political science on the root causes of regulatory polarization. Not only does Bernauer reveal why Europe and America have arrived on opposite sides of the controversy—and why the gap is likely to yawn further—he also offers a market-based strategy for accommodating regulatory diversity in this era of globalization."—David G. Victor, author of Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol

"Policymakers, scholars, and every citizen concerned about the future of the environment, hunger, human health, and the world food supply should read this book."—Ronald Mitchell, University of Oregon

"This book provides a clear and well-developed argument that the successful development of the agricultural biotechnology sector depends on numerous decisions that have yet to be taken and would require the alignment of research and innovation strategies far more closely to consumer and regulatory requirements than has hitherto been the case."—Erik Millstone, Science Policy Research Unit, Sussex University

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