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Genetically Modified Organisms in AgricultureEconomics and Politics
Academic PressCopyright © 2001 ACADEMIC PRESS
All right reserved.
Gerald C. Nelson University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, USA
Goals of the Book 4 Main Issues in the GMO Debate 5
Although genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture have been available only for a few years, their commercial use is expanding rapidly. GM crops in widespread use include corn (maize), soybeans, cotton, potatoes, and canola (rape). The first GM crops were commercialized by China in the early 1990s, with the introduction of virus-resistant tobacco and later a virus-resistant tomato. Among industrialized nations, the first commercial use of a genetically modified food product was the Flavr Savr tomato, a delayed-ripening tomato introduced in the US by Calgene in 1994 (James and Krattiger, 1996). Between 1996 and 1998, transgenic crop area increased fifteenfold, to almost 28 million hectares (James, 1998). By 2000 GMO crop area had expanded to 44.2 million hectares (James, 2000). Most GMO crops are grown in North America, but large areas of cultivation are found in Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa.
Earlier technological changes in agriculture, such as hybrid corn in the US and Green Revolution rice and wheat, had opponents. But hostility to crops produced using recombinant DNA technologies has arisen much more quickly and been much more in the public eye. This opposition, driven by concerns about consumer food safety, the environment, corporate control of agriculture, and ethics, is strongest in Europe, but resistance to its use in developing countries has also arisen. The European Union (EU) accepts imports of some versions of the two most widely grown GMOs – Bt corn and glyphosate-resistant (GR) soybeans. However, in 1999 the EU halted registration of new GM crop varieties for domestic cultivation and use. European policy is evolving. Alternatives range from ultimate acceptance to a ban on the use of GMO seeds and on imports of GMO products. Dramatic changes in EU food safety regulation are already underway. The regulatory environment in other countries is undergoing changes as well.
EU policy debates over the use of transgenic crops in the food chain and the countryside highlight the challenges facing national food safety, environmental and agricultural regulatory agencies and the international trading system. This challenge is likely to become apparent on three different fronts – how to deal with vocal consumer resistance, the speed of technological change, and restructuring of the agri-food industry. These changes pose national and international problems of efficiency, equity, and responsibility that must be addressed.
Thus far GMO issues have not led to open trade conflict, but recent policy decisions in the EU – most importantly the decision to place a moratorium on the regulatory approval process for GMOs, combined with widespread public sentiment against GMOs – make such a conflict almost inevitable without constructive dialogue and collective action among the principals. The successful conclusion of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations in Montreal in February 1999 may mark the beginning of such a dialogue, but many challenges remain.
Goals of the Book
This book has several goals. First, it provides an overview of the gamut of GMO issues – biology, regulation, private and social economics, and politics. We argue that for most of the questions raised about GMOs, whether positive (contributions to farmer income and world food supply sustainability) or negative (food safety and environmental concerns), the answers need to be assessed at the level of the product of the technology rather than the technology itself. Because most of the commercial production today is of three GMO crops – glyphosate-resistant (GR) soybeans, Bt corn, and Bt cotton – we examine the biology of these crops in depth in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 presents an economist's approach to evaluating new technologies. Chapters 4 through 7 then apply that approach, assessing the market and nonmarket effects of these three crops.
The regulatory mechanisms for assessing the food and environmental safety of GM products are in a state of flux. We review how GMOs are regulated in the major importing countries and the roles currently played by international institutions with regulatory or standards setting authority such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Biodiversity Agreement, and the Codex Alimentarius.
This material is then used to inform a 'political economy' discussion of the subject of GMOs and the world trading system, which entails consideration not only of the issues themselves but also of the stakeholders and their positions. The stakeholders operate in the context of a regulatory framework at the national and international level and, in turn, try to influence this framework. The political marketplace brings together this set of interests and stimulates attempts at communication and persuasion. This marketplace also includes the international arena, where governmental and non-governmental bodies seek to develop multilateral institutions. These institutions in turn become the focus for attempts by countries to influence regulations in their own perceived interest.
We end this part of the book with our perspective on the possible futures for agricultural GMOs.
The political economy discussion of Chapter 8 sets the stage for Part 2 of this book. We invited leading individuals with different perspectives on the GMO controversies to contribute short chapters that present their views. Their voices provide a vivid illustration of the range of passions engendered by this set of new technologies.
The final part of this book presents a more in-depth look at selected issues. We provide a very brief history of agricultural biotechnology (Chapter 26), a more in-depth look at the biotechnology techniques, both those that involve transfer of novel genes and others, available to today's plant breeder (Chapter 27). We include chapters that provide the latest research on the monarch butterfly controversy (Chapter 28) and on the history of the beef hormone dispute between the EU and the US. Finally, we include a glossary of biotech terms and a list of EU biotech field trial approvals.
Main Issues in the GMO Debate
Three sets of broad issues define the scope of the GMO debate – assessing costs and benefits of the technology and its products, formulating regulatory strategies to enhance human and environmental safety, and structuring legal institutions to encourage development of intellectual property. The first set of issues deals with the economic, social, and ethical benefits and costs associated with specific GMO products. The potential benefits include environmental improvements from reduced use of chemical inputs, plants with enhanced health characteristics, and more abundant food supplies. The potential costs include environmental and food safety hazards, as well as adverse distributional impacts if the technology were to favor large farmers or multinational corporations. Ethical concerns about the use of biotechnology in agriculture arise from the notion that genetic engineering methods extend the intrusion of humans into natural processes far beyond that of normal plant breeding. But there are also ethical considerations involved in deciding to repress a technology that offers humanitarian benefits. We explore the available evidence on the market and nonmarket benefits and costs of specific GMOs in Chapters 3 through 7. Ethical considerations are beyond the professional purview of economists (which the authors of the first part are) but various contributors to the second part of this book address ethical concerns.
The second set of questions is about regulatory responsibility. Have governments adequately assessed the possible health and environmental effects of GMOs, or has the process of adoption been rushed as a result of commercial pressures on companies responsible for the technologies? Should one wait until long-term studies of the effects of GMOs in the environment and in the diet can be concluded? Or is it enough to deduce from scientific studies what the long-term impacts might be? The international aspects of regulatory responsibility are also in a state of flux, as countries try to develop a bio-safety regime to go along with the trade regime established in the WTO. We review the regulatory process in the US and the EU in some detail in Chapter 9 and several contributors to Part 2 provide perspectives on the need for regulatory reforms.
The third set of issues surround the legal and effective ownership of genetic material. Developers of new plant varieties in industrialized countries have had some form of legal protection for the intellectual property embodied in these transformed products for many years. However, until the 1980s, most private-sector research was devoted to male-sterile hybrid technology in open-pollinating crops, principally corn. The nature of this technology is that cultivators must purchase seed each year to get the benefits from the technology. In essence, biology enforces intellectual property rights. The cost of developing GMO crops, recent changes in patent laws, the use of genetic markers, and the potential for genetic enforcement of legal rights (the 'terminator' technology) shift control of technology in the direction of the private sector. There is concern in some quarters that the nature of global agriculture and the relationship between farmers and other parts of the food system are undergoing radical change.
These three sets of issues lie at the heart of the GMO debate. Opinions differ sharply on the answers to the questions they pose, adding to the complexity of the debate. And the answers are likely to differ dramatically for different GMOs.
We continue, in Chapter 2, with a brief review of the development of the rDNA technology itself and the main traits currently available only in GMO crops. Two chapters in Part 3 provide more in-depth information on the history of and the science techniques available to agricultural biotechnology.
Chapter TwoTraits and Techniques of GMOs
Gerald C. Nelson University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, USA
The Biology of Bt Corn 9 The Biology of Bt Cotton 11 The Biology of Glyphosate-resistant Soybeans 13
A simplistic, but useful interpretation of human development of agriculture is the search for genes that produce characteristics of value to humans. Domestication of crops has meant that plants with valuable characteristics to humans are encouraged, while competing characteristics, including those that might enhance survivability in the wild, are discouraged. Until the development of rDNA technologies, the extent of desirable gene combinations was limited by sexual reproduction. The power of genetic engineering is the ability to move genes between organisms that are not sexually compatible, creating novel organisms with hitherto unavailable bundles of desirable characteristics. Table 2.1 summarizes five categories of characteristics for which transgenic crops have either been developed or for which research is ongoing.
Chapter 27 provides an extended discussion of the technologies available to today's plant breeder, including transfer of novel genetic material. In this chapter we summarize the process of creating a GMO. To make a transgenic crop, one or more genes of interest from another species are inserted into a plant cell along with promoter and marker genetic material. The promoter material influences at what locations in the plant the desired trait is produced and at what levels. The genetic marker aids identification of successful transformations. In gene transfer experiments, only a small percentage of the recipient plant cells actually take up the novel genes, and many desirable traits are not easy to detect before the plant has fully developed. The genetic marker material causes the plant to produce a substance that can be detected soon after transformation. Examples include a substance that inactivates an antibiotic or a herbicide or that causes a color change in the presence of a cultivation medium.
Successful transformations, called events, vary depending on the components of the genetic package and where the novel DNA is inserted. The insertion site may affect production of the desired trait and could affect other plant functions as well. After the novel genetic material has been inserted, the transformed cell is induced to grow an entire plant that expresses the property encoded by the new genetic material. This new plant is then incorporated into traditional breeding programs, to combine the new trait with other desirable traits in existing varieties.
Initial efforts at genetic engineering involved the insertion of a single gene. More recent efforts involve insertion of multiple genes to combine the traits added by each gene. This technique is called stacking.
Excerpted from Genetically Modified Organisms in Agriculture Copyright © 2001 by ACADEMIC PRESS. Excerpted by permission of Academic Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contentsrevised after initial peer reviews
Part I - Physiological Applications in Genetic Improvement
2. Darwinian Agriculture: real, imaginary, and complex trade-offs
RF Denison - University of Minnesota, USA
3. Understanding genotype-by-environment interactions from a physiological perspective
F. van Eeuwijk - Wageningen University, The Netherlands
4. Crop development: genetic control, environmental modulation and relevance for genetic improvement of crop yield
G. Slafer - University of Lleida, Spain
5. The concept of critical periods for grain yield determination and its implications for genetic improvement
F. Andrade - INTA, National Institute of Agricultural Research, Argentina
6. Genetic control and environmental modulation of dry matter partitioning and source: sink dynamics
D. Calderini - University Austral, Chile
7. Genetic improvement of grain crops: yield potential
M. Reynolds - CIMMYT, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Mexico
8. Genetic improvement of grain crops: quality traits
L. Aguirrezabal - University of Mar del Plata, Argentina
9. Improving the efficiency in the use of nitrogen
G. Lemaire - INRA, National Institute for Agricultural Research, France
10. Crop root systems form and function: improving the capture of water and mineral nutrients
J Palta - CSIRO, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia
11. Dynamics of crop-microbe interactions: from gene to continental scale
R. Park - The University of Sydney, Australia
12. Improving crop competitiveness with weeds: adaptations and tradeoffs
G.S. Gill - The University of Adelaide, Australia
13. Modelling crop development, growth and yield: from gene to phenotype
C. Messina - Pioneer HiBred International, USA
Part II - Physiological Applications in Agronomy
14. Solar radiation: the primary driver of productivity in agricultural systems
C. Stöckle - Washington State University, USA
15. A quantitative framework to improve water use efficiency in irrigated agriculture
E. Fereres - University of Cordoba and Spanish Research Council, Spain
16. Precision agriculture: more than a static map of yields
D. Rodríguez - Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Australia
17. Multiple cropping in the Pampas: critical periods, capture and efficiency in the use of resources
P. Calviño - El Tejar Ltd., Argentina
18. Improving capture and efficiency in the use of rainfall in cropping systems of the North American Great Plains
H. Farahani - ICARDA, International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, Syria
19. Exploiting the interaction between agronomy and genetic improvement in cropping systems of Australia
R. Fischer - CSIRO, Australia
20. Designing crop rotations for rainfed systems in Central Chile
E. Acevedo - University of Chile, Chile
21. Crop physiology improving agricultural systems of Northern Europe
P. Peltonen-Sainio - MTT Agrifood Research Finland, Finland
22. Disease, nutrition and management of cereal-based cropping systems in Asia
RC. Sharma - Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Nepal
23. Yield gaps in farming systems of Africa
S Hauser - International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Congo
24. Crop physiology and climate change: mitigation and adaptation strategies
S. Asseng - CSIRO, Australia
25. Summary and Outlook
A. Hall - University of Buenos Aires, Argentina