Transgenic crops gain weight
Keywords:  Genetic engineering; Biosafety/Foodsafety.
Correct citation: nn. (1998), "Editorial: Transgenic crops gain weight." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 35, p. 2-3.
The development of technology is always related to the socio-economic context in which it takes place. One important aspect of the development of modern biotechnology, and especially genetic engineering, is its interrelation with the adaptation of intellectual property rights. Inventors demand legal protection to achieve remuneration for the use of their creations. Inventors in the biological field, however, have specific demands based on characteristics of the matter they are dealing with: living organisms are able to self-replicate and therefore contain the "software" to copy the patented invention. In the case of seeds, a seed saved from the harvest of a patented crop makes the unwanted distribution of protected technologies possible and probable. Patents and plant breeders’ rights are legalistic approaches which try to channel the use in order to raise remuneration for the invention. Now, a biotechnological invention to control seed sterility makes it possible to enforce intellectual ownership of newly developed crops. The article on page 6 of this Monitor describes how the control of biological inventions included in the seed are likely to affect agricultural developments. What looks like a technological approach has far reaching consequences which must be assessed cautiously: positive effects arising from the stimulation of private investment in crop breeding could be overridden by the detrimental impact on the practice of seed saving for most farmers in developing countries.
This counterbalancing of impacts is not exclusively valid for crop development and seeds. The contribution by Bert Visser gives an overview of the many facets biotechnology has with regards to agricultural biodiversity. In his view, biotechnology, like all preceding technologies, has influenced and will further influence agro-biodiversity. In the past, higher food production based on high-external-input varieties caused the loss of traditional varieties and their genetic diversity. Modern biotechnology has the potential to strengthen this effect. On the other hand, placed in a context which acknowledges the value of in-situ conservation, its could very well play a role beneficial to preserving agro-biodiversity.
One of the most controversial issues in agricultural biotechnology is the development and application of transgenic crops. Critics such as Vanaja Ramprasad, state that the advocates of modern biotechnology perpetuate the myth that genetic engineering will feed the world. However, the contribution by Clive James clearly proves that the application of transgenic crops has left the experimental stage and becomes a realistic scenario. Is it conceivable or desirable that the future of world agriculture will be based on transgenic crops? It is likely that modern biotechnology will contribute to increased productivity. However, the Green Revolution showed that the issue of food security cannot be narrowed down to higher yields alone, but that the introduction of new technologies also transports socio-economic implications.
To date, private sector investment is the moving force behind the progress that is made in agricultural R&D. How do these activities of the supply-side take into account the needs of farmers, especially from developing countries? And if they do, will the advancements be accessible and affordable? Obviously, the large scale introduction of transgenic crops does not bring an end to the discussion around their needs and benefits. Instead, it is likely that with their distribution the need for impact analyses and biotechnology policies will increase too.

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