In reply to a couple of recent messages;
There certainly is plenty of propaganda surrounding the application of biotechnology to agriculture (in the developed and developing worlds). Undoubtedly some companies, and even academics, have over-hyped the prospects of the technologies, at least in the short term (it is human nature to love the shiny and new). But then much of the opposition has been in reaction to that, or sounded like political opposition to big business interests, rather than a reasoned debate upon the merits of the technology.
Granted, because of the patent issues, it is not always possible to readily separate the technological prospects from the business interests involved. Thus, access and patents is a relevant point to discuss here. I am sure there is plenty that the companies involved could add to the debate, but I think that not all but many of the problems - and opposition to biotechnology in general, especially in relation to developing regions needs, - stems from the patent issue.
From this, it seems clear to me that using patents to protect rights to crop plant varieties (and even animals in future) is at best divisive and unhelpful, whatever else can be said about biotechnology. Perhaps some people in the commercial arena are already looking at alternatives, but my advice to any seed or biotechnology company is that patents should not be applied to crop plants. It may be legal in some regions, but it does not mean that it's the way to go.
All cultures are built upon agriculture. For this reason, people have strong cultural and social attachments to it, which vary considerably from region to region, and trying to impose one view of it upon the rest of the world is already causing friction. If some other more flexible approach is not found - and soon - this will increase far more than it already has done.
Plant breeders rights, but without the patents, is one alternative, but are there any other suggestions or comments? Perhaps what lies at the heart of this, is the different regional views (and needs) of agriculture, on the one hand, with the increasing globalization of markets both for food, and for agricultural supplies, at the other. At each period in history, increased communication has brought problems and benefits, but the resolution of the conflicting interests has not always been easy or painless, and I'm sure it won't be so now.
Trevor Fenning, Germany
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