Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Has Consumer Fear Truly Halted Genetic Engineering?

A recent article out of the trade journal Nature Biotechnology, according to seedquest, states that the failure of certain genetically engineered traits to make it to market such as nutritional content, ripening control and processing attributes to reach consumers and processors was due to a failure in the European regulatory regime to allow these products to make it through the approval process. It seems that the sell of herbicide resistant and insecticide resistant were much more successful as the regulatory channels allowed these to go through a relatively easy process and were accepted by the end user - the farmer. Without going into the developments of the regulations themselves, I believe there exists a natural inquiry into this tale - why? Some of the summary of the argument presuppose that the problem arises because the latter benefits were researched and developed during the infancy of agricultural biotechnology.

I believe this is attributed to the basic disconnect between consumers and consumers and producers and/or production methods. The perceived end user for an herbicide resistant soybean would be the consumer as they would be given a cheaper price for soy products due to the possibility of increased yield as it knocks out a predator from depleting the volume of soybeans produced on the same amount of acreage. However, on a practical level, it would seem the consumer does not notice the difference in food prices unless there is significant magnitude in the change. Therefore the true sell would be to the producer as he/she would be the one dealing with the pests that the consumer would never even know about unless there is significant change in the price as they are so far removed from the production of the soybean.

The case is not the same for GM nutrition traits as the true customer would be the consumer as it does not seem to solve a problem for the producer. The technical problem being solved would be a nutrition deficiency or a convenience to obtain nutritional benefits from the product. Allan Bennett, a professor at UC-Davis professor, stated "It had been hoped that these products would directly benefit the general public and change the public perception of agricultural biotechnology". This mentality would be the reason there is opposition from the customer, since many may have not seen the problem beforehand or even recognize the nutrition deficiency as an issue, unlike the producers dealing with crop pests. Therefore the groundwork was never done to create "public" acceptance of the GM benefits as there was never a problem or a recognized problem as it wasn't a generally accepted problem.

I would suggest the regulatory regime is merely a reflection of biotechnology market assuming that there product would be accepted without doing the groundwork of showing how the GM nutritional traits would solve a problem or create a convenience for people that should be desired. It would seem that many developers just assume that there is benefits in the development of these traits and the general usefulness of the technology. GM needed a better marketing and advertising campaign showing the benefits and easing fears for these more direct consumer traits from the get-go, which would have taken pressure off of the regulatory regime and allowed quicker approval without as much mainstream skepticism.

Therefore, the I would venture to say that the regulations were not the true cause of halting "direct benefit to consumer" GMs, but the way they were marketed to the public. The fear of the public, caused by a non-recognition of the benefit as opposed to percieved cost, created a stringent beuracracy.

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