retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Fascinating series of pieces in the Sacramento Bee, based on an eight-month investigation, looking at biotechnology and its potential benefits and hazards. “What we found,” writes the editors, “was propaganda where there should be probing; superficial talk where there should be deeper truths.”

Excerpts:

  • ”Born a generation ago, partly in California laboratories and farm fields, biotechnology promised a banquet of benefits: It would bring more choice to consumers, pose no environmental threat to organic and conventional farmers, create little or no regulatory burden for government and, most tantalizingly, help feed the world's hungry.

    “So far…biotechnology has not delivered.

    “Consumer wariness and environmental opposition have slowed its progress, of course. Government regulations are convoluted.

    “But other problems are home-grown. In moving from public to private ownership of genes and gene technology, universities got snarled in a patent system so complex and conflict-prone it has slowed the flow of innovations from their labs. In licensing their discoveries to industry, universities have turned over the fruits of taxpayer-funded research to private biotechnology companies, where earning a profit can eclipse the public good.”


  • ”Biotechnology didn't invent genetic tinkering. All farming springs from it. Corn was once a wild grass in Mexico. Generations of careful plant breeding have brought a cornucopia of choice to store shelves: sweeter onions, seedless grapes, monster melons. But biotechnology works in ways nature does not.

    “It shuffles genes - tiny biological units that shape life - between species. It imagines a world of frost-resistant tomatoes, drought-tolerant corn, even crops that grow medicines. But so far, most of its magic is tied to two genes, each tailored to U.S. industrial farming: One transfers resistance to the weedkiller Roundup into a crop, making farming easier; the other allows a plant to kill certain insects.

    “Something else sets biotechnology apart from other farming revolutions: Much of its promise is private property.

    “No longer do universities routinely make discoveries available, for free, to poor nations - as they did during the Green Revolution. Today, most universities typically patent them first, then license the technology to private companies. The idea is to speed discoveries to market and, as public funding declines, generate money for research.”


  • ”A decade since the debut of gene-spliced food, biotechnology is a dominant presence in world agriculture. But the distribution of biotech foods is uneven. Dancing around deeply divided opinions over the technology's health and environmental safety, and over its social and economic effects, the global food industry approaches genetic engineering with a double standard.

    “In much of Europe and parts of Asia, where consumer mistrust is greatest and labeling is required, food manufacturers take pains to eliminate genetically engineered ingredients as much as possible.

    “In the United States, a land of seemingly infinite grocery choices, food purveyors rarely make distinctions between what's genetically engineered and what's not. People who want to avoid biotech foods are left trying to sort it out on their own.”

KC's View:
This is a great series of pieces - in-depth, thought-provoking and informative.

You can read the whole series at:

http://www.sacbee.com/static/live/news/projects/biotech/