The driving use of genetic engineering
1st November, 2008
As biotech companies hoover up patents, Geoff Tansey considers what we could end up paying for our future food supply
‘Intellectual property is a legal fiction; it is itself an invention, but unlike literary fiction it shapes what people and firms do’
While most discussion about the use of modern biotechnology focuses on the technology and what it may do, that is not the only factor driving its use in the market.
The key to the current corporate-driven use of genetic engineering is the law; specifically, laws or rules on patents, plant variety protection and other forms of so-called ‘intellectual property rights’.
A scientific revolution in biology underpins genetic modification (GM) or genetic engineering (GE), which is the better term as it is classic engineering of a material (DNA) that is not fully understood but which can be manipulated and used to build new structures – not bridges or buildings but plants and animals. It is changes in the law, however – initially in the US in the 1980s and globally since then – that drew agrochemical companies, with their patent-based chemical business background, into the messy, long-winded art and science of plant breeding.
Through the looking-glass
The issues at stake are fundamentally about who will have what power and control over the food system in the future; who will have access to what food – even who will eat. The legal framework, the rules to...
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