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Bioscience Issues

Dr Carl Pray

Assessing Barriers to GM Food Crop Production and Innovation in China, India and East Africa

Carl E Pray, Rutgers University

Project Description
Rutgers will assess several key barriers to GM food crop adoption in China, India, Kenya and Uganda and the ways in which these barriers might change in the future to facilitate greater GM food crop adoption.  Government policies and regulations are currently a binding constraint on the commercial use of GM food crops.

Objective I: Assess the economic basis of the economic and environmental pressure groups involved in the GM debates through studies of who would gain and lose from the adoption of GM maize and rice.  This research will identify the stakeholders who are active in the GM policy debates and the influence of different groups on GM policy. We will model the potential economic impact of adoption of GM maize and rice on key stakeholders. We will then examine the possibility that greater knowledge about who would benefit and lose, higher food prices, and other factors might change the position of these interest groups and unblock the constraints.

Preliminary findings: China: Chinese government’s overall biotech policy does not seem to be strongly influenced by specific economic or environmental interest groups although the activities of Greenpeace (Hong Kong) and other opposition groups have fueled concerns among party members and bureaucrats about the health and safety of GM foods. The Chinese government’s GM policy appears to primarily be based on two strategic goals – ensuring that basic food supply is not dependent on imports from the US and that key agricultural inputs are not controlled by foreign corporations. So, foreign firms are not allowed to conduct applied biotech research, sell rice seed, or sell GM products except Bt cotton which was approved in 1997.  The consensus of Chinese and foreign scientists and agribusiness in January 2013 was that China will not allow the commercialization of GM rice because China is self-sufficient in rice and demand for rice is declining but will allow commercialization of GM maize in which imports from the US are growing exponentially because of growing demand for animal feed.

India: Economic and environmental interest groups have much more influence on biotechnology policy in India than in China. Global economic interests such as the biotech industry represented by Crop Life India and global environmental groups like Greenpeace are represented by Greenpeace India.  Environmental groups have been very successful in slowing down the biosafety regulatory process through a series of public interest lawsuits and convincing the Environmental Minister to veto the approval of GM eggplant.  Small and medium seed companies and large farmers in Gujarat were successful in lobbying their state government to ignore the Ministry of the Environment and turn a blind eye on the production and sale of Bt cotton seeds that were not approved by the central Ministry.  Seed companies in Andhra Pradesh successfully lobbied their government to bring a case to the Indian monopoly control commission which declared that Monsanto had a monopoly on Bt cotton seed and forced price controls on Bt cotton seed. Rice exporters and millers have convinced government researchers not to do GM research on high quality export rice like basmati.

Kenya: as in India, global economic interests such as the biotech industry and global environmental groups help support the pro- and anti-GM groups in trying to influence biotech policy. Both sides agreed that a biosafety regulatory authority was needed but for opposite reasons – industry wanted to assure consumers that biotech was safe and environmentalists wanted a way to slow down the industry. Now both groups are using information programs, the media, and demonstrations to try to continue or reverse the recent ban on the importation and consumption of GM food.

Objective II: Find out if barriers to accessing proprietary GM technology by seed companies are an important constraint to the spread of GM food crops and whether the programs that governments and foreign aid donors are using to get around this barriers have been effective.  Would lifting this constraint would encourage local seed companies to play a more positive role in lobbying the government for policies that support GM technology?

Preliminary findings: In India and China many seed firms licensed or copied proprietary Bt cotton.  Now when private seed firms try to access other traits, they are finding it difficult.  Some firms in each country, however, are finding ways to get access.   In China the seed companies Da Beinong and Sinoseed have made major investments to develop their own Bt maize events.  In India private firms are linking up with small biotech companies like U.S. based Arcadia Biosciences or Israel’s Evogene to access to GM and non-GM biotechnology traits and tools.  In Kenya AATF is linking Arcadia, Monsanto and other providers of proprietary GM traits to small and medium sized seed companies to give them access to GM traits for maize, rice, and cowpeas.

Objective III: Assess the relative importance in GM policy making of (i) consumer attitudes to GM food crops and (ii) pressures from economic and environmental stakeholders.
Preliminary findings: We have compiled literature reviews on consumer attitudes to biotechnology in the case study countries. Almost all of the studies are on urban consumers.    Most consumers are positive about biotechnology which will have benefits such as reducing pesticide use and improving nutrition but all surveys show a core of consumers who would not consume GM foods no matter what the price. In China there has been a small decline in support for GM crops over the last 10 years, but most consumers are still positive. China is also the only one of our countries where actual studies of consumer behavior have been done.  They find that consumers are not willing to pay more than 5% extra to buy non-GM products.

Objective IV: Provide policy makers and stakeholders with information and policy alternatives that could make safe and sustainable GM technology available..
Preliminary activities: The International Consortium for Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR) is starting to organize the 2014 annual conference which will be on the Bioeconomy in Developing Countries in Nairobi in June 2014. Carl Pray travelled to Kenya in March and met with AATF, the African Economic Research Consortium, AGRA and CIMMYT for co-sponsorship of the meetings.  Hopefully, many of the teams which are funded by the Templeton Foundation will be able to present their results at this conference.