NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Selling The Public On Biotech

December 16, 1998

Some experts fault giant companies in the biotech industry for failing to persuade the public to have confidence in the safety of genetic engineering. And they are being charged with using federal regulations to discourage competition.

  • It is reported that the companies, led by Monsanto, approached Reagan administration policy makers and requested more restrictive regulation on the grounds that there was something fundamentally worrisome and different about genetically engineered crops.
  • So the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency introduced policies that differentiated between crop and garden plants on the one hand, and microorganisms crafted with gene-splicing techniques.
  • The regulatory policies -- by putting federal bureaucrats in the middle of field trials of gene-spliced plants -- drove small companies and academic institutions from the agbiotech arena, because of the costs and burdens of compliance.
  • It is alleged that few of the agbiotech companies launched in the 1980s are around today, many of them having been bought out at a fraction of their true value by Monsanto, Novartis Dupont and other giants.

But over-regulation fed antibiotechnology myths, playing into activists' scare scenarios and frightening consumers. The industry's lobbyist, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, reportedly continues to advocate strict regulation -- urging the United Nations and the EPA to adopt even more Draconian rules.

The scientific community has repeatedly excoriated this policy. In 1996, 11 major scientific societies representing more than 80,000 biologists and food professionals published a report warning that if EPA policies were implemented, development of pest-resistant crops would be discouraged, government bureaucracies would be expanded, biotechnology research would be confined to those few large firms that could afford the inflated regulatory costs, and the U.S. would be handicapped competitively in international markets.

Source: Henry I. Miller (Hoover Institution), "Biotech Scare Is Industry's Fault," Wall Street Journal, December 16, 1998.


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