NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Plea for Biotech Regulations Backfired

January 26, 2001

The Monsanto Company and other corporate pioneers in biotech science nearly destroyed the fledgling industry by seeking federal regulations to govern it in its early stages -- and then seeking to have them removed, insiders say.

Here is a brief sketch of what happened and the faulty reasoning behind it:

  • In 1986, Monsanto and others enlisted the help of then-Vice President George Bush to establish government guidelines and regulations over biotech practices -- on the theory that they would reassure critics and consumers that biotech foods were safe.
  • But in the early 1990s the companies' strategy changed to throwing off the regulations so as to speed its food to market -- and for the industry to become self-policing.
  • Observers report that the abrupt about-face invigorated biotechnology's opponents and dismayed the industry's allies -- sending the industry into crisis and seriously jeopardizing biotech's potential.
  • Anti-biotech activists took the stage in Europe and created wide-spread concern over the safety of bioengineered foods -- alarming consumers and causing governments to shut out some U.S. agricultural exports.

Although no credible evidence has been presented casting doubt on the safety of biotech foods, little corn has been shipped from the U.S. to European Union countries in the past few years and the regulatory system for accepting new crops is at a standstill. Soybeans from the U.S. have been approved -- but only as animal food.

Australia, Indonesia, Korea, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland are all in the process of setting standards for the labeling of genetically engineered food.

Source: Kurt Eichenwald, "Biotechnology Food: From the Lab to a Debacle," New York Times, January 25, 2001.


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