> But the situation may be changing. In my short stint at Novartis Seed,
> and now at Pioneer, I noticed that gene splicing was becoming, well,
> ordinary. You can get a two year technical degree and do a lot of that
> gene-jock stuff. But do ya know who is in charge? Very often someone
> with background in traditional breeding. Pure biotech people don't have
> broad enough knowledge. Take the Flavr-Savr tomato fiasco. Good gene,
It has been argued from the outset that biotechnology is nothing more
than a tool, the practice of which is certainly manageable by
technicians. They are, after all, the ones who do the work anyway.
Having plant breeders, per se, in charge in one step up from
biotechnologists, but I would argue that the problems Pioneer and
others are addressing (e.g. weed and pest control) are not genetic in
nature, in the first place. They are problems created by
mismanagement - simple rotations, excessive levels of soluble (esp.
N) fertilizer, working land too early and late in the year to
accomodate longer season hybrids, creating a whole range of soil
microbe/pathogen problems etc etc etc. Solving *management* problems
with *genetic* solutions is misguided and misleading, and benefits
only those whose business it is to create yet another new round of
genetic solutions to problems.
> >> when (not if) biotechnology goes the way of the dinosaur.
> The public ag R & E infrastructure may be the dinosaur, I'm sorry to
> say. Many previously public functions are moving into the private
> sector. Even more so in Canada. I think this has good points and bad.
Privatizing agricultural research is well underway in Canada, as in
many other countries, to the great detriment of us all. Private
research focuses, understandably, on generating proprietary solutions
- something that a farmer will have to buy in order to address a
problem. I would suggest that focusing attention on purchased
products distracts attention from the REAL source of the problem(s)
(see above). Problems should be avoided by properly designed
rotations and soil/fertility management, proper selection and use of
cultivars, and probably, by better integration of crop and livestock
enterprises - rather than by buying some new gadget, product, or
biological entity to *solve* the problem after the fact.
This argument should not be read as a defense of the public ag
research system either, because we have most assuredly been a source
of real inspiration to private enterprise in this regard. The kinds
of research emanating from publicly funded universities have not
necessarily been a good model for what I outlined above. It is hard
to do this kind of research within a public funding environment which
has emphasized industrial partnerships, linkages, patents, and
proprietary product development. But I like to hope that this is an
artefact of the funding priorities of government, rather than an
inherent flaw or inadequacy within the academic community itself.
> What do you mean by "high-tech paradigm". Certainly not a Kuhnian
> paradigm. We are not a paradigm community in that sense. If I might be
> so bold as to speak for my colleagues, we are interested in what works.
> Low-tech is always preferable, because it is cheaper (no regulatory
Low tech is preferable, and in many regards, is the only way to truly
sustainable and profitable farming, in my opinion. High tech is
purchased inputs, particularly those that presume to depart further
and further from natural processes and factors. Examples would be
TMR, BST and other GE products, laser guided farm implements,
Harvestore silos, etc. Perhaps your definition of low tech differs
from mine, but the products of Pioneer and Novartis would qualify as
high tech by my reasoning, particularly when they necessitate
purchase of other inputs to make them work, e.g. Roundup etc., OR
when they will soon create resistance (e.g. BT) which will THEN
oblige purchase of chemical products which just happen to be
manufactured by some other subsidiary of the same company.
> >> I see an agricultural
> >> community in dire need for answers, but the questions will go
> >> unanswered and the consequences will be devastating.
> I think you are selling farmers too short. They have always solved most
> of their problems themselves, especially system problems.
That may be true. If so, why is Pioneer in business, if farmers are
going to solve their own problems anyway? How much of the problems
faced by farmers today are, in fact, created by previous products or
advice given to them by ...... agribusiness, either directly or via
research funded by them?
> >> the academic departments will be populated by self-
> >> perpetuating, uncomprehending, and unresponsive molecular geneticists
> >> who will continue to churn out genetic irrelevances and publish
> >> papers while Rome burns.
> You don't have to be a molecular geneticist to be irrelevant. For many
> years, the public R & E system has gravitated toward short-term,
> gee-whiz, novelty research. But there is a need to bring good science
> to bear on longer-term agronomic issues. Is the public system up to the
As discussed above, the reason for the plethora of short-term gee
whiz stuff at public universities is the drying up of public funding
and the increasingly obligatory dependence upon private money - e.g.
from companies like yours. Ann
Dr. E. Ann Clark
University of Guelph
Guelph, ON N1G 2W1
Phone: 519-824-4120 Ext. 2508
FAX: 519 763-8933
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