It's not clear why this study by a group of hard-line GM proponents is getting another outing, but nobody should be in any doubt about their agenda.
Like the 'public-good plant breeding' campaign launched in autumn 2003 by the John Innes Centre, in consort with the controversial lobby group Sense About Science, the January 2004 Nuffield (updated) report called for a massive increase in public investment in GM crops.
That kind of investment would notably benefit one of the five-member Working party who drew up the report - Mike Gale. Corporate investors in Gale's institute - the John Innes Centre - an institute with which another of the report's authors, Derek Burke, also has strong associations (as former chair of the JIC's governing council) - have been in serious retreat with the JIC's principal corporate investor, Syngenta, pulling out completely, abandoning a GBP50m investment.
Gale, while serving as the JIC's acting director, said of the financial impact of a serious GM slow-down on the JIC - 'It would be very, very serious for us.' Derek Burke has also expressed worries about what the financial effect would be on the economic future of scientists in the UK "if this technology is lost".
No wonder the New-Delhi based trade and policy analyst, Devinder Sharma, sees the Nuffield Council's plea for massive public funding for GM research as more about job security for their fellow scientists than food security for the hungry. The Nuffield panel, Sharma suggests, is guilty of exploiting hunger in the poor world for the sake of employment opportunities for the rich.
For more on the Nuffield Council and its reports - the first of which George Monbiot famously described as "perhaps the most asinine report on biotechnology ever written."
Nuffield Council questions impact of European regulations on GM crops
ASHOK B SHARMA
Financial Express, July 10, 2005
NEW DELHI, JULY 10: The London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics has questioned the impact of European regulations on genetically-modified (GM) crops in developing countries. It said that freedom of choice of farmers in developing countries is being severely challenged by the agricultural policy of the European Union.
It also called for funding of public research by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission and national governments for developing GM crops which are considered staple foods in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
In the study, 'The Use of GM Crops in Developing Countries', the Nuffield Council recommended that the European Commission, the DFID and appropriate non-governmental organisations which monitor the agricultural policies of developing countries examine the consequences of EU regulatory policies for the use of GM crops in developing countries. The European Commission should establish a procedure to report on the impact of its regulations, it said.
The study, sponsored by the UK government, noted that access to plant genetic resources is critically important for the development of GM crops which are suited to the needs of developing countries. Usually, access to such resources is governed by Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs). The perception that the recent proliferation of MTAs is not necessarily in the public interest is widespread.
In this context, the study said : "We welcome the decision by the UK government to ratify the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Access to resources falling under the Treaty is of crucial importance in the development of crops suited to developing countries. We recommend that in the negotiations regarding the standard MTA, the UK government aims for provisions that exempt users in developing countries from payments, where commercial applications arise from materials covered by the MTA. Where exemptions are not appropriate, differentiation of payments should take into account the level of development of the country in question."
According to the study, under patent law in the UK, it appears that a plant breeder does not have the clear right to use a patented GM variety for breeding purposes. The provision for compulsory licencing is not straightforward. "This potential locking up of genetic variation" is contrary to the spirit and intent of plant variety rights (PVRs), it said and urged for a strong case for the principle of breeders’ research exemption established for PVRs to be applied to patented varieties.
The study also said that the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the European Commission, the Union for the Protection of the New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) together should closely monitor the impact of patents on the availability of germplasm to plant breeders.
However, the study believes that the patent regime need not be a barrier to research and development. It said : "the recent example of Golden Rice shows that patented technologies need not necessarily be a barrier". It said that the challenge for the public sector, especially where research is directed at agriculture in developing countries, is how to access GM technologies without infringing intellectual property rights (IPRs).
Regarding micronutrient benefits from Golden Rice, the study said strong claims have been made by both proponents and opponents, sometimes in absence of validated empirical evdence. Therefore reliable empirical data from nutritional and bioavailability studies should be obtained and evaluation of its cost-effectiveness, risk and practicality in comparison to other means of addressing miconutrient deficiency should be taken up.