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Global Civil Society4

Global Civil Society4

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Published by: northerndisclosure on Feb 06, 2010
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: G
Diane Osgood 
lobal civil society
s response to theintroduction of plant-based biotechnologycrops is unprecedented. While there has alwaysbeen, and most likely always be, resistance to theintroduction of new technologies
from steam trainsto cars, personal computers, and nuclear weapons
the response of global civil society to biotechnologyhas been wider and more networked, multi-faceted,and global than to any previous innovation. Reactionsto biotechnology have been intertwined with theanti-capitalism and anti-globalization campaigns,creating a heady cocktail of fear of 
,rejection of the globalising economy, and mistrust of both government regulators and corporate public-relations campaigns.The technologies in question have been developedover the past 30 years. In the US in the early 1970s,research proposals for genetic engineering projectsinvolving micro-organisms sparked fears that a deadlybreed of 
could be inadvertently created.Some civil society organisations protested loudly, butthese protests were not internationally coordinatedor sustained. Nonetheless, in 1974 scientists agreedto adopt strict, self-imposed guidelines for laboratorywork on DNA. The US government also imposedrestrictions, but lifted them in the mid-1980s becauseit was satisfied that the experiments were safe. Thebiotechnology race began. Companies startedinvesting millions of dollars in biotechnology forboth pharmaceuticals and agriculture. After muchcorporate lobbying, the Bush Administration in 1992simplified the approval process for agriculturalbiotechnology products, dramatically reducing therequired testing to the same standard as non-genetically modified foods. Under this legislation,companies are free to undertake additional testingand are not required to label products containinggenetically modified (GM) products. This legislationsparked the beginnings of opposition to GM foods. Inthe US, Jeremy Rifkin initiated the
pure foodcampaign
and called for a moratorium on GM foods.Rifkin was soon backed by a loose alliance of smallfarmers, consumers, and animal rights groups, firstacross the US and then internationally. By the mid-1990s, the stream of protests had become fierce,international, somewhat networked, and forceful,with demonstrations, protests, destruction of productsand test plots, and consumer boycotts in manycountries.By the late 1990s, the movements had becamemore coordinated; and international anti- bio-technology leaders of NGO movements emerged:Greenpeace (
), Vandana Shiva, Jeremy Rifkin.Grass-roots activists who took personal stands againstGM but did not lead their own organisations becameinternational heroes: Jos
, Arpad Putsei. Elite
dramatis personae 
emerged: the Prince of Wales,Bob Shapiro, Gordon Conway. Despite the variety of players, voices, and views, the
anti-biotech moment
became a forceful wave. Networks, partnerships, andwebsites bridged the physical gap between groupsand individuals. The floodgates were opened inEurope with consumer boycotts and pressure thatled to changes in supermarket and food producerpolicies. Within two years, the European Union placeda three-year moratorium on commercial plantingsof GM crops. In the late 1990s companies were beingsubjected to the unavoidable attention of the media,most of whose reporting was very negative. Nor couldcompanies conceal their operations in developingcountries: what happened in India became instantlyknown in London, and therefore in Brazil. Various explanations were advanced for thiseruption of protest. Anger was stirred by corporateand government arrogance at trying to pass new
, insufficiently tested foods on to theunsuspecting consumer. Government refusal tomandate labelling bred more distrust, being generallyseen as a result of heavy lobbying from the agro-science sector. Meanwhile, ecologists warned thepublic about the potential of genetically manipulatedorganisms (GMOs) to displace or corrupt naturalorganisms, irreversibly harming landscapes andnatural biodiversity. Health advocates worried about
allergenicity and carcinogenic effects. Nationalists,regionalists, and decentralists of various kinds wereconcerned about biotechnology as a powerful newweapon in the arsenal of American homogenisation.Professionals in developing countries and their alliesin international NGOs were concerned about thepossible widening of the already dramatic gaps inwealth and power between North and South. Theysaw the biotechnology revolution as another chapterin the continued exploitation of the South
s resourcesby the North. Others in the South were moreconcerned about being bypassed by a powerfultechnology.Global civil society
s response to plant bio-technology is an example of the development of atruly global reaction: active participation from groupsand individuals around the globe creating links acrossborders and time zones, and forging unlikely partner-ships. In addressing this response and its likelydevelopment, this chapter first reviews the conceptof plant biotechnology and its current status, thencovers the key issues of concern to global civil society.It then examines four categories of global civil societygroups and their actions. Finally, the chapter reachesthe conclusion that biotechnology, in some shape orform, is with us to stay. It also concludes that globalcivil society
s involvement in plant biotechnologywill help shape the evolution of the growingapplication of biotechnology in the food chain andin medicine. The issues involved include ecologicaland human health safety levels, labelling anddisclosure, monitoring and verification of environ-mental and health impacts, ethical dimensions, andtrade.This chapter addresses plant biotechnology onlywithin the context of agriculture. Plant biotechnologyis the first food product using transgenetics to becommercialised, and therefore also the first toprovoke public reaction. The main focus is on cropswith genetically engineered transgenes for herbicideand insect resistance because these products arecurrently planted and consumed on a large scale. Tokeep the discourse focused on the issues that have todate provoked the strongest response from globalcivil society, other types of non-plant, non-cropbiotechnology are not considered. Nonetheless, it isimportant to take note of the application of bio-technology in other, related fields. Biotechnologyhas been used in the pharmaceutical industry formany years; for example, much of the insulinproduced today is based on biotechnology. At present,issues of risk perception, choice, and informationavailability differ greatly as between biotechnologyin medicine and in crop production. However, wecan expect that as the technology advances andenters new realms of health interventions, such asvaccines genetically engineered into bananas, globalcivil society will pose new questions and generatefresh debates. Biotechnology is also developing inanimal breeding and fisheries; for example, the USDepartment of Agriculture is funding research oncatfish containing DNA from salmon, carp, andzebrafish, which makes them grow up to 60 per centfaster than they would otherwise. However, at thetime of writing, no animal GM products had beencommercialised.
Definitions and Status of GlobalPlant Biotechnology
iotechnology is a broad concept embracing anassortment of techniques used in agricultureand medicine to create or modify livingorganisms for human use. The selective breeding of plants and animals to promote desirable character-istics is as old as agriculture itself worldwide. Forplants, traditional breeding has developed new linesand varieties over the centuries by sexual crossingsand selection, usually between two varieties butsometimes between related species, in an attemptto introduce a useful characteristic from one to theother. Technically, this is known as
plant biotechno-logy
. However, in common parlance,
has taken on new meanings derived from recentbreakthroughs in manipulating DNA. Instructionsinserted into their DNA effectively tell plants how toconstruct themselves.Modern plant biotechnology takes three forms:
tissue culture 
, in which new plants are grownfrom individual cells or clusters of cells, oftenbypassing traditional cross-fertilisation and seedproduction;
marker-aided selection
, in which DNA segmentsare used to mark the presence of useful geneswhich can then be transferred to futuregenerations through traditional plant breedingusing the markers to follow inheritance; and
genetic engineering 
(GE), in which one or moregenes are transferred from one organism to
   D   I   G    I   T   U   P  :   G   L   O   B   A   L   C   I   V   I   L   S   O   C   I   E   T   Y   ’   S   R   E   S   P   O   N   S   E   S   T   O    P   L   A   N   T   B   I   O   T   E   C   H   N   O   L   O   G   Y   D   i  a  n  e   O  s  g  o  o   d
another without sexual crossing. This mayinclude transgenes
the moving of one genefrom one species into another or therearranging of one species
own genes(commonly referred to as
In the debate, these three forms are often confounded.This chapter focuses on the second and third. Theterms
genetically engineered
are often interchanged, and are used inreferences to GE and GM crops and plants. These areall
genetically modified organisms
, a term that refersto any organism, plant or animal, that has beensomehow modified at the genetic level.
Development and status of plant biotechnology
Despite the media frenzy in Europe and growingattention in North America, most people do notrealise the extent and range of biotechnology and its
   D   I   G    I   T   U   P  :   G   L   O   B   A   L   C   I   V   I   L   S   O   C   I   E   T   Y   ’   S   R   E   S   P   O   N   S   E   S   T   O    P   L   A   N   T   B   I   O   T   E   C   H   N   O   L   O   G   Y   D   i  a  n  e   O  s  g  o  o   d
Box 4.1:Timeline of plant biotechnology development
Genetic engineering (GE) invented byCohen and Boyer. Demonstrations againstGE in the United States.
Asilomar conference in California,scientists agree to adopt strict, self-imposed guidelines for laboratory DNAmanipulation. Building blocks of understanding DNA (Late Cot and Rotcurves) develop. It emerges that plantscontain a complex set of nuclear RNAsand that only 25 per cent of thiscomplexity has been previously under-stood. As well, many genes are active inplant cells and are highly regulated in theplant life cycle. In sum, it becomes clearthat plant cells resemble animals cells,but it remains unknown how individualgenes are regulated or how sets of genesco-express in space and time.
Dr Bedrock and colleagues in UK showplant DNA can be cloned and replicatedin bacteria.
Early 1980s:
Start of creating libraries of plantgenomes.
Group of scientists from Ghent (Belgium),St Louis (Missouri), and Washington/Cambridge (Massachusetts) showindependently that antibiotic resistancemarkers work. Dr Hall transfers one genefrom French bean into sunflower cells,
plant created. Cover of 
New York Times 
Early 1990s:
Dr Feldman and colleaguesdiscover for the first time a relativelysimple way to clone plant genesassociated with interesting mutantphenotypes. This greatly speeds up thetechnology process.
US regulation simplifies approval processfor biotechnology products and confirmsthat no labels are required on products.
First crop released and planted in smallquantities in Canada.
First significant commercial plantings inthe US. Plantings also in China,Argentina, and Canada.
Consumer boycotts in Europe gatherspeed; test plots destroyed in Europe andIndia.
First significant anti-biotechnologydemonstrations in US (Boston); firstcommercial plantings in Europe; farmersgather in India and try to burn downMonsanto headquarters.
First plant genome sequenced, theArabidopsis. Three-year moratorium inEurope for commercial plantings;biotechnology industries launch
information campaign in the US.
The genome of rice sequenced; Japan,Australia, New Zealand, and many othercountries regulate labelling; demon-strations in the Philippines againstplanting of GM crops.
Compiled from
Goldberg (2001) and EC (2000).

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