Biotech’s promise requires action on tough issues

by Josh Sosland
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In an interview published in the current issue of Milling & Baking News, longtime miller Donald L. Mennel states a simple truth: “If we’re going to feed the populations of the world going forward, we’re going to have to have biotech wheat.”

As difficult as it is to imagine a long-term future in which bioengineered wheat is not introduced, the path to commercialization has proven anything but simple. Developments in recent months have cast a spotlight on some of the reasons progress has been slow. A lawsuit by Syngenta Seeds against Bunge North America has cast a harsh light on differences between those who market bioengineered seed and those who handle grain in the marketplace.

A battle earlier this year between the U.S. milling industry and Syngenta over a corn amylase trait has highlighted a number of questions, particularly regarding responsibility in the event that seed such as Syngenta’s Enogen (developed for the ethanol business) were to enter the food supply. These serious developments give credence to a recent plea by Roger N. Beachy, president emeritus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.

In June testimony before a House subcommittee, Dr. Beachy called for an overhaul of the regulatory structure for the commercialization of bioengineered crops. Dr. Beachy, who currently serves as director of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, said the current rules date from the 1980s when the biotech industry was new and before an impressive safety track record had been established. While he focused principally on the costliness of the current structure, it is equally true rules and policies need to be thoroughly reexamined in light of the significant changes that have transpired in world grain handling channels over the past generation and the specific problems that have emerged in 2011.
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