Corn Commentary

Biotech Anniversary Triggering Accord

An important milestone for biotechnology is nearing, which will mean the beginning of a new era for genetically modified traits.

In 2015, patents for the very first ag biotech “events,” as they are called, will be expiring and becoming “generic.” Like pharmaceutical drugs are less expensive when they can be offered in a generic form, one benefit to the expiring patents may be lower seed prices and greater opportunities for the industry. However, also like drugs, International Seed Federation (ISF) president Tim Johnson of Illinois Foundation Seeds says these “events” are highly regulated. “We do not want biotechnology to disrupt markets,” he said, noting that the seed industry has been working on a framework to ensure access to the technology while addressing international trade concerns.

The initial step was announced recently by the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) in “The Accord” – which has already been signed by most of the major companies involved in the biotech business for agriculture. “The Accord is a framework that we developed to provide a mechanism for that transition from proprietary biotech events to off-patent or generic biotech events,” says ASTA Vice President for Science and International Affairs Bernice Slutsky. “We view it as an opportunity for our broader membership to utilize events when they go off patent to provide farmers with a wide array of product.”

Interview with Bernice Slutsky

It’s amazing to think that the first biotech events aren’t even old enough to drink yet. That includes Bt corn and cotton, and Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as canola with modified oil composition and bromoxynil resistant cotton. “Biotechnology’s in its teenage years,” said Johnson, giving credit to Monsanto’s Hugh Grant for the analogy. “We’ve learned a tremendous amount over the last 15-20 years in biotechnology.”

If biotech is only a teenager, it’s achieved Justin Bieber-like popularity in that time. Between 90 and 95% of the U.S. canola, corn, cotton and soybean crops are genetically modified today – up from zero in 1994, when Justin Bieber was born.

“It’s important for us to find pathways that respect all technologies and all genetics to move forward on behalf of society,” Johnson says. “The accord lays that foundation down for us.”

Interview with Tim Johnson

Find out more about The Accord at agaccord.org.