Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Biotechnology in Latin America

By Gerardo Otero | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Biosafety Regulation and Global Governance:
The Problem of Absentee Expertise in
Latin America

KEES JANSEN AND ESTHER ROQUAS

Global developments are putting pressure on Latin American countries to construct regulatory frameworks that open the path for a smooth introduction of transgenic crops. Prompting demands for regulations are a series of factors, including technological uncertainties; potential high risks such as biosafety, human health, and changes in agrarian structures; the ethics of modifying nature; and the huge economic interests involved. The latter interests stem from high investments and projected future profits in the so-called “life sciences” industries. Three major issues are prominent: First, the regulation of intellectual property rights. Concerns in this regard include the interests of transnational “life science” companies to patent their technological innovations and monopolize markets, and prepare developing countries (or indigenous communities) to commodify their local knowledge and control of genetic resources through bioprospecting and benefit sharing with foreign companies. A classical and well-publicized example of the latter is the INBio-Merck bioprospecting agreement in Costa Rica (Aguilar-Støen and Dhillion 2003; Artuso 2002). In this agreement the commercial utilization of Costa Rica's biodiversity was made possible in exchange for up-front monetary compensation, training, technology transfer, and future royalties.

A second regulatory issue concerns risk assessment procedures addressing biosafety (and to a lesser extent food safety) when transgenic seeds or other biotechnology products are being introduced (e.g., Burachik and Traynor 2002; Newell and Mackenzie 2000). Third, there are societal concerns about the socioeconomic consequences and the direction of modern agriculture and agro-industrialization once biotechnology use is spreading. Brazil is one of the few countries where this issue has become a real topic in public debates about the admission of transgenic crops and

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