Biotech Research at Foundation of Economy
While plant biotechnology may not be as glamorous as, say, a new biotech drug, it effects the very foundations of the Canadian economy, according to Dr. Michael Smith.
Smith is Director of the Biotechnology Laboratory at the University of British Columbia as well as scientific leader of PENCE, the Protein Engineering Network of Centres of Excellence (one of 15 such networks in Canada). He is also recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his role in developing site-directed mutagenesis. Now in widespread use, this technique is employed by molecular biologists to study the relationship between the structure and function of proteins and has spawned the new discipline of protein engineering.
Smith says plant biotech has been the poor cousin in terms of government funding. He gives the example of PENCE and its counterparts of about 150 applications for the various scientific disciplines, only 15 were funded, none of which included those dealing with plant molecular genetics, plant biology or plant biotechnology.
"As far as I'm concerned Canada ought to be investing much more in plant biotechnology and forestry biotechnology because those two things are still the underpinning of our commerce and industry."
Despite this, public funding has often been targeted to human, animal, bacterial or viral molecular genetics. This is evident in the disparity between medically-oriented research (funded through the Medical Research Council) and plant research (funded through the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council).
"The level of money for NSERC was nowhere near as high as from the MRC," Smith says. "Of course it costs just as much money to do genetic engineering on a plant as it does on a rat. It means we really haven't invested enough in that area (plant biotech).
However, Smith says the problem is not unique to Canada. Much basic research gets funding because of its medical applications, due to a strong emotional tie-in that isn't there in plant research. This is an unwise course for Canada to follow, as this country's economy depends so much on what it grows, whether it be in field or forest. He recommends more investment in basic plant, tree and general agbiotech research to keep ideas in the pipeline, ready to be developed into new products.
According to Smith, genome mapping would be a good place to start. He notes that other countries are aggressively pursuing such projects on species intimately tied to the domestic economy. For example, New Zealand is mapping the sheep genome, while Japan has a similar project for rice. To remain competitive, Canada should be doing the same with its major field crops, agricultural animals and commercial tree species.
"We ought to have aggressive and active programs in those areas," he says. "Because these other countries are doing it, and you can see why they're doing it."
Genome mapping research makes it possible to do breeding and develop new strains of agriculturally important species. To remain competitive globally new biological knowledge is crucial.
Smith explains that new strains or whole new crops to help diversify Canadian farm economies can only be developed here, for our own climate and requirements.
Transgenic Canola in Canada
In Saskatchewan, approximately 30,000 acres have been contracted by Prairie Pools Inc. to grow Innovator^tm canola, developed by AgrEvo for tolerance to their glufosinate ammonium based herbicide, Liberty^tm. Another 10,000 acres are under cultivation in Alberta.
The contracted growers had a previous history of contracting with the Pools and demonstrate excellent crop management abilities. The majority were experienced seed growers. In the second year of the contract, the farmer is required to grow cereals or summer fallow on the contracted acreage.
Prairie Pools Inc. estimates that if seed had been available, up to 750,000 acres of transgenic canola could have been planted this year.
Monsanto's program for RT73, a glyphosate resistant canola variety, is small and, while the company had approval for up to 3,000 acres, it decided to grow on 20 acres in each of the Prairie Provinces. The contract seed for RT73 will be delivered directly to Monsanto; the variety will not be submitted for registration. (see Bulletin Vol. 3 Iss. 4, April, 1995)
Monsanto does not intend to register RT73 as it has superior varieties already in the co-op system in anticipation of release next year.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association Biotechnology Committee has agreed that no transgenic canola will be exported outside of North America this year.
Applications for Unconfined Release and Registration
The Canadian government has signed off on four canola varieties that were approved earlier this year. Two have now been registered by AgrEvo Canada and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
New plants currently pending or close to submission are: corn varieties from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, ICI and Ciba Seeds; flax from the University of Saskatchewan and cotton from Monsanto.
An Industry Canada representative estimates the government will be reviewing 15 new transgenic varieties per year for the next two years. This is expected to grow exponentially in the next five years to 115 or more varieties per year.
More Canola Developments
AgrEvo herbicide approved
Liberty^tm herbicide (glufosinate ammonium) has been approved by Agriculture Canada for use on a tolerant canola variety, the first ever commercial clearance for a non- selective herbicide on a transgenic crop. Innovator^tm, a transgenic canola variety produced by AgrEvo, was previously cleared for use in Canada.
The combined use of the new variety and the herbicide, which AgrEvo calls the Liberty Link^tm system, is being introduced on a limited scale this season. AgrEvo has offered 80 acre contracts to some 500 farmers, for a total of 40,000 acres. The harvested seed will be sold through the Saskatchewan and Alberta Pools; the Manitoba Pool declined to sell the transgenic varieties.
For information, contact AgrEvo Canada Inc. at 1-800-667- 5959.
SRC-SeCan Search for Hybrid
A hunt for a new canola hybrid that matures early, yields high and is resistant to black leg disease has been joined by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Saskatoon Research Centre and the SeCan Association. According to AgCan, work on canola hybrids is heating up because technological improvements have made it easier to develop new varieties.
Guide to Wild Brassicas
The Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research has developed definitive guides to the wild germplasm of the Brassica group.
The five guides, of importance to breeders, biotechnologists and gene bank managers, cover all aspects of brassica, from chromosome counts to agronomic traits in wild relatives.
For further information contact Mottie Feldman, Centre for Land and Biological Resources Research in Ottawa at 613/759- 1847.
Calgene Announces Transgenic High-erucic Canola
Calgene has announced that the company has developed a transgenic rapeseed oil containing trierucin, which could lead to a dramatically improved source of erucic acid, which is used in a wide variety of industrial applications. This was achieved using an acyltransferase gene from the meadowform plant. Calgene has also announced that they have cloned and expressed a plant gene which is key to determining the structure of vegetable oils and to raising the level of laurate and myristate in the oil.
Contact: Carolyn Hayworth at 916/753-63
Sask. Chemist Develops "Computer Microscope"
Paul Mezey, director of the Mathematical Chemistry Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan, has developed a molecule fragmentation technique that shows the true shape of small and large molecules on a computer screen. The simple technique, that Mezey calls "an additive fuzzy fragmentation scheme" quickly produces a high-resolution image for any molecule something previously considered impossible. The technique is expected to be enormously valuable in biochemistry, biotechnology, drug design and medicine.
Philom Bios Drops BioMal
Saskatoon company Philom Bios has dropped commercialization plans for its mycoherbicide BioMal, due to changing market conditions and high production costs. Designed to control round-leafed mallow, BioMal was the first mycoherbicide approved for use in Canada. It had been under development for 10 years.
Development of competing lower cost chemical controls would have resulted in BioMal being over-priced.
The company intends to use the experience gained in producing BioMal and in navigating the regulatory process to its advantage when developing future products. These include a mycoherbicide for dandelions and other broad-leaved weeds. Potential bio-fungicides are also being studied.
Goodale Rejects Vet Criticism
Concerns expressed by Dr. David MacDonald, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, that federal budget cutbacks threaten Canada's ability to control animal diseases and protect food safety have been rejected by Ralph Goodale, Canada's Agriculture Minister.
MacDonald stated that cutbacks are reducing veterinarians' involvement in crucial stages of food production, as well as in the control of diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis and rabies. He suggests microbial contamination and residues of antibiotics, pesticides and hormones will be untraceable with the erosion of further resources for veterinary services. It was also suggested cutbacks are responsible for government "fast tracking" of the import of embryos, semen and animals.
Goodale counters that, while reductions are taking place, Canada's infrastructure will be maintained and denies fast-tracking is taking place.
New S&T Strategy Proposed
A framework for a federal science and technology strategy has been proposed by the National Advisory Board on Science and Technology (NABST) following their assessment of federal science and technology policy.
The NABST report, called "Healthy, Wealth and Wise", reflects three main areas: quality of life, wealth and job creation in the context of sustainable development and advancement of knowledge.
The report reinforces the importance of S&T in achieving social and economic objectives, making the case that wealth generation, advancement of knowledge and quality of life in Canada are inextricably linked. It suggests ways to improve overall governance of federal S&T, calls for an accurate system of S&T data collection and performance measurements, supports strategic S&T investments and recommends that sustainable development be prominent in all federal S&T activities.
Copies of the report are available from the NABST Secretariat, call 613/990-6260, fax 613/990-2007, Email firstname.lastname@example.org. The report is available on the WWW at http://info.ic.gc.ca/opengov/nabst/nabst.html
New CEPA Regulations Delayed
Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) requiring the testing of biotech products not covered under other legislation have been delayed. The regulations, which were to be released in April of this year, have been stalled due to issues that remain unresolved between Agriculture Canada and Environment Canada.
FlavrSavr^tm Taking a Bruising
Serious packing and shipping problems are the cause of the bruising and battering of Calgene's famous transgenic tomatoes. Consequently, Calgene is involved in an overhaul of its packing methods, setting back the expected timing of the introduction of the tomato throughout the US market. Meanwhile, DNA Plant Technology of Oakland boasts that its Endless Summer variety requires no special handling.
Hormone for Swine Okayed Down Under
Move over bST! Australia's regulatory authorities have approved pST, a growth hormone for pigs. pST will be injected into lean pigs to increase muscle accumulation. It is expected that pST will be commercially available soon. No public opposition to the product has been reported.
AgBiotech International Conference in Saskatoon
The planning for the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC '96) continues. The conference will premiere in Saskatoon from June 11 - 14, 1996.
Organizers are pleased with the enthusiastic response to this conference from speakers and potential delegates from around the world.
Some of the special features of the conference include corporate tours highlighting the network that exists for the biotech industry between private industry, the University of Saskatchewan and government agencies. Another exciting event taking place at the conference is a Chautauqua evening complete with 11 performing acts, and an array of cuisine in a Saskatchewan buffet.
For information on registration, exhibition, postering or sponsoring opportunities, contact; ABIC '96, c/o The Signature Group, 608 Duchess Street, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, S7K 0R1, Telephone 306/934-1772, fax 306/664-6615, e- mail: email@example.com
Tissue Culture Conference in Saskatoon
The 4th Canadian Plant Tissue Culture and Genetic Engineering Conference will be held at the Delta Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from June 1-4, 1996. Themes for the conference are embryogenesis/development and genes/transformation. Participants are invited to submit abstracts for the poster session.
For more information contact Dr. Graham Scoles at 306/966- 4944 or fax 306/966-5015; or Dr. Wilf Keller at 306/975-5569 or fax 306/975-4839.
Oats/Barley Genetics Conference
The 5th International Oat Conference and the 7th International Barley Genetics Symposium will be held concurrently July 30 to August 6, 1996 at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The combined conferences are the major international forum for information exchange on all aspects of oat and barley research and development.
Contact: the Crop Development Centre, University of Saskatchewan, 51 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5A8, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Biotechnology Colloquium will be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan October 16-20, 1995 as part of the North American Plant Protection Organization meeting.
For information call Jane Thibert at 613/952-8000 or fax 613/952-0809.
Science and Tech Education
The 8th Symposium of the International Organization of Science and Technology Education (IOSTE) will be held in Edmonton, Alberta from August 17 to 24, 1996. The conference theme is "Science and Technology Education for Responsible Citizenship and Economic Development: Evidence, Policy and Practice."
Contact Mr. Raja Panwar, Chair, at 403/427-2984 or fax 403/422-3745 or Email RPanwar@edc.gov.ab.ca
European Biotech Gathering Momentum
Ernst & Young's Second Annual Report on European Biotechnology reports that European biotech companies are "gathering momentum." It states that Europe seems to be warming to biotech on the political front and that many hurdles to the development of the industry on that continent are being dismantled. Germany, it says, may emerge as the "dark horse" of European biotech in the future, despite its reputation as being "anti-biotech." More money is also going into biotech, with the number of companies growing from 386 last year to 485 this year.
Creating Knowledge, Japanese Style
According to a Japanese study (The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, Nonaka and Takeuchi, Oxford University Press) the ability to create new knowledge, rather than manufacturing prowess is a key to corporate advancement. However, the type of knowledge created is important. According to the Japanese dynamic, the most valuable knowledge may be the "tacit" knowledge which can be found in employees hunches, ideals and skills.
Tacit knowledge is hard to share, especially in big companies, but Nonaka and Takeuchi have three suggestions.
One: ensure that employees share each other's experiences as much as possible. This can be done by creating lots of shifting, flexible teams.
Two: use middle managers who are more in touch with the grassroots to transmit information upwards.
Three: organize the company to incorporate three types of structures, a traditional hierarchy to run the day to day business; flexible, temporary teams to generate new ideas; and a knowledge base that brings together explicit and tacit knowledge through everything from databases to the wisdom of longstanding employees.
Monsanto Buys Into Calgene
Monsanto will acquire a 49.9 per cent interest in Calgene Inc. of Davis, California, the biotech company that produced the FlavrSavr^tm tomato and other genetically engineered crops. Calgene was seeking cash, while Monsanto wants to broaden its interests in biotechnology.
Although reports are that Monsanto paid US$30 million for its interest in the company, according to Calgene CEO Roger Salquist, the total deal is worth $200 million. Monsanto will lend $85 million to Calgene and also transfer its ownership of a Florida-based produce shipper to the biotech company.
Public-Private Sector Partnerships
The following article is the second installment in a series based on a presentation to the Plant Science Department, University of Manitoba in November, 1994 by R.E. Morgan, Manager of Agricultural Research and Development with the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and member of the Board of Directors of Ag-West Biotech. The first installment outlined the various forms and advantages of partnerships., primarily those between business and university/research centres.
Challenges of Partnerships
In addition to the many benefits to be obtained from forming partnerships, there are also challenges to contend with.
The greatest challenge is achieving clear communication. In partnership relationships, most frustrations are due to a lack of clearly communicated protocols and expectations which have been spelled out in a written contract identifying measurable results. Often the importance of such details are overlooked or set aside in the urgency to "get on with it," leading to disappointing outcomes.
Some of the challenges that should be identified in advance include:
* The balance of short and long term desires and needs: the industry partner should not only fund the project directly or indirectly, but also contribute a specific amount for longer term research in the area.
* Issues of ownership, control and protection of technology; financial expectations and risks for research and commercialization; and the returns to each party.
* The forms of contribution by each party: dollars and in-kind contributions and responsibility for regulatory and intellectual protection.
* Meeting timelines and establishing measures to maintain focus; milestones need to be set and tracked with minimal diversion.
* Meeting the needs of the third party, the funder. Balancing accounting requirements and/or/with just balancing the books.
* Confidentiality: the need to publish by the university must be recognized. On the other hand, timing of such publication should be negotiable in light of competitive advantage. In addition, the fact that grad students may not be aware of or see the need of confidentiality requirements must be addressed. Project cross over and projects of competitors located in the same lab can be disconcerting; appropriate action to protect partner's interests must be taken.
* Conflicts of interest, such as personal and competing projects in the same facility. Competition between research groups can also be a diversion from the task at hand.
* Research programs associated with such projects can be hindered by a lack of freedom, lack of information or reduced long term activity. Too much focus and concern about industry's needs can lead to deterioration in the educational role of the department.
* A university administrative bureaucracy with a poor understanding of business needs/operations.
* Legal bureaucracy or burdensome reporting systems.
* More than two partners in a project can be problematic. Partners need to make a special effort to communicate and make agreed upon contributions.
Enhancing partnership success
The key component that can determine the success or failure of a relationship and the project are the people involved.
A partnership is contemplated when the potential partners see some distinct advantages and these outweigh, in total, the risks or challenges. Anything that can be done to foster the consummation and the success of the partnership in meeting its goals must be seriously considered.
Some things that can be done to reduce a number of the more obvious burdens are:
* The university needs to develop clear guidelines (protocol) in consultation with industry. These should then be communicated clearly to university departments, their staff and industry.
* The university should put in place an effective and efficient commercial office. The office should be adequately resourced and have knowledgeable, service-oriented staff who have both worked in industry and clearly understand the university system and its needs.
* Regular evaluations will help ensure that the staff follow appropriate business protocol and develop appropriate protocol for all commercial arrangements between the university and business partners.
* The staff of the commercial office should be the primary contact for all formal relationships being considered and for the commercialization of university technology.
* They should also participate as required in discussions between industry representatives and the scientists involved in the project to ensure an excellent understanding of mutual requirements.
* Funding agencies which provide financial resources to such partnerships should ensure (but not dictate) that the partnership is following a business protocol that demonstrates a path to the greatest opportunity/potential for success in the development and commercialization of the technology. All parties should agree on a common reporting format which succinctly provides project/budget status, but is not onerous in preparation. In addition, there should be encouragement to allocate some resources to longer term research in the area under development.
* There is a need to use a streamlined process that minimizes administrative work for the scientist. A straightforward software package for the projects/budget tracking would be useful.
A partnership forum
A significant step towards developing an environment for successful partnerships would be to hold a forum/workshop where the participants put forward concrete recommendations on the appropriate business interface and protocol for university partnerships.
The participants would include appropriate representation from the university, AgCanada, NRC-PBI, provincial research institutes, industry and key funding agencies. The presence of some legal expertise would also be appropriate.
A number of key topics would be included in the information dissemination portion of the forum/workshop agenda. Consideration of these topics would also be important during the workshop format:
* General overview of current university practice and expectations.
* Protection/ownership/control of intellectual property.
* Performance management.
* Contract basics.
* Conflict of interest and confidentiality.
* Funding partnerships.
* The various partnership definitions.
The next installment of this article will focus on working in today's reality.
Canola Petal Test Commercialized
A testing system used to predict the occurrence of an important canola disease has been licensed to a Saskatchewan company, Reed Agricultural Services, by University of Saskatchewan Technologies Incorporated.
The Canola Petal Test, used to detect Sclerotinia stem rot, helps farmers to determine the cost effectiveness of using a control fungicide. Test kits, developed at the University of Saskatchewan with funding from the Canola Council of Canada and the Agriculture Development Fund, have been marketed on a trial basis by the University since 1991.
The transfer of the technology to Reed Agricultural Services responds to a favorable reaction from canola growers throughout the prairies, demonstrated by a steady increase in sales. Reed will manufacture the kits and sell them to individual growers, agri-service companies and custom chemical applicators.
Contact: Mark Reed, Reed Agricultural Service, 306/378-2784; fax 306/378-2811.
Biocontrol for Sclerotinia Around the Corner
Meanwhile, AgCanada and Cominco Fertilizers Ltd. will commercialize a biocontrol agent for white mold/stem rot caused by Sclerotinia sclertiorum fungus. First identified by the Lethbridge Research Centre, the biological agent is expected to provide control with one application per season. It is anticipated that the commercial formulation will be available in three years.
Queens Moves to Enhance Commercialization
PARTEQ Innovations, Queen's University's for-profit technology transfer agent, is seeking private investments for an initiative designed to help commercialize the university's intellectual property. Queen's goal is to obtain $28 million in investments; the money will go to PARTEQ in return for 30 per cent royalties on any revenue generated from Queens' intellectual property. The initiative is considered unique in North America.
Queens undertook some $68 million in research in 1993-94, most of it funded by the federal government. Its commercialization wing now represents over 80 projects covered by 30 patents and 60 patents pending. It is hoped that royalties from past and future research will replace public funds, which are expected to decrease as the federal government moves to reduce its deficit.
New Biotech Loan Fund
An innovative loan fund targeting Western Canada's biotechnology firms has been announced by Western Economic Diversification Minister Lloyd Axworthy and the Royal Bank of Canada's General Manager for Saskatchewan, Gord G. Tallman.
By providing loans for research and development, product development and market development, the joint venture is designed to fill the gap in financing requirements for small companies in one of the world's fastest growing sectors.
In partnership with Western Economic Diversification (WD), the Royal Bank will establish a loan fund of up to $30 million to enable firms to access debt capital for which they were previously ineligible. In addition to investing $3.75 million, WD will provide professional services for technology reviews of projects, support for business in developing proposals, project monitoring and ongoing management support.
Loans will range from $50,000 to a $500,000 maximum. Interested companies should contact WD offices in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton or Vancouver to obtain initial application information and for assistance in developing the necessary materials and documents. Companies meeting the criteria will then formally apply to the Royal Bank, where accounts will be managed by specially trained Knowledge-Based Industry managers.
For additional information contact Judy Moore, Assistant Deputy Minister, WD in Saskatoon at 306/975-4373 or Corey Keith, Senior Account Manager, Knowledge-Based Industries, Royal Bank in Saskatoon at 306/955-8324.
KPMG Reviews Canada's Biotech Industry
"Overall, 1994 was a moderately progressive year for Canadian biotechnology," says a 1994/95 update on biotech from the consulting firm KPMG, "with some new products approved, new sources of funding and continued support from the government and the public."
Financing remained a top challenge for the emerging industry, especially for "the riskier spin-offs emerging from the university hothouse." However, some new sources of funding have emerged. Several national banks announced programs to boost lending to knowledge-based industries.
Despite shifting financial priorities, the federal government has helped to fill some gaps in the infrastructure for product development as part of its focus on technology transfer and product commercialization. One example is the federal contribution to a biofermentation facility in Saskatoon.
The report also points out that Canada's regulatory regime for novel products of biotechnology has largely been put into place, although the number of new products challenges the resources of the regulatory system.
"It remains to been," the update concludes, "whether biotechnology can maintain such a steady course under global industry restructuring and a government resetting its priorities."
Input on International Strategy Sought
The federal government wants to hear from Canadian biotech companies about their international priorities for exporting products and services, attracting investment and acquiring new technology.
The information will be used to allocate government resources for servicing the international business interests of Canadian biotech firms in the health, agriculture, marine and environmental segments of the industry.
Contact John Jaworski at Industry Canada by Fax at 613/952- 4209 or by Email at email@example.com.
rbST Moratorium Extension Recommended
A further two-year moratorium on the sale of rbST in Canada has been recommended by the House of Commons health committee. While Agriculture Minister Ralph Goodale says that he sees no point in extending the ban, committee member and Reform MP Grant Hill, a family doctor from southern Alberta, stated that he is not satisfied that all human health factors have been addressed.
The growth hormone, which can boost milk production in cattle, is available for sale in the United States, but has been withheld in Canada while authorities assess the issues, including consumer reaction in the US.
In the US, consumers "appear totally unconcerned about synthetic bovine somatotropin (bST)," according to a report in Country Guide magazine. Their evidence is that milk sales have continued to increase since the introduction of rbST south of the boarder.
Meanwhile, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has endorsed rbST, saying that it is not a threat to either animal or human safety. However, the AVMA advises that although the use of rbST improves milk production and efficiency, it does not replace the overall requirements for quality herd management.
American Religious Leaders Oppose Gene Patents
The Southern Baptist Conference in Atlanta has adopted a resolution calling for "an immediate moratorium on the patenting of animal and human tissues and genetic sequences until a full and complete discussion has concurred." The resolution adds to a growing religious opposition to gene patenting.
Previously, some 180 leaders of mainstream Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions petitioned the US Patent and Trademark office to reverse its policy of granting patents for human and animal genes. While the leaders say they do not oppose biotechnology, as such, for religious reasons, they state that "humans and animals are creations of God, not humans and as such should not be patented as inventions."
The group suggested that biotech companies could use some other mechanism, such as contract law, to protect intellectual property without claiming ownership through patents. However, the biotech industry counters that patents are essential in protecting the major investments involved in developing biotechnologies.
Bt Genes and Organic Farmers
Organic farmers are challenging the introduction of potatoes and other crops that have been engineered to contain insect toxin genes from Bacillus thuringiensis. They claim that the widespread adoption of Bt crops will accelerate resistance to Bt insecticides as a result of continuous exposure to the toxins as insects feed on engineered crops. This would reduce the efficacy of Bt as a pesticide acceptable to organic farmers. Further, the loss of Bt as an insecticide would result in a return to chemical insecticides for insect control.
Labelling Not Always Necessary, Say EU Experts
A group of European ethics experts believes that there is no need for systematic labelling of transgenic foods. The European Commission's advisory group says that only foods substantially altered by genetic engineering should be labelled to alert consumers. Substantial changes would be those that relate to composition, nutritional value or intended use of the food.
The group also says that, when used, labels should specify the nature of the change and the process employed and be informative, clear, easily understandable and honest. The group also feels information can be made available through other sources than labels, such as hotlines and databases, enabling consumers to obtain additional information if they want it.
The European Union has been unable to reach an agreement on the labelling of novel foods. Recently, a compromise proposal has been submitted which follows the recommendation of the advisory group.
Labelling of transgenic foods is not required in Canada, the United States or Japan.
Public Determines if Agbiotech Products Will Fly
What is a viable product?
According to Peter Desai, Director of Research and Development for Dow Elanco Canada, a viable product is one that the public will buy. The best science, reams of test data and company pronouncements mean nothing if the customer refuses to put cash on the counter.
Desai's comments were part of his summary and closing address at the Value Added Cereals Through Biotechnology conference held in Saskatoon from June 10 to 13.
Desai warned that scientific strength will not guarantee commercial success, it is merely the entry fee to get in the game. Success depends on public acceptance and confidence, which aren't always responsive to scientific arguments.
He gave the example of a video conference held in May, in conjunction with the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual conference. The panel was flooded with calls from individuals and groups like professional chefs who demanded, "Who gave you the right to play God?" and other similar questions. While Desai says there were some positive calls, there were many based on ethical and emotional issues, which are difficult to answer with a purely scientific approach. Nevertheless, if they are questions that the public wants addressed, they must be dealt with.
Another problem is that science is complicated.
"People don't understand science and are reluctant to learn," Desai says.
He suggests education can start at home. People in the agbiotech industry should find out what family and friends think of biotech, then explain the facts, without getting defensive and let them make up their minds.
"We need to educate the group that we interact with every day."
Even when the public is receptive, industry can hamstring its own education efforts through language. Words like "genetic engineering", gene manipulation", or "synthetic genes" may all have precise meanings to scientists, but they evoke uneasiness or even hostility in the public. Scientists need to think about what words they use to explain their science. "Manipulation" for example, can become "modification", a more neutral word that still conveys the appropriate meaning.
Industry proponents also have to put themselves in the customer's shoes. What's in it for the consumer? A better cooking oil, perhaps? These benefits should be put in every day terms with which people can identify.
Desai urged conference participants to become active in educating the public about the industry if products of agbiotechnology are to enjoy commercial success.
"If you do what you always did, you'll get what you've always got. In today's world, we cannot afford to do this."
Value Added Cereals Through Biotechnology was organized by the NRC's Plant Biotechnology Institute, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the University of Saskatchewan and Ag-West Biotech Inc.
Contact: Rosemarie Gallays, Plant Biotechnology Institute, National Research Council. Ph.: 306/975-5571, Fax: 306/975- 4839. PBI is also on the World Wide Web at http://ad94old.pbi.nrc.ca/pbiintro.html
Canadian Consumers Wary of bST Milk
Winnipeg public opinion pollster Angus Reid says Canadian consumers are suspicious of rbST. The company's recent poll indicates that 75 per cent of Canadians are concerned about the possible use of bST in Canada; in fact, almost half of those surveyed said they would pay more for non-rbST milk, with another quarter indicating that they might pay more. The fact that people will back up their concern with money is usually a strong indication of depth of concern.
Ruth Jackson, President of the Consumers Association of Canada, indicated that she is suspicious of the Angus Reid poll, which she claims is at odds with previous surveys.
However, Curtis Johnson of the Angus Reid Group says that the survey is consistent with previous research done in Ontario. "Their research was more detailed than ours. It included information on the rationale for people's concern."
Johnson says that American polls show different results than Canadian surveys, perhaps because American surveys tend to measure consumer reactions to milk in general, while the Canadian polls judged reaction to rBST milk and non-rbST milk separately.
"US and Canadian consumers are different," says Johnson. "Canadians tend to be slightly more knowledgeable and concerned about food issues." He also says that other research shows that Canadians are less price sensitive than Americans, which could explain why Canadians would be willing to pay more for rbST-free milk.
To illustrate the differences in consumer attitudes about prices, Johnson cites an example from the retail industry. "Major Canadian retail companies commonly use sale items to attract customers into their stores. Once in the store, customers buy other items at regular prices. This strategy doesn't work in the US. The American consumer just comes for the sale item and leaves."
Johnson says his company is not trying to generate concern, but believes the industry should know what consumers are thinking. He says the adverse reaction to rbST may have occurred because proponents "are not doing a good job of communicating what bST is. There are conflicting stories about safety. When consumers hear that there are traces of bST in milk, it causes concern," even though naturally occurring bST has always been present in cows' milk.
Reid has also researched farmer opinions on rbST. "Dairy farmers are also concerned about the impact that rbST may have," says Johnson. "This may be partly due to possible consumer reaction and partly because of their concerns about animal health." Johnson points out that polling indicates that farmer concern about rbST does not translate to plant transgenics. "On the seed side, farmers apparently feel no concern."
A spokesman for the National Dairy Council of Canada has stated that consumer attitudes about rbST "pose a huge threat to our industry." The Canadian dairy processing industry remains opposed to the use of rbST in Canada.
CDA Committee Favours Biotech
A position paper of the Biotechnology Committee of the Canadian Dietetic Association has endorsed the value of biotechnology in maintaining an abundant and sustainable food supply. However, the Committee reports it has not yet been able to achieve consensus of its position with all provincial associations.
In summary, the paper states:
"Biotechnology allows scientists to improve foods, create new food products and provide better tools to ensure food safety. It can assist in achieving the goal of an abundant, safe and nutritious food supply for a growing population. These technologies can lead to a greater variety of foods with improved taste, nutrition and cooking quality. There are valid concerns about the widespread use of biotechnology which remain to be addressed by health, scientific and consumer constituencies. Dietitians need to be informed about biotechnology in food production and processing. They need to be aware of potential benefits and risks. Dietitians are uniquely positioned to inform the public about food safety and food products of biotechnology. Dietitians can discuss this information in understandable language and with sensitivity to public values. Dietitians should participate in the development of food-related policies at local, provincial and federal levels."
Who's Suing Whom?
American legislators recently beefed up that country's Plant Variety Protection Act, giving developers of new plant varieties stronger control of genetic property. The American action, along with recent legislation in Europe and agreements between Japan and the US and China and the US on patent issues, indicate a trend toward strengthened proprietary rights.
Without strong proprietary protection, the substantial investments in research and development by agbiotech companies needed to produce new crop varieties can be undermined. For example, Pioneer Hi-Bred spent some $115 million on research and development last year.
That's why Pioneer is acting aggressively to protect the products it develops through its research programs. The seed company uses DNA fingerprints, or molecular marking, to monitor its products.
Patent infringement can be a high stakes game. Pioneer was awarded $47 million dollar in damages last year from Holden's Foundation Seeds, when Pioneer's genetic material was found in Holden's product. This year, Pioneer is suing Crow's Hybrid Corn Co. for misappropriation of trade secrets and violation of the Plant Variety Protection Act.
Meanwhile, a patent battle is underway between Calgene and Enzo Biochem. The companies are in court over the ownership of the antisense technology behind the FlavrSavr tomato. Enzo alleges that Calgene's claim of an earlier patent for the plant is invalid due to fraudulent research by the inventor. A loss of the case by Calgene could mean that the company would have to pay a royalty to Enzo.
Giant drug and chemical company Monsanto (which recently acquired half of Calgene) is also fighting over tomatoes, with DNA Plant Technology. Monsanto alleges that DNAP violated two of its patents that control the ripening of tomatoes. DNAP has launched a counter-suit.
BioResearch Ireland has released its annual report for 1994. BioResearch, established in 1988 to commercialize Irish research in biotechnology, now employs 230 staff and performs R&D services on behalf of 238 industrial clients.
Copies from Phil O'Leary, BioResearch Ireland, Forbairt, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland. Tel. 353 1 8370177 or fax: 353 1 8370176.
Canola Info Service for Sask
A Canola Information Service for consumers has been launched by the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission. The service helps callers understand how to buy, store and incorporate canola oil and canola oil products to maximize nutrition, flavour and safety at home or in commercial kitchens. The service is free, with educational/nutritional information available to consumers, health professionals, food service personnel and media.
Call the Canola Information Service at 306/664-7117
Canada's Export Strategies The International Trade Business Plan, 1995/96 (Biotechnologies), is a summary of Canada's international trade plans relevant to biotech and includes planned activities.
Call 1-800/267-8376 for copies.
Info Systems for Agbiotech
Information Systems for Biotechnology, an electronic resource in agbiotech, contains the latest news in R&D, product commercialization and regulatory information. Search output and documents can be downloaded to the user's computer.
Access using gopher, ftp, telnet ir WWW to connect to ftp.nbiap.vt.edu. Contact: Doug King at 703/231-3747; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Electronic TechTransfer Service
Trans Forum contains information from Canadian universities and institutes related to tech transfer and industry liaison. Includes an "opportunities match" mailing list.
Connect at http://schoolnet.carleton.ca/Trans- Forum/english.html
Canadian Dietetic Association
Lynda Corby has been elected president of the Canadian Dietetic Association for 1995-96. Corby, the co-author of two successful books on nutrition, fitness and self-esteem for children and was recently involved in a review of the delivery of nutritional services in her native Manitoba.
Canola Council of Canada
Keith Downey has received the James McAnsh Award, the highest award available from the Canola Council of Canada. The award recognizes Downey's contributions to the development of 18 varieties of canola during his 40 year career with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Downey is research scientist emeritus at the Saskatoon Research Centre. Edna Downey was also honored for her work to promote the use of canola oil in cooking and for her long term support to her husband research efforts.
Ken Sarsons, who influenced the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool to invest in crushing and marketing rapeseed as an alternative to wheat and barley, was awarded a lifetime membership in the Canola Council Sarsons was, variously, chief executive officer of CSP Foods, Alberta Food Products and XCAN Grain.
Rod MacInnes has been hired as Manager of Research for Canodev, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission. Among other accomplishments, MacInnes was Manager of Market Development for Esso Agbiologicals in Saskatoon.
Dwight E. More has joined Cyanamid Canada's Winnipeg office as Director of Operations for Western Canada. More resigned as President of the Canola Council of Canada at the end of July.
Canadian Seed Trade Assn.
Bob Ingratta, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Monsanto has completed his term as chairman of the CSTA Biotechnology Committee. He continues to take an active role in the International Trade of Transgenic Canola committee, which is comprised of industry and government representatives.
Brent Kennedy, Manager of Research and Development for AgrEvo, assumes chairmanship of the CSTA Biotechnology Committee. The committee's primary mandate is to facilitate the development of regulatory standards for Canada. Kennedy was previously vice-chairman.
Ian Grant, Head of Canola Research with Pioneer Hi- Bred International, is the committee's new vice chairman. Barb Fowler, Manager of Regulatory Affairs for Plant Genetic Systems, takes over Grant's duties as Secretary.
Bill Parks, President of Pioneer Hi-Bred's Canadian operations, was assumed office as CTSA President on July 11, 1995, taking the helm from Lloyd Dyck, President of Rhett Young Seeds.
Horst Waesche, former president of Hoechst Japan, has joined the Board of Directors of Hoechst. Waesche will be responsible for AgrEvo, Hoechst Veterinary, the Asian region, as well as the company's information and communication departments.
Ronald Gauthier, formerly general manager of Syntex Animal Health's Canadian operations, is now general manager of Mallinckrodt Veterinary for Canada. Gauthier is responsible for ethical and OTC business.
Dr. Anthony J. Cavalieri has been elected as vice- president and director of trait and technology development with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Cavalieri will oversee the research support and biotechnology groups.
Dr. Peter Rempel of Regina, Saskatchewan has been appointed to replace Al Hingston as the Government of Saskatchewan representative on the Board of the Veterinary Infectious Diseases Organization (VIDO). Ian Thompson of Carnduff, Saskatchewan will replace George Schoepp as the Beef Cattle representative.
Copyright 1995 Agbiotech Bulletins