Could Open Source Make GMOs More Palatable?

from the it-worked-before dept

As a recent DailyDirt noted, opinions on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are sharply divided. But that heated argument tends to obscure another problem that Techdirt has often written about in other fields: the use of patent monopolies to exert control, in this case over the food chain. By inserting DNA sequences into plants and animals and obtaining patents, the biotech industry is granted surprisingly wide-ranging powers over how its products are used, as the Bowman case made clear. That's potentially problematic when those products are the foods that keep us alive.

But we have been here before in the world of software, where companies had broad control over how people could use applications. The solution was free software -- code licensed in such a way that it granted users permission to do practically anything they wanted with it. So why not try something similar for GMOs? asks this article in Slate:

Like open-source software, open-source food genetics would advance biological research in this country, and our universities would soon become hothouses of innovation. Intellectual production without intellectual property would thrive, as scientists gained access to DNA code in all its infinite variety, along with the freedom to create derivative work and redistribute findings.
The column points out that a licensing system for plants already exists:
Open-source agriculture joined the patent left movement [inspired by Richard Stallman and his copyleft approach] when Cambia Technologies, an Australian biotech company that researches and develops GMOs, offered a licensing agreement called BIOS, which allows for the free use of a technology called "transbacter." Transbacter can be deployed to alter plant genetics, and its aim is not one specific modification for one specific corporate interest but to enable a slew of innovations.
Utlimately, though, the article's author Frederick Kaufman foresees the need for a more radical solution:
BIOS, like all the other open-source initiatives, is far from perfect, as it creates the paradox of endlessly replicating armies of anti-licensing licenses. The way out of the logical mire -- and the way to marshal agri-tech to the cause of climate change -- is an explicit exception in the licensing law, an intellectual property loophole for food.
The carrot, so to speak, would be that open-source GMOs would allow the creation of raw materials and foodstuffs without today's problems of ownership and control, and that might finally make them more palatable to the many people and countries worried about those issues.

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Filed Under: genetically modified, gmo, open source, transparency

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  1. identicon
    The Old Man in The Sea, 2 Aug 2013 @ 3:46pm

    Genetic Modification is a very old technology

    Just to clear up what appears to be a misunderstanding here. Genetic modification of biological systems is very ancient, thousands of years old. Most, if not all, foodstuffs we use around the world today have been altered by man. These plants and animals are not what were originally available. There are exceptions of course, tribal groups in hunter-gatherer mode.

    However, where there is farming of any sort, the crops and animals being grown are a modified form. They have been genetically modified for increase production. This also applies to many of the ornamental plants and animals we have. The tools used can be simple selection for a particular trait but it is still a form of genetic modification.

    Just because someone develops a term to describe a specific process does not mean that the term in question is actually restricted to that specific process.

    Some of the tools today may not have been used in the past, but then again they may have been. We just do not know.

    I recently came across article on nanotechnology where the authors were investigating how 15 and 16 century goldsmiths and silversmiths were able to achieve results that we at this point in cannot repeat, but through nanotechnology are on the road of duplicating.

    One thing we do know is that there are many things that have been done in the past that we either cannot repeat (we don't have the technology) or we have finally redeveloped the technology or we have created another way of doing the same thing. There really is nothing new under the sun.

    Just an aside, many years ago, I watched a historical documentary on medicines and hospitals during the middle ages. One thing that stood out for me was a very small segment that covered a medicine they found in their investigations. It was used for purpose that I no longer recall. What was interesting was what it had been made from. There were three ingredients found in the medicine in very specific proportions. Each of the plants that made up the medicine was poisonous. Any combination of two ingredients was even more poisonous, but all three together became a useful non-poisonous medicine. The three poisons react together to neutralise each other. My base question here was how did they work this out?

    Today, we have a tendency to be very arrogant over our "scientific" and "technological" achievements (even against the recent past). We do not recognise that many of the things we do today are variations on a theme of what has been done in the past.

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