Where did agricultural biotechnology go right

New technologies are almost always developed because of the business opportunities they offer. Governments support them as a means of advancing science in general and to create economic and social benefits. Firms have a much less complicated mandate. They are motivated by profit, since profits allow them to survive and to achieve other goals. In the case of agricultural biotechnology, the firms correctly recognized the profit potential in the multi-billion dollar markets for herbicide- and insect-resistant crops. They invested in products that they knew their farmer customers would purchase and where they could capture much, but not all of the value created through their IP. In other words, they invested in technologies that would provide profits and increase shareholder value, technologies that warranted a prolonged investment in areas from R&D and regulatory approval to production and acquisitions of genetics companies.

Although there have been challenges, from a business perspective it is impossible to characterize the introduction of GM crops as a failure. The decision to focus on input traits was a good one in terms of both regulatory approval and producer acceptance. The advantages were easily discernible to producers and the fact that resulting crops were deemed "substantially equivalent" to existing crops greatly simplified regulatory approval. Biotechnology companies managed to introduce new GM crops into North America with little fuss at the consumer level but achieved remarkable market penetration at the producer level in a very short time. The use of technical user agreements was not overly popular with producers at first but was accepted once farmers recognized the value of the crops to their businesses.

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