The cost of current biotech industry regulations might not be obvious to consumers, but it’s clear to researchers.
“We’ve got nothing on the market for animals. Zero. Twenty years of zero. That’s the cost of regulation. That’s my entire career,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, a geneticist with the University of California-Davis. “I very much understand the opportunity costs of tying breeders’ hands behind their backs because we have developed these disease-resistant animals, we have developed animals that more efficiently digest their feed and reduced environmental impact per pound of gain, and they haven’t come to market.”
Van Eenennaam said many genetically engineered animals have not been commercialized because regulatory costs are prohibitive. And it’s unlikely to change unless regulations for gene-edited products avoid the regulatory environment that has kept smaller companies and some academics from using transgenic processes to produce innovative agricultural products. Transgenic breeding involves the moving of genetic material between unrelated plant or animal species. These types of crosses have been used to create many of the crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton, that dominate farms in the US and other nations where GMOs are allowed to be grown.
According to a 2011 CropLife survey, it costs an average of $136 million and takes 13 years to bring a GMO crop to market. That’s a price that can only be paid by the largest of companies. Said Van Eenennaam:
So yeah, the environmental implications of slowing down or excluding access of breeders to innovation is draconian, especially in animal production. I see that lost opportunity, perhaps the public doesn’t, but breeders do.
Ironically, GMO opponents often point out that only large companies benefit from biotechnology while lobbying to make it more difficult and costly to produce GMOs. As a result, few small companies have successfully navigated the regulatory maze to commercialize transgenic products. One of the few success stories is that of Aquabounty and its genetically engineered salmon. Read the article.