By Chandler Goule, NFU vice president of government relations
The average consumer, whether it is in the grocery store or at the pharmacy counter, is often confronted with the decision of whether to pay full price for a branded or patented widget or pay less for a generic, yet equally good, product.
As Americans face personal budget concerns, companies are tightening their belts and seeking ways to cut spending and still deliver the same service. Often, the generic product is a budget-saving measure that many people choose.
However, there is an industry that doesn’t have this option. The world population continues to explode, and by 2050 the world will be expected to produce twice as much food on less land. Currently there is no pathway forward for the generic production of biotech traits. We have just reached the end of the first patent on a biotech trait. Now we are presented with a problem.
Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, farmers, as things stand now, will not have the option to select a generic biotech product once the patent expires. This has a tremendous impact on both farmers and consumers, particularly consumers who are food insecure.
Over the past 20 years, as biotech became more and more implemented into our food productions systems, farmers have been paying “tech fees” to generate a profit for biotech companies that developed the trait that the farmer was using to reduce pesticide use, conserve water and increase yields. This increase in cost production decreases the profit our hard-working farmers deserve and increased food costs.
Now, even though biotech patents are about to expire, the government has not put into place a binding procedure that would guarantee our producers will even have the option to use generic traits. Therefore, they would have to purchase the newest biotech product at a higher cost for the next 20 years. This is not fair or right. The production of the generic biotech traits for farmers not only increases competition, but also decreases the cost of food production. It is an option that most other industries enjoy. Why is it not being extended to the farmers who produce the food, fiber and fuel for this country?
Currently the biotech industry leaders, through their trade associations, are trying to work on a private contractual agreement that the biotech companies would sign and put in place a system to guarantee the production of these generic traits. The concern is that we are less than 18 months out from the expiration of the first trait’s patent. The industry-led coalition has already missed it first deadline of March 31, 2012, and has now bumped the final completion of the project to September 2012. The other major concern is that one of the industry leaders in biotech has been signaling they may not sign the agreement.
A non-binding resolution is being shopped around the United States Senate asking that a binding process be in place by Jan. 1, 2013, so producers can have the option of choosing a cheaper production input to reduce costs for the farmers and consumers and help keep markets competitive as we work toward our goal in 2050.