‘Green Revolution’ research center in Mexico gets money from Gates, Slim for GM seeds
By Associated Press, Published: February 13
TEXCOCO, Mexico — The research center largely responsible for launching the “green revolution” of the 1960s that dramatically raised crop yields is getting support from the world’s richest men to develop genetically-modified seeds to help farmers in the developing world grow more grain in the face of a changing climatic conditions and increased demand.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim donated a total of $25 million to build a new cluster of biotechnology labs at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.
In the 1990s, the problem was the government crowding out the private sector. Today, the problem is the government crowding out itself.
The facilities include hothouses “with high-efficiency air particle filters and a water treatment plant to prevent pollen and genetically modified material from escaping to the outdoors,” according to a statement by the billionaires’ foundations.
Both of the philanthropists were on hand for Wednesday’s inauguration of the new labs at the research center, known as CIMMYT, located just east of Mexico City.
It was yet another coming of age moment for GM crops, because the nonprofit CIMMYT has become known over the last 50 years for providing low-cost, improved seeds through hybridization efforts, using its vast stockpiles of native corn and wheat genes from across the world to cross-breed the best attributes, like drought-resistance.
But increasingly, genetic splicing is joining the older technique of cross-pollination as “one of the tools in the toolbox,” said CIMMYT Director Thomas Lumpkin.
While Lumpkin claimed that even hybridization represents a sort of genetic modification by selective planting and breeding, he noted that CIMMYT hasn’t shipped any true GM seeds yet, and acknowledged that some countries might have concerns.
“We want to facilitate the movement of those (genetic) traits to the countries of the developing world that request them, that want them,” Lumpkin said. “Nothing is being pushed, nothing is being forced, and CIMMYT will not profit.”
Gates noted there are “legitimate issues, but solvable issues” around wider GM crop use, and that solutions could include distributing GM crops that are patented but require no royalty payments.
That alone would be a big change in the spread of GM crops, which up to now have been largely controlled by a few big biotechnology and agricultural companies that charge steep rates for GM seed and sue any farmer who uses, even accidentally, their patented GM traits, like pest resistance.
CIMMYT, with its ties to farm agencies throughout the world, could be a conduit to deliver GM benefits to the developing world, which has largely been locked out of them.
GM traits could be developed by the center and donated, or they could be bought cheaply. That’s where Gates and his foundation could come in. With his help CIMMYT, which is known for charging farmers as little as possible, could pick up some of the older traits for low prices.
“Some of these traits are getting near the end of their patent life or are available from multiple entities, so that there’s even some competition there,” Gates noted.