The Science and Law of Biotechnology Policy

Dr. William Henri Lesser, Susan Eckert Lynch Professor of Science and Business at Cornell University, speaking in We the People, Tang Teaching Museum, photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Dr. Lesser’s talk began with a look back at the start of the biotech era, which began in 1972-73, with the discovery of the Cohen-Boyer genetic manipulation methodology, and which progressed rapidly to the first biotech crops in 1996. Today, the vast majority of the corn, soybeans, and cotton grown in the United States have been genetically modified. Dr. Lesser discussed why farmers like biotech crops, but why they don’t like Monsanto. He explored the policy innovations in patent law (beginning with the 1980 Chakrabarty decision allowing patents for living organisms) and food/environmental safety regulations (regulate the product, not the process) that have made the transformation to engineered crops possible. He also discussed the possible repercussions if California passes a mandatory food labeling referendum (Prop 37). The talk was followed by a Question & Answer period and then a reception with locally grown and sourced foods, including a tasting of vegetables from the Skidmore Garden.


Dr. Lesser is the Susan Eckert Lynch Professor of Science and Business at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

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