Regional genetic coding of commodities

Posted by in science

The WSJ raised some eyebrows today by highlighting some of the techniques tech companies use to maintain different regional price markets for the nearly identical products. Examples include power supplies with voltage limits (Apple and Nintendo) and inkjet cartridges that buddy up only with regionally similar printers (HP). Its only a matter of time before biotech goes the way of the tech firm, but in an even more creative manner.

The genetic engineering of food stuffs is a science that breeds a whole dynamic of response from foodies the world over. In the wake of our renewed interest in manipulating genes, governments are passing laws defining just what can and cannot be sold in their countries. In essence, we stepping closer and closer to regionally coding the genes of the food we will eat.

For the better proportion of the last few hundred thousand years, or so, corn has been…well.. corn. Sure, you might have had white corn, feed corn speckled corn and those little candy corns. But the differences between corn styles were clear to the consumer and only rarely did a government outlaw candy corn.

As we head into this next millenium however, the differences between corns, soybeans, or any other kind of veggie your mother used to make you eat, are becoming ever the more subtle and complex. Varietals designed to be impervious to bugs, pesticides and a suite of other ills are emerging. And as different countries push through unique legislation, for the first time in a very long time, corn may not simply be corn.

We already see some of the market consequences as organic veggies carry higher prices. But now think of something a bit more engineered and stockholder-oriented. Like the drugs on our shelves, governments will be lobbied to approve only certain genetic alterations. Beyond patent protections, these lobbying efforts will involve the legislative approval of only certain designs, or the legislative disapproval of most other designs. A well-placed patent, combined with a legislative backboard could be combined to convert commodities into mini-monopolies.