Innovation Seminar Series

Investment, Regulation and Uncertainty: Managing New Plant Breeding Techniques

Presented by Stuart J Smyth, Research Scientist in the Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics, University of Saskatchewan.


As with any technological innovation, time refines the technology, improving upon the original versions of the innovative product. One has to but look at the iphones of today compared to the cell phones of the early 1990s to witness proof. The refinement and improvement of innovations is not confined to consumer products, great advances have also occurred in plant biotechnology. The initial GM crops had single traits for either herbicide tolerance or insect resistance. Current varieties have both of these traits stacked together and in many cases other abiotic and biotic traits have also been stacked. The technologies used to create the initial GM crop varieties in the late 1980s and early 1990s have also been considerably refined and improved upon. The rudimentary techniques used over 20 years ago have now been replaced with precision techniques that are incredibly accurate and in some instances, no longer requiring marker genes to allow for the detection of the inserted trait.

Innovation requires investment. While this is relatively straight forward, certain conditions need to exist such that investments can be facilitated. The principle requirement for investment is that regulatory frameworks render consistent and timely decisions. Once the certainty of regulatory outcomes weaken, the potential for changes in investment patterns increases. This paper provides a summary background to the leading plant breeding technologies that are either currently being used to develop new crop varieties or are in the pipeline to be applied to plant breeding within the next few years. Challenges for existing regulatory systems will be highlighted. Utilizing an option value approach from investment literature, an assessment of uncertainty regarding the regulatory approval for these varying techniques will be undertaken. This research will highlight which technology development options will have the greatest degree of uncertainty and hence, which ones might be expected to see an investment decline.