Unraveling the Regulatory Quagmire of Agrobiologicals
Posted 10th August 2018 by Kate Barlow
At the Partnerships in Biocontrol, Biostimulants, & Microbiome: Europe, Peter Jens, Director of Strategic Alliances at Koppert Biological Systems and CEO of AND Biopharma, discussed regulation from product to systems thinking.
He focused specifically on the way in which consumers and citizens have become more vocal on the quality of products, arguing that the current regulatory discussion is fated and different thinking is required.
Here, he explains what he means by ‘different’ kinds of thinking and how this could help unravel the regulatory quagmire of agrochemicals and agrobiologicals.
Could you tell us a little bit more about AND Biopharma and Koppert Biological Systems?
I’ll start with Koppert Biologicals. For fifty-one years, we looked at nature for solutions to human problems. Now, we have $200 million revenue, we’re based in 30 countries all around the world, and we have three groups of products:
- The bumblebee for pollination
- And microbiome, which is one of the key topics at this conference.
Traditionally, we grew high-value crops, such as tomatoes, in greenhouses, and over the last few years, we’ve ventured into agriculture.
Nature nurtures, but there is nothing special about nature. Nature doesn’t differentiate between pharma, agriculture, or anything else. If you study nature, like we do, you discover a lot of things, new things that can be used for pharma, for agriculture, for horticulture, even for social sciences. It would be a good idea for mayors of big cities to look at ants on how to govern themselves. Nature provides a lot of solutions. Biomimicry, which is copying nature, is a healthy industry. Within biology, you have also ecologists, who study relationships in biology.
For example, Professor Stefano Mazzoleni, who discussed extracellular self-DNA and biocontrol at this event, is an ecologist. He discovered a principle called DNA self-inhibition. DNA inhibition demonstrates extracellular DNA, meaning the DNA of an organism outside that organism, so it can be the DNA of a dead organism, which inhibits the growth of the same species. You hardly see any seedlings of the same tree especially in a forest, but they all die. They live first, coming out in the seed, but other seeds can grow as well, so the ‘litter’, or the dead leaves of the tree, cause the seedlings to stop growing and that’s because of the fragments of DNA.
Five years ago, Stefano called Koppert and said, “Listen, we have a nice idea. We already have a patent and maybe something for Koppert.” We looked at his invention and said, “Wow! This is nature at its best.” Then we decided, “Okay, as humans, we will differentiate between pharma and agriculture.” Because, like the tree litter, the dead leaves kill the seedlings, the DNA of bacteria also kills or inhibits the growth of the same bacterium. The same is true of humans because sometimes we have bacteria that are not doing nice things. So, we set up AND Biopharma. There are two shareholders and it is made up of a group of professors and Koppert. AND Biopharma was established in January this year.
Your presentation focused on the regulation of biological products. How are biological products regulated?
Biological products are regulated in a similar way to chemical products, so people focus on the possible side effects of the molecules.
You said that some products are not accepted because people don’t understand them. How can we encourage understanding and public confidence in these products?
There are two mechanisms. Firstly, we must start thinking as ecologists, and that means we have to study relationships between as many organisms or events as possible. Normally, in the chemical industry, you have chemical compounds that kills something and we accept collateral damage.
The second is: ask the people in the street about the risks. What science and industry didn’t do well is explain how biology and chemicals work and why we need to produce cheap food, as well as the so-called “nasty stuff”.
If you tell most consumers that if you pay a little bit more, you get organic quality, they will accept it. We have to mobilise their ‘common sense of the citizens’.
You also said that we need people outside science to contribute to the development of these products. What kind of people in particular are you thinking of?
Mainly people who specialise in inter-generational issues like theologists. There is a lot of good thinking with theologists. We also need philosophers that look at ancient knowledge and project it to the future and artists that can work on things that cannot even be expressed in words. In addition, we need linguists that can create new words for new discoveries.
Are there any lessons to be learned from the way in which GMOs have been burdened with a negative perception from the public?
Yes! Never, ever try to get novel technologies pushed by lawyers into a new territory.
Peter Jens is the CEO of AND Biopharma and Director of Strategic Alliances at Koppert Biological Systems.
We will be discussing the regulation of biologicals at the next event in the series Partnerships in Biocontrol, Biostimulants, & Microbiome: USA. Find out more here.
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