FUTURE CHANGES IN DISEASE CONTROL: FUNGICIDES OR BIOTECHNOLOGY
VM ANTHONY1, M MOSS2, AJ GREENLAND1, L MELCHERS3 and M STUIVERS3
Zeneca Agrochemicals, 1Jealott's Hill Research Station, Bracknell, Berkshire RG42 6EY, UK; 2Fernhurst, Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 3JE, UK; 3Zeneca Mogen, PO 628 2300, AP Leiden, The Netherlands
Scientists in industry, academia and government institutions face a serious challenge to try and satisfy the basic food demands of a growing global population and deliver the expectations of more affluent consumers for high quality foodstuffs. Meeting both needs requires innovative solutions to be found for disease control. Many factors will influence the choices that will be made by industry, growers, food processors and governments about which disease control methods to employ. Some will be common to both the use of fungicides and biotechnology, such as the inherent potential of the science to deliver the performance required by growers, and to satisfy public demand for low environmental and ecological impact and safety to consumers. Others will be more individual to each technology and will depend upon government regulations. These factors and their inter-relationships will be reviewed.
To gain market acceptance, new fungicides must demonstrate advantages in disease control over existing products. New products such as Amistar (azoxystrobin), which also have a reduced risk profile to consumers, the environment and operators, are becoming increasingly important. It remains to be proven whether ultra-low-rate fungicides with broad utility can be discovered, and whether transgenes can deliver effective and competitive performance for fungal control. As yet no genetically modified cultivars for fungal control have reached the market place, and the earliest introductions are not expected for another 5-10 years. Fungicides are expected to continue to form the main option for growers to achieve high levels of disease control in the near future. In the longer term, it is envisaged that optimal disease control will be achieved for individual crops by using both transgenes and fungicides in an integrated crop management approach.
Significant investment by industry will be required to satisfy this integrated crop management approach. For example, the cost of developing a broad-spectrum fungicide is now estimated at approximately $130 million and can take 8-12 years from the point of discovery to commercialization. Investments on such a scale must make a full financial return if companies are to survive and to invest in future research. Undoubtedly, the risk criteria and costs of R&D have contributed to the mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures seen in the agrochemicals industry in the 1990s. This approach is also a key way in which agrochemical companies are accessing innovations in biotechnology and gaining routes to market.