Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Absolutely no animals were harmed testing the safety of this page. Copyediting was not outsourced to child labor in developing countries. To my knowledge, no genetically modified organisms were used in this magazine’s paper production or pulping process. Please don’t boycott my column.

Global innovators are challenged by an intensifying commercial challenge not only to create new products, but also to justify the processes they employ to produce those products.  Colorful cosmetics that make us prettier are wonderful; cruelly testing them on animals is not. Creative fashions made of affordable new textiles are terrific; ruthlessly exploiting third-world child labor to produce them is not. Herbicide-free grains and vitamin-enriched vegetables are healthy innovations; unless, of course, they’re the wicked Frankenfood monstrosities of recombinant DNA.

Processes, not products, have become the prime targets of activists, regulators, and litigators who recognize that the most cost-effective way to disrupt the introduction of a new kind of technology is to shatter the vital links of its supply chain. Global innovations no longer compete purely on features, functionality, and price; they compete on the global processes that create them. Because the manufacture of novel products can require novel processes, the most innovative companies prove particularly vulnerable to the most inventive activists.

That means successful innovators had better be clever and comprehensive about their marketing of both how they innovate and what they innovate. The tale of genetically modified foods in Europe, the United States, and Africa offers a perfect case study in the pitfalls of process-marketing mismanagement.

Bitter disagreements over genetic modification on both sides of the pond make intercontinental disputes concerning the United Nations and the environment look tame. Europeans have been consistently hostile to the introduction of genetic engineering into the food chain. They say genetically modified foods are innovations that represent the unknown, the untested, the unsafe, and the inherently unnatural. A coterie of French chefs has organized public boycotts of genetically engineered foods in their restaurants, and these chefs have encouraged other fine dining establishments across the continent to follow suit. Indeed, activist Europeans have had an effect. Several African countries have refused genetically modified seeds and foods from the United States, despite chronic food shortages that threaten the health of their people. The coordinated opposition to such processes and products is as global as any multinational corporation.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Biomedicine

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me