benefits and risks of genetic modification in agriculture

Benefits and Risks of Genetic Modification in Agriculture

The world has had a lot of technological changes taking place in different sectors of the economy. Technology use has come with many different benefits while at the same time having its own dangers. The agricultural sector has experienced the use of genetically modified (GM) crops being on the increase in the recent past. This technology has raised concerns over the safety of the GMs on the health of the people. Many of the concerns have made the crops to have different in the mode in which crops are planted, labeled and marketed. This has led to the increased debate between the scientists, environmentalists, and the other critics of the GMs (BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, 1999).

Therefore, this paper aims at looking at the arguments put across by different quarters on the benefits and risks of using GMs, and thus draws a conclusion depending on the arguments.  There has however not been conclusive research that has been done to ascertain the long term effects of GM crops, which has thus left a lot of room for the debate on the same, each side trying to prove their case to be right.

Risks and Benefits of Using Biotechnology Crops

By weighing the risks and benefits of biotechnology, the concern of different interest groups (stakeholders) has to be put in place. The aspects of GMs have mostly been centered on the agribusiness sector. It is of recent that the consumers and the environmentalists concerns have started to be addressed. The political class has been known to highly interfere with the assessment of the benefits and risks of the GMs for their own political benefits (Hester, & Harrison, 2005).

Benefits of Biotechnology Crops

Agricultural sector faces a lot of risks and uncertainty since it depends on factors like the weather which can not be predicted with certainty. Therefore, this implies that crop production can be adversely affected by the weather hence reducing productivity. However, with the use of biotechnology, crop production has been found to increase due to the development of crops that have high resistant to diseases and environmental problems like drought. Genes from crops which can resist drought and diseases can be transferred to desirable crop species (Hollander, 2004).

Biotechnology has been used to protect crops which reduces the costs farmers incur, hence increasing their productivity. There are transgenic crops’ technologies that have been found to be more effective in making crops resistant than the natural means and the existing technology. In essence, with the increase in technology, productivity also increases. Apart from increased productivity, it has been argued that genetically modified crops have increased nutritious value, have better flavor and texture. For instance, modified soybeans have increased protein content. Peppers and melons are some of the crops that have increased flavor through being genetically modified (Hornstein, 2007).

Many of the agricultural products are known to be highly perishable. This implies many of the farm produce get to the market when they are not fresh hence loosing their nutritious value. Crops like tomatoes have been modified to delay them from softening hence can be transported to the market without getting bruised (Peterson et al 2000).

The benefits of using biotechnology crops can also be extended to the environment. Having developed crops that can resist pests and diseases, it implies that farmers will have to use fewer chemicals on them. This in the end will reduce the exposure of the environment to the hazardous chemicals. This has been witnessed in the cotton production, where biotechnology cotton resistant to major cotton pests have seen the use of pesticides in US cotton production drop drastically (van Niekerk, 2005).

Risks

Many consumers and environmentalists have been very concerned with the use of GMs. The major concerns have been on the issue of health, especially in the long run. There are people who are allergic to certain proteins in the food. The concern has been that the biotechnology system might end up adding more allergies to the safe foods compacting matters more to the allergic people (Van Den Bergh & Holley, 2002). Furthermore, there has been concern on the antibiotic issue, in which it is felt that by transferring for instance a nut gene to another crop, it might lead to other people being allergic. It has been felt that by using DNA of bacterial and viral nature for GMS, people can fall ill (http://www.exploredna.co.uk/risks-dna-methods-agriculture.html.).  In addition, it has been of concern that the use of these new crops may lead to people developing new kinds of diseases. Furthermore, the resistance in these crops can be transferred to human beings leading to the formation of ‘superbags’ (http://www.exploredna.co.uk/risks-dna-methods-agriculture.html.).

By going into biotechnology, it has been the aim of making sure that the crops develop resistant to diseases, pesticides, and increasing productivity. However, the concern is that this can turn out to be catastrophic since with the use of biotechnology, there are still chances the stream of pesticides and diseases that are resistant to the technology can develop, hence becoming even more difficult and dangerous to control (Sheehy, Hardy,  & Mitchell, 2000). This is even a more serious concern that has been down played quite often. This concern has also been expanded to the environmental issues in which the opponents feel that the use of biotechnology can lead to the development of ‘superweeds’ that can become even more difficult to control. Furthermore, with developing strain of crops that can kill certain pests that feeds on them, it can end up killing other non targeted organisms. For instance, with the introduction of biotechnology corn , it was found that non targeted Monarch butterfly that are harmless died after feeding on the crops (Bandelow, 2006). Furthermore, Environmentalists are also concerned that the continued adoption and use of biotechnology might lead to the loss of biodiversity (Wieczorek, 2003).

These concerns are valid at a greater scale. It is the reasons that many people have been hesitant to support the GMs despite the given benefits.  Due to this, opponents of GM have felt that labeling should always be used so that it can enable the consumers to decide whether they want to use GMs or not.

Conclusion

Looking at the risks and benefits of the GMs, it can clearly be argued that some crops have more benefits than risks, and vice versa. In essence, many of the GMs can be used to bring about different social and ecological benefits. However, up to date, most of the GMs developed have been aimed at promoting the agribusiness sector while putting the health of the people and the ecosystem at risk. This has made many people especially those opposed to GMs to get suspicious of the GM products.

Bibliography

Bandelow, Nils C. (2006). Advocacy Coalitions, Policy-Oriented Learning and Long-Term Change in Genetic Engineering Policy: An Interpretist View. Journal of German Policy Studies, Vol. 3, No. 6.

BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (1999). The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health – an Interim Statement, retrieved on 29th November, 2008 from http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/genmo-cn.htm.

Hester, Ronald E. & Harrison, Roy M (2005). Sustainability in Agriculture; ISBN 0854042016, Royal Society of Chemistry.

Hollander, Jack M. (2004).The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy; ISBN 0520243285, University of California Press.

Hornstein, Donald T (2007). The Road Also Taken: Lessons from Organic Agriculture for Market- and Risk-Based Regulation; Duke Law Journal, Vol. 56.

Peterson, Garry et al (2000). The Risks and Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, Vol. 4, No. 1. Retrieved on 29th November, 2008 from http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol4/iss1/art13/.

Risks of DNA Methods in Agriculture. Retrieved on 29th November, 2008 from http://www.exploredna.co.uk/risks-dna-methods-agriculture.html.

Sheehy, J. E., Hardy, Bill & Mitchell, Peter L. (2000). Redesigning Rice Photosynthesis to Increase Yield: Proceedings of the Workshop on the Quest to Reduce Hunger: Redesigning Rice Photosynthesis, Held in Los Baños, Philippines, 30 November-3 December 1999; ISBN 0444506101, International Rice Research Institute.

Van Den Bergh, J.C.J.M. & Holley J.M. (2002). An Environmental-Economic Assessment of Genetic Modification of Agricultural Crops. Journal of Futures.

van Niekerk, Alvin (2005). Ethics in Agriculture– an African Perspective: An African Perspective; ISBN 1402029888, Springer.

Wieczorek, Ania (2003). Use of Biotechnology in Agriculture—Benefits and Risks, retrieved on 29th November, 2008 from http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/BIO-3.pdf.

 

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