Why is there such a fuss about Agrobiotechnology?

In the early 1990s, agrobiotechnology introduced genetically altered types of food crops that promised to bring significant benefits both to consumers and farmers. Soon, many South- and North-American farmers began growing Bt maize and Roundup-Ready soya beans which instigated the rapid expansion of technology among food producers. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty and scepticism among consumers, especially regarding the genetically modified (GM) food crops. The opinion on genetically altered products varies greatly across nations and continents. Some countries, such as the United States, encourage GM food production as their authorities believe GM food is safe to grow and consume. Even though the guidelines for voluntary labeling exist, the U.S. does not call for mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified plants. On the other hand, the majority of counties in the European Union (EU) have banned cultivation of some new GM products, as their authorities believe the public needs to be concerned about the potentially significant adverse health and environment impacts GM crops may have. The EU legislative asks for expensive segregation systems between GM and non-GM crops and mandatory labeling of all products containing genetically modified ingredients.

What Arguments go in Favor of Agrobiotechnology?

Proponents of agrobiotechnology state that the genetic alteration of plants and animals is a continuation of a selective breeding process that is well-known in science. Human history is rich with examples of cross-breeding between different species and types of plants with an intent to increase yield, and for drought tolerance, height or ease of harvest. Crossbreeding between animals has resulted in species that produce more milk and meat as well as in species that are domicile. Scientists now state that they have found the way to achieve the same or better results compared to traditional cross-breeding techniques. Still, some feel the resistance towards GM food is natural as the same thing happened when the first hybrid corn seed or synthetic fertilisers and organic chemicals appeared in the market. As time passed, the opinion of the general public moved towards acceptance. It may be well assumed similar changes in the public opinion would occur in the future about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has produced plants with embedded insecticides which eliminate the need to spray chemicals and pollute the soil. Other plants are resistant to some types of herbicides used to manage weed growth. Genetically modified potatoes and pigs are used in medical sciences for human protein production. Also, natural hormone supplements given to cows increase milk production. Recently, Japanese researchers have incorporated some carrot genes inside eucalyptus trees genome allowing them to thrive in acidic soil. It may not be long before there are types of tropical plants like vanilla or a coconut palm that will easily grow in non-tropical regions of the world.

What Arguments go against Agrobiotechnology?

Many arguments that go against the use of genetically engineered plants and animals emphasise the risk of cultivating and using these products. Even though scientific discoveries have brought significant changes, they have also failed many times resulting in catastrophic disasters. For example, in 1962 the public started a discussion on the harmful effects of pesticides on wildlife and their environmental impacts. The agricultural community defended the use of all pesticides stating that their use could only benefit humanity. Even though many records prove pesticides caused irreparable damage to soil and wildlife, the agricultural community still states that their products are entirely harmless if used according to directions printed on their labels. Currently, the international community is widely debating the use of antibiotics and hormones in meat production industries, as well as thalidomide chlorofluorocarbons and their harmful effects on the Earth’s ozone layer, or the origin of the herbicide atrazine in wells, and surface and groundwater sources. Agrobiotechnology critics suggest the technology only exists to maximise the amount of food produced rather than to bring real innovation that would benefit all. They also think feeding the world requires merely reducing food wastes and improving conventional breeding and soil and crop management techniques. Organic farming proves that effective food growth can be accomplished using the natural fertilizers and chemicals that are readily available to all farmers.       

 

References

Gupta Vijai, K. (2016). 8.4 Biotechnological Applications: Biofilms and Agrobiotechnology. In, New and Future Developments in Microbial Biotechnology and Bioengineering - Microbial Cellulase System Properties and Applications Elsevier.

Islam, M., Rahman, M., Pandey, P., Jha, C. & Aeron, A. (2017). Bacilli and Agrobiotechnology. Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-44409-3

Manion, M. (2017). Nill, Kimball. Glossary of biotechnology and agrobiotechnology terms. CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, (4). 442

P. S., D. (2008). Nano-agrobiotechnology: A step towards food security. Current Science, (1), 22.

Zimdahl, R. L. (2006). Agriculture's Ethical Horizon. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

 

 

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