While agricultural biotechnology has potential benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment, public outcry has focused on its problems—extreme views on either side are detrimental to all with those claiming that all applications of agricultural biotechnology are bad falling into one kind of trap, but those who assert that biotechnology will provide all the answers fall into another. Some of this is due to poor communication skills of scientists and how they communicate with the public. They are cautious, hesitant to extrapolate, and generally unprepared to deliver sound bites. But the public is interested in questions such as: Is agricultural biotechnology moral? Is it fair, or does it exploit? Does it cause society to lose control?
Historically, new technologies, especially when the public does not understand them, are viewed with suspicion and introduction may be delayed with negative consequences to the public. Decisions about risk management were not influenced by the public in the past, but that is no longer the case. Public perception can be influenced when community leaders become involved in educational efforts. Farmers, on the other hand, see biotechnology as primarily a management tool that will be accepted if it makes economic sense.
Cultural and historical differences in perception, as well as different needs, inhibit a unified approach to biotechnology between the US, Europe and the developing world.
The United States Food and Drug Administration considers GM crops to be “substantially equivalent” to their traditional counterparts. This means that they can be managed simply as commodities in this country. On the other hand, various sorts of labeling are required in many other countries, and so food companies doing business worldwide must comply with various regulations and have removed GM ingredients in countries with mandatory labeling requirements. These conflicts have led to turmoil in the national and international marketplace.
The author has decided that it is ethically justifiable to pursue genetically modified crops and foods because the following three of our most influential ethical traditions converge on a common answer: the rights of people in various countries to choose to adopt GM technology; the balance of likely benefits over harms to consumers and the environment from GM technology; and the wisdom of encouraging discovery, innovation, and careful regulation of GM technology.
Globalization, while offering the advantages of increasing trade, prosperity, and choice, has created problems and new uncertainties. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture have been available for about ten years. Their commercial use has been expanding rapidly in the United States, creeping quietly and stealthily into the consumer’s food. According to recent figures, 75% of food on the shelves contains at least one genetically engineered ingredient. Since 1998, difficulties in placing GM products on the market in the European Union (EU) have given rise to trade tensions with the United States.
The biotechnology industry failed to make the system transparent, and failed to get all of the “stakeholders” involved. Farmers need predictability in the products they buy and that they can sell them. This means there is a need for global acceptance of the processes that review and regulate the products of biotechnology. It also means that farmers can count on solid rules that do not constantly change. Issues of patents, identity preservation and regulatory approval must be resolved before the crop is marketed.
We need a good idea to bring about the change needed to make biotechnology flourish and deliver its promise to the world’s citizens at large. Biotechnology is at the heart of the long-term sustainability of our environment, is at the heart of our survival in the long term, and it represents an opportunity today to forge new partnerships for tomorrow.
Many consumers view genetically engineered foods with suspicion partly because the food industry has taught them to do so. Consumers learn from advertisements and labels that the foods they buy are all natural only to realize that that is not the case. The food industry wishes to embrace the efficiencies offered by advances in genetic engineering, but this technology belies the image of nature to which the food industry constantly and conspicuously appeals. Consumers who believe genetically modified foods are not “natural” will regard them as risky and undesirable