The influence of agricultural biotechnology on industrial consolidation may have lasting effects on the ability of US agriculture to produce adequate, safe, and healthful supplies of food — and to do so in an environmentally acceptable fashion. The impacts of these new developments on production techniques, economics, and sociology of agriculture cannot be ignored.
While there is currently an adequate amount of food produced, worldwide 800 million are food insecure, 180 million of them children, a situation requiring considerable rethinking of methods of equitable food distribution. However, the growing world population may force not just better distribution, but increased production, not from more land used for agricultural production, but from increased yields and improved food quality. Consolidation may not be useful in developing nations.
The acceptance of the products of agricultural biotechnology are influenced by globalization, industrialization, decentralization, privatization, polarization, and engagement, all of which influence acceptance or rejection of new technologies by both producers and end-users.
Organic farming sees many problems with the use of agricultural biotechnology to address world hunger and instead asks for decentralization and the use of integrated pest management. Those opposing agricultural biotechnology successfully appeal to an educated urban population with full food security and great distance from food production. They tend to ignore the need of the growing number of food insecure in developing nations. Without new technologies to increase productivity, more land – much of it currently left wild a wildlife habitats –will need to be taken into production to the detriment of ecosystems.
It is worth emphasizing the importance of understanding causality — why events happen —in trying to assess the role of biotechnology in the food and agriculture systems of both developed and developing nations. There is currently much change in these sectors, and so care must be taken to evaluate these changes objectively and not lay blame on any one of these changes. Consumers play a decisive role in this evaluation. Only by understanding causality will there be a serious prospect of affecting outcomes, which is the real reason to be thoughtful in sorting through the complexity and ambiguity of change.
Biotechnology can be used to produce improved crop varieties for organic farmers, allowing them to produce tastier foods and a wider variety of foods without using chemicals— and the opportunity to use fewer pesticides and other chemicals could help win consumer acceptance. Whether that happens will depend upon how this new technology is used. Using it to sell more herbicide offers nothing to consumers, and it isn’t going to earn their acceptance of crop biotechnology.
The federal government continues to play a major role in promoting sustainable agriculture though its support for research at land grant universities and elsewhere. Key to the future success of federal efforts will be improved mechanisms of accountability as determined by both qualitative and quantitative performance. We need to apply the very best science to problems associated with the future of agriculture. It is the government’s role to help pave the way for technological developments consistent with our underlying national goals.
Farmers will face many challenges if they want to work in a small scale, organically based agricultural system. Little research and technology development has been done to support this alternative direction. Market infrastructures have not been developed, and public policies, for the most part, favor the trend towards consolidation. Public policies that put that alternative on a level playing field would help farmers gain a foothold in this “new economy,” “new paradigm” future.
Biotechnology has been introduced much too rapidly into society and political, religious and social institutions, are not able to evolve fast enough to deal with the rapid introduction of such a powerful technology. Returning to my comparison with
Some of the most vexing problems confronting agriculture and human kind regard our ability to feed a growing world population and if we can achieve that with a sustainable family farm system of agriculture. Such systems hold the greatest potential for food security. But ultimately, fulfillment of their potential depends on how we invest our agricultural research dollars. The agricultural research and education system is not only a part of the solution, it is the most critical element of the solution.
Agriculture has no choice but to provide fully adequate diets for the larger, more affluent human population projected for the year 2050. A the same time humanity wants to preserve the planet’s wild lands and wild species— and we cannot do that without achieving still-higher yields from our crops and livestock. Biotechnology can help to make that possible.
Agricultural biotechnology seen from an industry perspective, with reference to products and future trends, describing some of the new technologies and what they will mean to the farmer and to the industry as a whole. We see a need to feed a growing world population without relying on older methods of increasing food that is often detrimental to the environment and, therefore, not sustainable in the long term.
A major instrument for the industry policy on biotechnology is large public investment in research and development. A second instrument is the expanded scope for patents and licensing. There will continue to be strong incentives for consolidation. Not yet widely researched are the implications of consolidation for developed versus developing nations, which have relatively low public investments.