NABC Report 03: Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads Biological Social & Institutional Concerns
Published 1991 by NABC.
Focusing on the theme “Agricultural Biotechnology at the Crossroads,” the meeting offered the opportunity to assess the current status and potential future impacts of agricultural biotechnology. How can agricultural biotechnology be safely used to enhance productivity in agriculture?
- The choice and development of agricultural production systems should be made with society’s environmental goals in mind.
- Concern for the environment and limited global resources will play a major role in determining acceptable agricultural production decisions in the future.
- Secure funding may assist in shifting the national planning horizon to the long term.
- Socioeconomic studies designed to reveal societal preference patterns also should be funded.
There is a need for open discussions on the potential impact of agricultural biotechnology and its economic and humanitarian impact: on the one hand, agricultural biotechnology should be examined within the context of broader social goals—such as chemical-free agriculture. On the other, the future of agricultural biotechnology has an impressive portfolio of products. However, the public needs to be better informed about the associated risks and benefits with new agricultural products.
Speakers covered biological breakthroughs and bottlenecks and the frustrations and obstacles facing rapid development and release of new agricultural biotechnology products, such as time delays associated with field testing.
To counteract institutional incentives and impediments to agricultural biotechnology, there was a call for a shorter and less costly regulatory framework based on the products of agricultural biotechnology rather than on the research-discovery process. While companies have little incentive to invest in research without sufficient reassurance that they can recoup costs through ownership of products, university scientists have strong incentives to publish and patent research. Since the state of intellectual property protection in the United States is quite extensive, university and government laboratories must play an ever increasing role in doing research in biotechnology that may not lead to a definitive product.
- Herbicide tolerance in crops—addressed “What is the probable role of herbicide tolerant crops in agricultural production?” and “What are the benefits and risks associated with their use?”
- Transgenic animals—examined the technical difficulties, achievements and physiological consequences of producing transgenic animals. Moral and ethical issues, and health and food safety concerns were raised.
- Animal growth promotants—assessed the biological, socioeconomic, health and safety, environmental quality and communications problems associated with the commercialization of animal growth promotants.
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