The Global Repercussions of Biotechnology in Agriculture

May 31, 2009
By Grayson Tate SILVER, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Grayson Tate SILVER, Colorado Springs, Colorado
5 articles 0 photos 2 comments

The third agricultural revolution is based on the development of biotechnology. The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines biotechnology as, “manipulation of living organisms or their components to produce useful commercial products.” Without the advancements made in the field of biotechnology, namely technological innovations and scientific discoveries, the third agricultural revolution that the world is experiencing today would be nonexistent. However, albeit the development of these products may seem like the solution to the epidemic of world hunger, the biotechnology industry has a dark, unexplored side to it which may, in the immediate future, have a negative rippling effect upon the world it is used in. The use of biotechnology in the form of genetically engineered crops exists as a malady of society which must be corrected. In particular, agricultural genetic modification will negatively affect the society of humanity by leading to a future crash in the economy, by leading to the future breakup of the ecosystem, and by causing future illness in the human race.

Despite the dangers posed by genetically engineered crops, some scientists and other people, still maintain that they exist as benefits to the world and propellants of the rising world economy. Denise Caruso, reporting for The New York Times, says that “biotech developers say that the benefits outweigh the risks and that the risks are manageable. Critics question the benefits, and say the risk of a contaminated and potentially toxic food supply is untenable.” This group of biotech proponents is composed mainly of large commercial farmers, large companies who manufacture the technology to alter the crops’ genetic structure, and the scientists that these corporations employ. The main points presented by this group supporting the further development of biotechnology are as follow: that the crops’ increased yield helps the economies of both developed and developing countries, that the increased resistance of genetically altered crops to diseases helps the ecosystem, and that the crops are less prone to diseases and pose little or no harm to the human race. These notions are going to be dispelled in the following pages.

Many farmers and other workers lose their way of life due to uncaring, greedy corporations. Melody Simmons illustrates this in her article for The New York Times, “for a year, bulldozers have been clearing blocks… it will convert the neighborhood into a biotechnology research center.” As a result of this particular real estate purchase, hundreds of people will lose their places of residency because the biotech industry, vying on making the largest profit possible, are tearing down all of the housing complexes in the place that they bought out and erecting, along with their manufacturing plant, up scale homes which the current residents will not be able to afford under any feasible circumstances. As a result, they are virtually being kicked out of the area. This is the attitude with which biotech corporations approach workers in the agricultural community and small farmers.

The effects of the use of biotechnology on the human economy are disastrous. Unfortunately, the first individuals to be hit by the biotech industry are the farmers participating in the production of folk products, both in developed and developing countries. Miguel Altieri, a professor of Environmental Science at the University of California, Berkeley, states that “because biotechnologies are capital intensive they will continue to deepen the pattern of change in US agriculture, increasing concentration of agricultural production in the hands of large-corporate farms.” This will “set in motion a technology treadmill that forces out of business a significant number of farmers, especially small scale.” Already these groups, comprised of individual farmers, face the daunting task of surviving in an economy dominated by monopolistic large companies supporting a conglomerate of rising commercial farmers. In most rural areas, throughout the world, farming is the main source of livelihood, when this is lost, poverty, in turn, becomes widespread throughout the countryside. With the introduction of the biotech monoliths the commercial farmers just have to buy the new products being offered to increase their yield by more than twofold. On the other hand, sustenance farmers are not able to access the biotech market or for that matter afford the product being supplied. Agri-Science Resources for High School Sciences “see a conflict of interest” among the large corporations supplying the commercial farmers with their products. As a result, these actions end up having a disastrous effect upon the already struggling world of small and folk farmers. With the expulsion of the small farming industry the market will not be able to provide specialty items, because the commercial farmers will use their biotechnology to product the most valuable products per capita.

Unfortunately, this is not the only negative effect apparent when biotechnology influences the economy. The most disastrous way in which biotechnology affects the world economy is in the area of production. The amount of food produced exists as an important statistic. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Food demand is projected to grow at a faster rate than population growth.” This can largely be attributed to the mismanagement of production by large corporations heading the drive towards increased biotechnology worldwide. These corporations do not equally distribute their products throughout the world. The majority of farmers are sustenance farmers whose market area exists on a very local scale. A small percentage of farmers are commercial. These farmers own large tracts of land and use technologically innovated machinery in order to reap a large crop. Rather than extending their products to the majority of the farmers- sustenance, the corporations producing biotechnologies choose to focus on the elite, commercial farmers- their end goal being the largest profit possible. As a result the creation of biotechnology has been greatly accepted and subsequently supported among commercializing farmers for the sole purpose of reaping a larger profit. This skyrocketing of production, on the part of commercial farmers, causes the influx of tons of extra crops into the world market. The result is the vast overproduction of crops in wealthy, developed countries

This leads to the sustenance farmers being unable to maintain their livelihood due to their inability to sell products because of the drastic drop in product value which ensues after biotechnology is applied to crop production. Also, a monopoly of developed countries occurs because, according to the USDA, “developing countries may find gaining access to biotechnology difficult.” Thus, albeit the developed countries gain more wealth, they neglect their own and alien sustenance farmers, while ignoring the needs of third-world countries on a global scale. These problems stem directly from the introduction of biotechnology into the world economy.

Economic factors are not the only evident factor visible when delving into the effects that biotechnology produces. Perhaps more importantly, biotechnology negatively affects the globe’s ecosystem. Agri-science resources for High School Sciences say, “new plant species may upset the balance of nature.” With the alteration of the various crops’ gene structures, a disruption of the ecosystem occurs. The area in which biotechnology affects the ecosystem the most directly are in the category of insects and weeds. When crops are genetically modified they become immune to certain diseases. As a result the latter self-pollinated crops will also be resistant to these particular diseases. However, Professor Ellstrand, as quoted in The New York Times, says “that self-pollination does not eliminate gene flow between plants, and that cross-pollination is not the only way that crops can escape confinement. Once harvested, seeds can move easily, accidentally or deliberately, across and beyond borders.” The result is the furnishing of several crops with immunities that were not initially intended to be. Kudzu, an “invasive species,” as the USDA classifies it, is an un-killable weed that since its importation to America from Japan in the 19th century as an ornamental plant has quickly spread across the landscape like a cancer. Namely in the Southeastern part of the United States, where, once it takes over a barn or car or house, it cannot be killed. Weeds, if they are allowed to be given immunities from crops are prone to become monster weeds. Terrors to the landscapes they inhabit and the people inhabiting those places (Pritchett).

Another potential threat posed to the ecosystem exists in the fact that many companies are focusing their resources on building crops that are insect resistant. Through these actions insects as a whole may be wiped out completely and serve as the catalyst which causes the downfall of the global ecosystem. T. Ananthakrishnan, a leading environmental scientist, in regard to insects and the ecosystem, says “diversity is an important element in all agro-ecosystems, since genetic diversity is at the heart of sustainable development.” Pesticides are in use today, but are in the process of being rapidly replaced by biotechnologically enhanced crops. These crops; however, are designed to kill insects and are much more effective in their accomplishment than their pesticide predecessors. With insect resistant crops in use, insects are very susceptible to species wide death, because many insects derive a large portion of their food from crops. Thus many of them will be killed as a result of crops enhanced with biotechnology. As these insects lay at the bottom of the food chain their widespread destruction will set into motion a series of events that could crash the ecosystem: the starvation of their immediate predators and the continued existence of their parasitical prey. In the end, farmers destroying insects in order to yield a flourishing crop will ultimately, if continued unchecked, end up destroying the ecosystem in which the crops exist.

Although the potential damages the development of biotechnology brings to the global economy and simultaneously the ecosystem, by far the greatest effect that biotechnology has is on the human race. The risks it poses to the populace of the world are both serious and dangerous. People eat potentially life-threatening substances everyday due to the fact that many products are produced with the aid of biotechnology. Allergic reactions among consumers are one of the leading dangers among those posed by biotechnology. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines an allergen as “that which causes altered bodily reactivity.” These allergies are triggered by proteins inserted into the food with the use of biotechnology’s technological innovations. This can be done legally without alerting the consumer, as is evidenced in the example of CRY9C, an allergen that is used in the production of genetically engineered corn (Rubenstein 173). CRY9C is given to farmers who grow corn with its use and subsequently sell it to food manufacturers who allow it into the public market even though, according to the University of Maryland, “CRY9C has likelihood to be an allergen.” Luckily an organization devoted to the safety of biotechnology has realized that numerous major corporations distributed CRY9C to their clients, thus letting it into the market for public consumption. However, since the tests that are used to determine a food’s allergen level and safety are done by the companies who produce them, this incident is very likely to be repeated. Unfortunately for consumers, they are dependent upon the word of corporations who do not care that they are harming the economy, ecosystem, or most importantly their fellow human beings as long as the production of their biotechnology reaps a profit.

Another potential threat that people must be aware of is the release of deadly toxins in genetically modified foods catalyzed when the crops are tampered with by biotechnology. According to the University of Maryland, “The bacteria K. Micrum … was associated with adverse aquatic events such as fish kills.” K. Micrum is a genetically modified bacterium that is given to fish intended for harvest. Crops that are genetically modified to have natural pesticides end up, as a result, releasing toxins. These toxins vary in their strength from plant to plant and bacteria to bacteria but can have serious implications, when consumed by living beings, such as illness or death. The use of biotechnology to insert bacterium and other organisms into crops in order to try to increase its harvesting rate is commonly practiced by corporations and commercial farmers alike. A recent move by the biotechnology industry is to place Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that has been modified to release toxins in order to kill insects that come in contact with it. However, the effect this toxin has on humans has not been documented, and, although the short term experiments produce only positive results, the long term consequences have not and will not be documented or experienced for years to come. Therefore, the allergens and toxins produced by genetically manufactured food overrides the material gain of the products, and should be used as significant evidence to stop the further use of biotechnology in the agriculture industry.

The use of biotechnology in the modern era exists as an atrocity. Studies of biotechnology show that it negatively, rather than positively, affects global society. The world’s economy, ecosystem, and its population of humans are particularly affected by the development and subsequent use of biotechnology. Therefore, the public must find a way to stand against large corporations seeking to gain money and commercializing farmers seeking to get rich quick by liberally applying untested biotechnology to their agriculture, which in turn is supplied to the public market. The boycott of these goods can be accomplished by eating only those naturally grown, and in turn accomplish a balancing out of the worlds’ economy as developing countries are allowed to develop without the retardation of biotechnology, the saving of the ecosystem as it is allowed to stay as natural as possible, and safety on part of the human race as it abstains from potentially harmless, minimally tested products. If these things happen, then the society of humanity is one step closer to inhabiting a safe planet.

The author's comments:
Works Cited

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