Biotechnology for agriculture
Biotechnology for agriculture is controversial issue about whether it would contribute to food security and sustainability. The companies and organizations involved in agricultural biotechnology argued that those advanced breeding technologies, which is mainly genetically modified (GM), should help to encourage sustainable intensification. However, it is also argued that GM corps have negative effects on human health, the ecosystem, and economies.
I thought GM technology might be useful for food security in terms of designing suitable crops against hostile environment, insects, and growing quickly. In spite of those effective possibilities, GM crops are not accepted in Japan, and lots of countries ban the planting those crops. Moreover, lots of people have negative images for GM crop containing food, and food companies need to tell that they do not use GM crop origin component for their products. I sometimes find the labeling on the food, which is “GM crops is not used”. Then, I was wondering why it is not accepted, and researched about it.
What is GM (genetically modified) technology?
Firstly, the GM for agriculture is the advanced biological technology to insert particular sequences from other organisms’ genes – for example, bacteria, fish, etc. －to the plants’ sequences. The research into genetically modified biotechnology had started at the end of the Seventeenth Century. The GM crops examination had began in the 1970s. After that, yields had been spread quickly and started in some countries.
The positive effects on sustainable intensification of agricultural technology include GM are claimed by GM crops companies and organization. For instance:
- Increasing food production with the same amount of fields from 6% to 30%: GM crops are predicted to increase production, and this can help to decrease the pressure for un-agricultural areas, especially in developing countries.
- Diminishing CO2 emissions from agricultural field because of less tillage: due to the GM cultivation, global CO2 emission were reduced by 19 billion kg in 2010.
- Decreasing the use of pesticide and herbicides: GM crops needs less pesticide against weeds, diseases, and pests.
Which countries allowed/produced GM crops?
Breeding GM crops were allowed by parts of countries in worldwide, such as America, China, and Canada (see Figure 1). Those crops are mainly Maize, Cotton, Soybean, and Canola. The GM crops, mainly Soya are planted in around 30 countries, and over 40% of those crops are grown in the US.
According to the report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotic Applications (ISAAA), GM crops were grown on 160 million hectares in 2012. They reported in their annual report:
“A record 16.7 million farmers, up 1.3 million or 8% from 2010, grew biotech crops – notably, over 90%, or 15 million, were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries. Seven million small farmers in China and another 7 million in India, collectively planted a record 14.5 million hectares of biotech crops.” (ISAAA, 2012)
However, part of those countries are changing their policy for GM crops. Those governments decided to amend the rule more strictly of food labeling.
Figure 1: The map of GM crops production around the world in 2012 (the guardian, 2012)
Is the GM crops harmful?
Conversely, lots of countries have negative opinions about GM crops because of negative effects on the environment and human health and economy have been reported. For instance:
- Decreasing diversity of species: due to the spreading the GM crops cultivation, more than 50% of global cultivation areas are growing for GM crops area.
- Increasing the species of weed against pesticides and insects against Bt toxin.
- Dropping the production with the same size of area.
In addition, private companies own a majority of the GM seeds and their patents. Therefore, the farmers have to buy those fresh seeds every season, and they might be robbed of their seeds ownership by seed corporations. Those results are inconsistent with the arguments of companies involved in GM agriculture. Then, there are several approaches to dealing with GM crops.
How to deal with GM crops in each country?
The way to approach how to deal with GM crops in each country is very complicated. For example, only 8 crops (soy bean, corn, potato, rapeseed, cottonseed, alfalfa, sugar beet, and papaya) should require GM labeling in Japan. Nevertheless, every GM crop is required the labelling of GM material in animal feed and GM labelling in the supermarket and restaurants in EU countries. In addition, under 5.0 wt% of GM crops mix are allowed without labelling in Japan. However, EU countries only allow under 0.9 wt% of contamination. In Russia and China, their governments decided to reject GM crops not only importing but also growing them. As I indicated above, dealing with food labelling is different in each country and complicated to understand correctly. Therefore,we need to understand: lots of food productions might have a possibility to contain GM crops components, especially like Japanese system.
The dynamics of countries against GM crops.
In the past, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation) had promoted large scale mono-cultivation agriculture. However, due to the recent reports which relate to issues included environment, ecosystem and human health, they have noticed it is not sustainable. Consequently, UNCTAD (United Nations Trade and Development) published “Wake up before it’s too late.” which reported the necessity of changing the system form large-scale mono-cultivation to small- scale multi-cultivation.
For the sustainability of food, the paradigm shifts of the global dynamics are required in agricultural development. Producing GM crops technology is effective to change character of plants, but it is quite artificial. On the other side, the selective breeding by multiplying is more natural and simple approach in the long-terms. Although it is hard to identify the border between effects and risks of GM crops for the sustainability of agriculture, the major view of agricultural development is that it needs a paradigm shift. Due to this change, the appropriate approach by technology should be examined to consider the institutions of biotechnology.