In an interview, Robert Horsch states that biotechnology aims to genetically improve agricultural production with the new tools of molecular biology. He says that Biotechnology is a useful tool that allows for more food production with less damage or depletion to the land, water resources and biodiversity (Nemecek, 2001). He believes that an increase in population and the rise in incomes will increase the demand for food in the next 25 years. Therefore, biotechnology is imperative in helping the world meet the rapidly growing demand for food as well as agricultural products (Nemecek, 2001). Horsch reiterates that biotechnology aims to create an affordable, land-based alternative that has properties that enable the development of delicious food products as compared to the current ones.
Horsch points out that the use of Biotechnology to produce genetically modified products has a lot of benefits. He cites the lower use of pesticides as an environmental benefit of this technology. According to Horsch, between 1996 and 2004, 380 million pounds of pesticides were not used on the land, and he asserts that many more will not be used in the future (Nemecek, 2001). This he says is a benefit to the environment because it does not harm the land and does not release toxins to the environment. Another benefit Horsch says is a boost in yields. He argues that biotechnology help to increase production and therefore provides benefits to the whole nation.
Lastly, Horsch points out that biotechnology helps to create more nutritionally enhanced foods. For example, Horsch says that there are continuing efforts to modify fatty acids that will help make vegetable oils healthier for consumers (Nemecek, 2001). Biotechnology helps to design healthier oils that produce foods with low levels of saturated fats. Additionally, biotechnology helps in producing foods that are enriched with omega-3, and this will be rolled out in the next decade.
According to Horsch, Omega-3 will provide consumers with ways to improve cardiovascular health. Another point that Horsch makes is that biotechnology has lead to a global initiative called ‘Harvest Plus’ which attempts to use biotechnology and conventional breeding to improve the levels of zinc, vitamin A, and iron in crops like cassava, beans, wheat, sweet potatoes, and rice (Nemecek, 2001). By this, Horsch asserts that biotechnology helps to enhance nutrition in food products.
However, Horsch says that there are risks of using GMO foods. For example, he says that vegetarians are concerned about consuming vegetables that have animal genes in them. Similar concerns are raised by certain religious groups and cultures that do not lean towards animal products. However, these concerns have been addressed, and biotechnology experts are now avoiding using any types of animal genes in food crops (Nemecek, 2001). Horsch says that there are no significant risks as far as GMO products are concerns. He adds that numerous national and international organizations such as American Medical Association, The National Academy of Sciences’ and the World Health Organization have conducted research and found that there are no measurable risks from the GMO that are being developed.
Additionally, Horsch says that biotech has provided important environmental and economic benefits and future efforts will provide greater benefits. These benefits include developing crops with significant drought tolerance, efficient use of nitrogen, enhanced nutrition, and increased crop yields.
According to Horsch, the most significant concern about GMO development is the risk of converting nonallergenic foods into allergens (Nemecek, 2001). He also cites the risk of introducing new toxins in to food products, but he adds that scientists are working to mitigate these risks.
Horsch concludes by saying that the greatest concern about the debate about biotech is that it diverts the attention from dealing with world hunger problems (Nemecek, 2001). He argues that stakeholders should be concentrating on more significant issues such as infrastructure, trade policies, land reforms, and much more. He adds that these are more critical issues as compared to biotech.
Other studies agree with Horsch’s sentiments. For example, a study by Martin Qaim (2015) shows that GM crops have numerous benefits in regards to raising agricultural productivity and reducing the need for environmentally harmful pesticides. According to the study, GM crops provide significant environmental benefits. These benefits include reduced spraying of toxic insecticides and herbicides in to the environment and controlling farm wastes that pollute water resources (Qaim, 2015). He adds that the use of GM technologies helps to reduce mechanical weeding thus preventing the loss of the topsoil in the land.
According to Qaim, biotech is beneficial to developing countries as it was found to generate employment. This is because there are high yields produced and therefore more workers are needed to harvest the yields thus creating employment. He cites a study done in India where biotech cotton was found to generate 82% higher revenues for small farmers as compared with the 41% revenues produced by conventional cotton (Qaim, 2015). The study found that farmers in developing countries who employ biotech achieve yields 14% higher than those using traditional methods of farming.
The study also agrees with Horsch that some major concerns relate to health risks, such as loss of biodiversity and allergenicity of transgenes. Qaim also found concerns about social implications such as GM technology undermining traditional systems and the monopolization of seed markets (Qaim, 2015). He, however, concludes by stating that these risks have not yet materialized and the risks that currently exist are manageable.
Nemecek, S. (2001). Does The World Need GM Foods? No. Scientific American, 284(4), 64-65.
Qaim, M. (2015). The benefits of genetically modified crops—And the costs of inefficient regulation. Weekly Policy Commentary.
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