Genetically Modified Crops

8. Conclusions

  • 8.1 Conclusions on agricultural biotechnology
  • 8.2 Conclusions on environment and health effects

8.1 Conclusions on agricultural biotechnology

On the one hand, agricultural biotechnology may be viewed as a complement to conventional agriculture. It is a scientific tool that can aid plant breeding programs and the conservation of genetic resources, as well as improve the diagnosis and treatment of plant and animal diseases. On the other hand, it may be viewed as a dramatic departure from conventional agriculture, since it enables the transfer of genetic material between organisms that would not normally crossbreed.

In fact, agricultural biotechnology is both at the same time, since it cannot stand on its own. To achieve useful results it needs both classical plant breeding methods as well as the information derived from genomics. Agricultural biotechnology has international implications and may become increasingly important for developing countries.1 However, it arose in developed countries, which continue to dominate this technology. Thus research tends to focus on crops with relevance to developed countries rather than to developing countries, which usually do not have the research funding and breeding programs that are necessary for GM technology. More...

1 India, China, Argentina, and Brazil are some of the countries that have active biotechnology development programmes.

8.2 Conclusions on environment and health effects

To date, countries where genetically modified crops have been introduced in fields, have not reported any significant health damage or environmental harm. Monarch butterflies have not been significantly affected. Pests have not developed resistance to Bt. Some evidence of herbicide tolerant weeds has emerged, but superweeds have not invaded agricultural or natural ecosystems. On the contrary, important social and environmental benefits are emerging. Farmers are using less pesticides or using less toxic ones, reducing harm to water supplies and workers' health, and allowing the return of beneficial insects to the fields.

Meanwhile, technical or management solutions have been found to address some of the concerns associated with the first generation of genetically modified crops, such as antibiotic resistance.

However, the fact that no negative effects have so far been observed does not mean that such effects cannot occur. Therefore scientists encourage further research.

FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation process should also take into consideration experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and the environment.

“Science cannot declare any technology completely risk free. Genetically engineered crops can reduce some environmental risks associated with conventional agriculture, but will also introduce new challenges that must be addressed. Society will have to decide when and where genetic engineering is safe enough” (FAO 2004). More...

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