The policy questions raised in the future by new transgenic crops and the many other factors that influence shifts in policy perspectives worldwide will differ from those addressed in detail for the first generation of transgenic crops. Just as it is not possible to predict future environmental risk issues, it is also not possible to predict what the future policy issues will be. This section will identify and discuss several policy issues that the committee believes will become increasingly more prominent in the future as transgenic crops expand globally and new transgenic crops become commercialized.
The committee concentrates on four issues, which should be interpreted as a selective slice of the many policy issues that will arise in the future. The committee does not necessarily believe that all of these issues will be crucial ones in the future, but it does believe that they will be prominent and important. First, the committee discusses how agricultural biotechnology is influencing agricultural structure in the United States and the policy and environmental risk issues that this may raise.
Next, the global context for the commercialization of transgenic crops from a societal perspective is considered, and how transgenic crops may or may not address issues related to global food supply is examined. Third, the need for involving the public to democratize decision making and the increasing role that communicating environmental risk will likely play in the future development of biotechnology are discussed.
Finally, the focus is shifted back to regulatory policy issues, with a comment on the precautionary principle and drawing particular attention to some of the opportunities that the Plant Protection Act provides APHIS. Issues related to changing agricultural structure might have indirect environmental consequences. The socioeconomic considerations for evaluating transgenic crops have proven to be more volatile than was predicted only a few years ago. In the United States the creation of marketing standards for certified organic crops that do not contain transgenes or transgene products has established a market niche for producers.
These forms of market segmentation create an opportunity for U. The development of market standards and international trade rules for nontransgenic crops will have economic implications for U. In the worst-case scenario, U. Changes in producer incentives generally lead to changes in agronomic practice, with attendant environmental effects. Such changes may have already had both economic and environmental impacts. For example, widespread use of herbicide-tolerant crops has changed patterns of herbicide use, resulting in new types of damage claims from herbicide drift, forcing farmers to adjust their farming practices accordingly.
Farmers may incur legal liability for technology fees as a consequence of neighboring fields inadvertently pollinating a crop, leading to transgenic seed production. This, in turn, may create new forms of environmental nuisance lawsuits, as farmers attempt to protect themselves from complaints lodged by the owners of transgenic technology.
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These issues need to be evaluated and should be given careful consideration by future study groups. Any attempt to mitigate environmental risk must be mindful of the fact that avoiding one risk can inadvertently cause another greater risk Graham and Wiener This might occur if attempts to avoid risks from commercialization of transgenic crops resulted in the adoption or continuation of commercial agricultural practices with greater negative environmental impact.
While at present this is a speculative issue, it is a. If, for example, a lower-yielding nontransgenic crop is chosen in lieu of a higher-yielding transgenic alternative, the result could be that fragile lands would need to be planted in order produce needed amounts of food. If, for example, a chemically intensive farming system is chosen over a reduced-chemical transgenic alternative, the result could be the continuation of an unnecessarily harmful chemical load on a local environment.
Unwanted environmental outcomes could also occur if regulatory oversight itself has unintended consequences. There may be some environmentally beneficial applications of recombinant DNA gene transfer that will never be attempted simply because the costs of obtaining regulatory approval exceed the profit potential.
Because environmental benefits can display characteristics of public goods, private industry or individual farmers may derive little monetary benefit from environmentally beneficial farming practices. As such, transgenic crops with environmental benefit may be particularly vulnerable to real or perceived disincentives brought about by costly regulatory procedures. Again, this possibility is speculative, and only case-by-case evaluation of proposed transgenic technologies can tell whether the environmental costs of regulatory procedures outweigh their environmental benefits.
While these examples are speculative, the general point they illustrate is true.
Avoiding one risk may inadvertently cause another greater risk. But its truth is more complex than it would appear initially. The largest and most complex factor in making comparative judgments of agricultural technology is that the main goals of this technology are to provide more and better food for public consumption and to reduce the cost of production for growers. In circumstances where food supplies are inadequate, people may become more willing to accept perceived tradeoffs between environmental quality and food supply. Furthermore, changes in food production that lower prices are especially beneficial to the poor because, even in times of plenty, poor people spend a proportionally larger share of their income on food Lipton and Longhurst The Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on ethical issues associated with biotechnology notes that there is an apparently persuasive argument for accepting environmental risks in order to increase the availability and reduce the cost of food for hungry people and poor farmers.
However, this need-based argument itself must be evaluated in light of economic analyses suggesting that insufficient availability of food is seldom the cause of famine Sen and that sweeping changes in agricultural production can have devastating effects on the poor Dahlberg In other words, the perceived tradeoff between environmental quality and food supply may be illusory. On the one hand, inadequate amounts of food and malnutrition have plagued humans from the beginning of civilization, environmental degradation is a widespread concern, and both arable land and water are limited.
Indeed, as recently as the s, there was starvation in China, resulting in millions of deaths Brown The reasons for hunger and limits to food security in different places and at different times are clearly complex and dynamic.
However, such population projections create cause for global concern. There would be less arable land to grow crops because cities would continue to expand and erosion would carry away valuable topsoil Kishore and Shewmaker , Tilman b.
It is also well documented that supplies of fresh water are declining worldwide Johnson et al. It is projected that the requirement for food in the most rapidly growing areas of the world—Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa—might double by and nearly triple by Vasil At the same time, improved economic conditions in Asia have been increasing demand for costlier food products, such as meat and poultry, which can only be obtained by producing larger amounts of feed grains Vasil , Kishore and Shewmaker Dramatic increases in population growth are not expected in many industrialized regions such as the United States and Europe, but per-capita consumption in industrialized nations is high and sustains a disproportionately high demand for diverse agricultural products.
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The increasing nutritional and economic demands of the less developed regions of the world are expected to impact the more economically secure countries. Some people believe that such problems will require increases in productivity that far exceed what agricultural technology has achieved in the past and that these increases cannot be achieved without the use of transgenic crop plants McGloughlin , Borlaug Finding ways to increase food and fiber production during the next 50 years would then become a major concern for societies around the world.
Also, there is increasing evidence that food quality plays an important role in human health. According to the USDA, medical expenses and lost productivity resulting from chronic illnesses cost U. A wide array of national, regional and international policies have tremendous effects on incentives for food production and consumer exchange.
Hence, the use of biotechnology to address growing needs for increased food production must, at a minimum, be accompanied by a call for research on economic and sociological impacts, and appropriate policy adjustments. One group of researchers has expressed concern that a concentration of economic power and intellectual property rights will skew the development of novel crops away from those that would be of most use to the neediest people Bunders and Radder , Buttel Still other researchers refute claims that research and development of novel crop traits through biotechnology are appropriate responses to present and future problems of hunger, even for less developed countries Busch et al.plimeretdodor.ga
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They suggest instead that promotion and support of new rural development approaches and low-input technologies spearheaded by farmers and nongovernmental organizations will make a greater contribution to food security at the household, national, and regional levels in Africa, Asia, and Latin America Pretty The potential for commercially grown transgenic crops to increase total world food supplies and to reduce the need for utilizing marginal lands for food production is thus an appropriate but highly contested dimension of the context in which environmental risks for the next generation of crops will be debated Kalaitzandonakes One driving factor in the debate is the suspicion that need-based arguments promoting transgenic crops are only a ruse for profit-seeking activities by the biotechnology industry.
The argument for yield-enhancing agricultural research throughout the twentieth century stressed the economic viability of farmers Rosenberg , Danbom Several early studies of biotechnology in agriculture placed a great deal of emphasis on this phenomenon while also noting that late adopters of biotechnology may experience economic losses see Kalter , Kenney , Kloppenburg The result is that some farmers and farm groups take a jaundiced view of the claim that biotechnology responds to on-farm needs for greater efficiency while.
Thus, an argument that begins by noting that growing global food needs will create environmental stresses on soil and water resources becomes entangled with domestic social issues that have no obvious connection to the environmental risks of transgenic crops.
While environmental risks and social impacts are logically distinct, they may have common causes that reside in what biotechnology firms do to make an adequate return on their research investments. Restricting the scope of an analysis of transgenic crops to environmental impact may seem justified in light of the way disciplinary scientific expertise tends to dissociate the causal factors that contribute to environmental impact from those that affect profitability and economic access to food. Such disciplinary divisions are also reflected in the organization of regulatory authority.
Even well-meaning restrictions on the scope of an evaluation of transgenic crops may be perceived as strategically motivated attempts to limit debate on transgenic crops to topics on which they will be evaluated relatively favorably Thompson a, The context for evaluation of environmental risks must take account of the need-based argument for expanding food capacity and production. Both human and environmental dimensions of the need for increased food production are critical to any balanced evaluation of the risks from transgenic crops.
As the debate moves to consider the next generation of transgenic crops, it may be possible to formulate a way of framing the need for increased amounts of food in a manner that is more sensitive to the socioeconomic complexities of hunger and deprivation see Conway It will be increasingly important for decision makers at all points in the global food system to be well versed in both sides of this debate. As nonfood crops are added to the product mix of agricultural biotechnology, additional and more jarring points of tension, if not outright contradiction, will emerge.
Some industrial products, such as pharmaceuticals, may be produced on such a limited spatial scale that they would have a negligible impact on total food production, but that is not necessarily the case for all transgenic crops aimed at producing industrial products. For example, interest in alternative energy sources has predictably been revived in the United States with recent news of diminishing domestic petroleum-based energy sources and the concomitant price increases. One commonly cited alternative is the production of gasohol from grain, especially corn. Corn and other grains are plentiful, renewable, and inexpensive; can be grown domestically; and might reduce U.
Technically, generating gasohol from grains is feasible, but there are other factors to consider. There may be arguments that only excess grains are used industrially and that the United States produces too much food anyway. Furthermore, gasohol could be made from the residual straw or chaff after the food grain is removed. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see why the public might discern a contradictory message.
On the one hand they are told that risks are offset because biotechnology is needed to meet increasing global food requirements. On the other hand they are told biotechnology is needed in order to allow farmers to grow something other than food. Members of the public express an interest in the environmental impacts of agriculture and a desire to be informed about the relative environmental risks and benefits of different production methods. The general public needs to know more about the environmental risks of transgenic crops in order to form opinions about whether to consume these products or to be concerned about the activities of those who promote and those who oppose biotechnology.
One of the principal reasons for public concern about transgenic crops is the belief that environmental issues are not taken seriously by agricultural scientists, biotechnology companies, and farmers who utilize high-tech farming methods. The roots of this belief are not easy to trace but almost certainly include past experiences when agricultural chemicals were promoted as safe and without environmental impact, only to be regulated and withdrawn in subsequent years Dunlap , Perkins These issues linger.
Some argue that the risks of chemicals have been overstated, and that scientific risk evaluations of past farming practices were neglected when chemicals were withdrawn Fumento Others believe that substantive risks of agricultural chemicals continue to be neglected and alternatives continue to be ignored Pimentel In either case, there is a need to do a better job of involving and informing the public about what is done to mitigate and manage environmental risks in agriculture.
Issues arising in connection with the commercialization of transgenic crops are only one dimension of this general problem.
Genetically modified crops
There are different disciplinary and practical perspectives that have the potential to contribute information that will improve the modeling and measurement of hazards, exposure pathways, and the relative probability of unwanted outcomes. Also, because biotechnology is controversial, participant involvement is becoming increasingly critical to the role of risk analysis in forming the basis for authority, believability, and public confidence in regulatory decision making and in the subsequent commercialization and widespread adoption of transgenic crops.
As noted in Chapter 2 , risk analysis should play at least two roles in the regulation of transgenic plants.
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In the past, the USDA emphasized the role of decision support and has limited participation in its environmental risk assessment procedures to those who, in the judgment of decision makers, could provide information pertinent to the anticipation and measurement of environmental hazards. However, as biotechnology has become controversial, the fact that risk assessments have been done has been cited to justify U. Such justifying citations involve a shift toward using risk assessment as the basis for claiming that the USDA has faithfully exercised its decision-making authority or that the public should have confidence in recombinant DNA technologies.
Communicating the idea that risks are being taken seriously is a key element. One of the surest ways to do this is to ensure that the entire process of characterizing and measuring risk is open to an array of participants representing perspectives that reflect the various sectors of the public taking an interest in agriculture and the food system. Efforts to minimize the seriousness of risks may seem warranted in virtue of the improbability of an unwanted impact or in virtue of the relative risks posed by a transgenic technology when compared to its chemically based alternative.
This situation is aggravated when citizens who express concern through intermediary organizations think they are being excluded from key processes of risk evaluation and management. The result can be a situation in which the belief of being at risk is amplified by the very. The practice of sending messages that persistently minimize the significance of risks can also have the unintended effect of making those who should in fact be attentive to environmental impacts overconfident.
In some cases the individuals needed to mitigate an environmental hazard may be farmers or nonscientific employees of agricultural companies. Such individuals need to be advised about environmental risks and the methods to contain them in unvarnished language Otway Although there were no enduring food or environmental safety issues associated with the contamination of corn stocks with unapproved Cry9c protein in the autumn of , one lesson is that, when key individuals—in this case farmers and grain handlers—are persistently told that risks are minimal, a general culture of laxity may come to prevail.
Adequate risk management for the coming products of biotechnology depends on a culture that reinforces the seriousness with which environmental risks must be addressed. A more inclusive approach is especially important in environmental risk assessment, as compared to human health risk assessments, because classifying or failing to classify a possible event as a hazard involves value judgments that are more likely to be controversial.
Describing some possible event or set of events in terms of risk always implies that these events are regarded as adverse. Although we talk about the risk of dying or losing money, we do think of our chances of recovering from disease or winning the lottery as forms of risk.