Genetic engineering in agriculture

As the European Union and the United States approach agreement on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), now’s a good time for us Europeans to approach understanding of USian farming. And vice versa.

Today I’m looking at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a Stateside non-profit.
Definitely Stateside! The UCS ‘puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country…’ Not around the whole world then, eh? Oh well, I’m not xenophobic. That wouldn’t be very British 😉

Three years ago, UCS called for sustainable agriculture in the States. Among other things, that article invited us to think about genetic engineering (GE, genetic modification, GM) in agriculture. I like this summary of GM and whether it can, or whether it should, be part of sustainable agriculture.

‘All technologies have risks and shortcomings, so critics must always address the question: what are the alternatives?

‘In the case of GE, there are two main answers: crop breeding, which produces traits through the organism’s reproductive process; and agroecological farm management, which seeks to make the most of a plant’s existing traits by optimizing its growing environment.

‘These approaches are generally far less expensive than GE, and often more effective. The biotechnology industry has acknowledged the value of breeding as a complement to GE. But at the same time, the industry has used its formidable marketing and lobbying resources to ensure that its products—and the industrial methods those products are designed to support—continue to dominate both the seed marketplace and the policy conversation, at the expense of ecologically based, diverse farming systems.’


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to Genetic engineering in agriculture

  1. Thought+Food says:

    The Union of Concerned Scientists is an activist/ pressure group, they do not reflect the consensus of scientific opinion in this subject. But always good to know what others are thinking! Most of those who advocate for biotech ology would not hesitate to agree that an all of the above approach including better garoecological farm practices and working on with traditional crop breeding should be followed. We need to build a climate resilient food system now to face the future so all options should be on the table.

  2. EqFe says:

    Once again we see that wonderful term, sustainable. I truly do not understand how this term, which has no standardize definition in science or common use is bandied about so freely without it being defined. To my mind, any “sustainable” process can be continued indefinitely, which when it comes to any form of commercial farming is quit difficult to do without external inputs. Most of the food consumed in the first world is grown commercially, I.e., for profit, which results in fertility being removed from the soil, and exported to the consumer. This needs to be replaced.
    US Commercial agriculture is clearly not sustainable in the long run, if only because the fossil fuels used for fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides will eventually run out. But we’ve also managed to exhaust some sources of organic fertilizer which seemed to be inexhaustible. At one time in the not too distant past, vast schools of anchovies lived off the coast of Peru. These were preyed upon by seabirds which deposited their guano on offshore islands. The guano was then harvested and carried by ship North where it was then used on US Midwest farms, which had already moved to a monocrop system by the mid to late 19th century. Of course by the 20th century some ^&* figured out that you could use the anchovies as cattle feed, which quickly led to the end of the vast schools of anchovies and the guano.
    I do believe that a more thoughtful, more organic approach to agriculture which protects the land is possible, I’m not sure that it can be economically followed until fossil fuels get more expensive.
    In the US we have vast stores of mineral sources of potassium.,calcium and phosphorus, and we are quite wasteful of nitrogen. All too much of the manure produced by factory animal processes are literally flushed down the nearest river. I had hoped that the increased cost of fossil fuel would lead to recycling this manure more effectively, cut it hasn’t happened yet. I’m focusing mainly on this model of growing one or more crops which are then exported off of the farm, mainly because for the most part climate has dictated a finite number of commercial farm uses for most blocks of land. In the wheat fields of North Dakota it’s not possible to grow much other than a wheat crop every other year.
    Homesteaders\back to the land\small farmers, have focused on an integrated approach of crop rotation, integrated animal and plant farms and all the rest of it. And many of them are quite successful, but they have done so where local climate and rainfall have made this possible. Many small dairy farms in New York State, which prohibits importing milk from out of state, have grown some of the hay, grain that their dairy cows eat, but they have been able to do so only because of the high milk prices in that state.
    As to GMO technology, I think it can play a part in out future, but not as it is being pursued by Monsanto. I had imagined grain crops which had the capacity to absorb nitrogen from the environment as being one of the eventual achievements of genetic engineering.
    And now I have to go collect some organic chick manure for the garden.

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