Economic and Social Implications
The Benefits to Farmers and Society of Biotechnology
The benefits to farmers:
The benefits of biotechnology in society today are all around us. There are benefits to the individual farmer, as well as to society as a whole. Farmers can benefit by being able to grow more, healthier crops on the same amount of acreage. Insects, weeds and diseases are the major obstacles that farmers face every year as they grow their crops. Traditionally farmers have used pesticides to combat pests like weeds and bugs. However, repeated pesticide spraying is not good for the environment or plants. The fewer chemicals used the better. Biotechnology can offer many new ways to combat these problems. For example, an ARS scientist used biotechnology to pinpoint a gene that could help wheat, a major food staple, grow on millions of acres worldwide that are now hostile to the crop. ARS scientists have also developed an experimental potato hybrid that contains genes to resist a new, more virulent strain of the so-called "late blight," the disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotech/Bio_qa.html – Visited 10-3-99) You can now purchase crops that have built in protections against some kinds of insects. These crops allow the farmer to drastically reduce the number of times per year that they have to spray pesticides to keep the insects out. Weeds are another major source of problems that farmers have to deal with. Many effective pesticides for attacking weeds cannot tell the difference between what is a crop and what is a weed. Crops like Monsantos roundup ready line of crops are able to offer protection from Monsantos own RoundUp ready pesticide so that farmers are able to spray pesticides while their crop is growing. (http://www.monsanto.com/ag/articles/envrus.htm – Visited 9-26-99) This allows the farmer to use fewer kinds of pesticides, as well as spray pesticides far fewer times. All of this helps farmers be more productive and more environmentally friendly. When farmers are making a cost benefit analysis, the choice is clear. Crops that have been biotechnologically modified offer major benefits to the average farmer. There are some downsides to biotechnology, explained here.
The benefits to society
The benefits of biotechnology to society are great as well. As the population of the world swells past six billion for the first time ever this October, 1999, one of the major questions continues to be…. How are we going to feed all of these people? One of the major ways that this can be accomplished is with biotechnology. Great strides have been made over the last 40 years in reducing hunger in the world. Much of this can be attributed to increasing yields of existing fields. Very little, if any, new arable land has been added to the world inventory of agricultural resources. Yields in existing fields have been increasing because of the use of biotechnology.
The Monsanto Company (http://www.monsanto.com)
The US Dept. of Agriculture (http://www.usda.gov)
National Biotechnology Information Facility (http://www.nbif.org/)