The prime reason for using gene
technology in agriculture is to continue to improve the quality and yield
of the products on which we all depend, without bringing ever more wilderness
or recreational land into cultivation. The aim is also to minimise chemical
inputs in agriculture. Previous advances in agriculture have been extremely
valuable in the past, but progress in crop improvement is now slowing down.
With the world population growing the way it is, together with the popular
wish to reduce chemical inputs and the need for farmers to earn a fair living,
we need to harness new technologies in a responsible way.
GM technology can play its part in improving yield, reducing chemical and labour inputs, aiding soil conservation, saving water resources, bringing some unusable waste land (salty, arid, high metals content) into productive use, providing nutritional benefits and offering a number of opportunities for the production of medical products at prices which poor countries can afford. It may also provide some solutions to help us to deal with the problems of climate change.
The overwhelming majority of scientists and many lay people are in favour of going ahead with the development and application of GM crops. Governments, too, recognise its value but some, especially in particular Developing Countries, are afraid that if their export products (on which they depend heavily as sources of foreign currency) use GM sources, they may not be accepted in Europe.
The scientific discoveries and advances were (and are) made mainly in universities and public research institutes as part of the fundamental progress of biological understanding.
In contrast, in Western countries, developing and bringing improved crops to market is predominantly a private sector function and companies need to be profitable or they cease to exist. The livelihoods of companies large and small depend on their taking good care of their clients and customers for fear of losing them to competitors. Companies wishing to develop and market new agricultural products undertake enormous commercial risks because of the vast investment and sales uncertainties; there is no point in them treating their clients in cavalier fashion.
H. Müller and Rödiger, M. (2001). In focus; green biotechnology. DZ Bank Research (http://www.botanischergarten.ch/debate/BenefitsGTDZBank.pdf)
G. Conway (1997). The Doubly Green Revolution: food for all in the 21st Century. Penguin.
J. Marsh (September 2001). Agriculture in the UK - its role and challenge. A report prepared for the Food Chain and Crops for Industry Panel. (http://www.foresight.gov.uk)
The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries: a follow up discussion paper. Nuffield Council of Bioethics 2004, www.nuffieldbioethics.org