The discussion of the possible authorization of genetically modified corn shows once again that Germany has a problem to engage in new technologies. Objectivity is replaced by fear-driven debates.
The figures from the survey conducted by Greenpeace say basically everything. "Should genetically modified crops be grown in Germany?" asked the Association for Consumer Research (GfK) in December 2013 on behalf of the environmentalists. A full 8.6 percent of 982 respondents answered yes, 88.1 percent no -- and only 3.4 "do not know".
If this is true, Germany would never again have to worry about the education level of its citizens as more than 96 percent would be well informed about detailed issues of genetic engineering. Sounds unlikely? So it is.
The critics are calling for research to be carried out until even the smallest residual risk can be ruled out for all times -- knowing that no serious scientist could ever do so.
Another argument is the profit motive of the food industry -- as if the organic farmer from next door would have no financial interests. Interestingly, even the Greens use this argument: "The 190 members of the Association for Foods without Genetic Engineering have an annual turnover of 68 billion Euros," it says in a recent position paper of the Green Parliamentary Group. It is this turnover that needs to be protected through a ban on genetically modified corn.
Not in my backyard!
Now one might think that in Germany no one will starve without genetic engineering. So why take a risk unnecessarily? But that would be -- see wind turbines, power lines and cell phone towers -- what is not very atypical for Germany, a "not in my backyard" way of thinking. However, who dares to look beyond the German borders could very well come to the conclusion that the risk to renounce genetically modified crops, would be greater than its use.
Even today the humanity uses about one and a half as many resources as the earth holds. It is hardly to be expected that this improves in future: the world population is growing, and also the prosperity rises precisely in the most populous regions, especially Asia -- what promises an even greater per capita resource consumption.
In just the past 150 years the world has lost half of its fertile soils. In addition, climate change is likely to exacerbate many of these problems in the future. Even today, around one billion people suffer from malnutrition. Nevertheless, in the next 40 years the same amount of food has to be produced as in the past 8000 years together.
For corporations this is an ideal environment to gain enormous market power and amass enormous profits. But what do the Germans do to prevent this? One strategy would be a national agricultural research program -- not to promote corporations, but to create the necessary know-how at universities and research institutes to counter the power of corporations.
The problem is, though: If a politician demanded something along these lines in Germany, he would have to prepare for a dip in his career.
A key part of any assessment of the global value of crop biotechnology in agriculture is an examination of its economic impact at the farm level. This paper follows earlier annual studies which examined economic impacts on yields, key costs of production, direct farm income and effects, and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.
The commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops has continued to occur at a rapid rate, with important changes in both the overall level of adoption and impact occurring in 2012. This annual updated analysis shows that there have been very significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $18.8 billion in 2012 and $117.1 billion for the 17 year period (in nominal terms). These economic gains have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries.
GM technology have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the four main crops, having added 122 million tons and 230 million tons respectively, to the global production of soybeans and maize since the introduction of the technology in the mid-1990s.
These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…”
I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought.
While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ...
The water footprint of a nation shows the total volume of water that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the nation. The virtual water content of a product is the volume of water used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced.
The issue of GMOs arouses constantly strong emotions in public discourse. At the same time opinions of people particularly interested in this issues such as researchers, or potential users of this technology (e.g. farmers) are rarely subjected to analysis. Moreover, lack of knowledge about the flow of information “from the laboratory to the consumer” hinders implementation of any changes in this field...
We explored the attitudes of Polish scientists, agricultural advisers and farmers (large scale agricultural producers) to the use of GMOs in the economy. On the basis of the performed research we diagnosed the effectiveness of information flow among these groups about transgenic organisms...
[In] contrast to the strong opposition of public opinion in several European countries, Polish scientists (similar to European academics) were optimistic about the possibilities posed by the use of GMOs in different sectors of the economy...
Agricultural producers were much more open to discussion about GMOs than advisors... Farmers knowledge about transgenic organisms and commercially available GM crops was significantly greater... the biggest concern was the lack of trust of public institutions and scientific research... However... farmers identified direct benefits of the commercial use of transgenic organisms in the agri-food sector... believed that GM crops resistant to insect pests present in the country help to reduce crop losses and improve their quality.
Secondly, according to respondents, the price of GM feed is considerably lower than conventional and the general condition of the animals fed with GMOs is not different from others. At the same time farmers were more skeptical when asked about herbicide tolerant GM crops, stressing that resistance to herbicide evolves with time, so such varieties are always a temporarily solution...
The origins of genetic engineering, and development of its techniques took place mainly in Europe. Unfortunately, the transfer of scientific innovation to industrial production was effective in other continents, where public opinion was more supportive for such solutions. Currently, public opposition restrain development of agrobiotechnology in Europe. The solution of this problem is essential, but to find one we need to understand social mechanism of skepticism towards transgenic
Based on performed research and available data we would like to formulate some conclusions. Firstly, we need to remember that when it comes to social environment there cannot be any simple diagnosis as society is polarized and the public opinion is very dynamic. Therefore, it is impossible to present universal interpretation and difficult to implement solutions suitable for each social group...
For millennia, humans have modified plant genes in order to develop crops best suited for food, fiber, feed, and energy production. Conventional plant breeding remains inherently random and slow, constrained by the availability of desirable traits in closely related plant species. In contrast, agricultural biotechnology employs the modern tools of genetic engineering to reduce uncertainty and breeding time and to transfer traits from more distantly related plants.
Critics express concerns that the technology imposes negative environmental effects and jeopardizes the health of those who consume the "frankenfoods." Supporters emphasize potential gains from boosting output and lowering food prices for consumers. They argue that such gains are achieved contemporaneous with the adoption of farming practices that lower agrochemical use and lessen soil.
The extensive experience with agricultural biotechnology since 1996 provides ample evidence with which to test the claims of supporters and opponents and to evaluate the prospects of genetic crop engineering. In this paper, we begin with an overview of the adoption of the first generation of agricultural biotechnology crops. We then look at the evidence on the effects of these crops: on output and prices, on the environment, and on consumer health. Finally, we consider intellectual property issues surrounding this new technology...
The balance of scientific knowledge weights in favor of continued adoption of genetically engineered seed, which may explain why some longtime critics have reversed course... Whereas precaution may have been appropriate before the relative magnitudes of risks and benefits could be empirically observed, accumulated knowledge suggests overregulation is inhibiting the introduction of new transgenic varieties. Regulation also discourages developing-country applications, where benefits are likely greatest...
Increased demand for food due to population and income growth and the impacts of climate change on agriculture will ratchet up the pressure for increased and more sustainable agricultural production to feed the planet. A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) measures the impacts of agricultural innovation on farm productivity, prices, hunger, and trade flows as we approach 2050 and identifies practices which could significantly benefit developing nations... examines 11 agricultural practices and technologies and how they could help farmers around the world improve the sustainability of growing three of the world’s main staple crops – maize, rice, and wheat.
Using a first-of-its-kind data model, IFPRI pinpoints the agricultural technologies and practices that can most significantly reduce food prices and food insecurity in developing nations. The study profiles 11 agricultural innovations: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting.
Findings from the book indicate: (i) No-till farming alone could increase maize yields by 20 percent, but also irrigating the same no-till fields could increase maize yields by 67 percent in 2050. (ii) Nitrogen-use efficiency could increase rice crop yields by 22 percent, but irrigation increased the yields by another 21 percent. (iii) Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could increase crop yields from a 17 percent increase to a 23 percent increase with irrigation.
Yet, no single silver bullet exists. “The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050... Instead we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields.”
However, it is realistic to assume that farmers in the developing world and elsewhere would adopt a combination of technologies as they become more widely available. If farmers were to stack agricultural technologies in order of crop production schedules, the combination of agricultural technologies and practices could reduce food prices by up to 49 percent for maize, up to 43 percent for rice, and 45 percent for wheat due to increased crop productivity.
The technologies with the highest percentage of potential impact for agriculture in developing countries include no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects, and diseases.
The anticipated negative effects of climate change on agricultural productivity as well as projected population growth by 2050, suggest that food insecurity and food prices will increase. For example, climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18 percent by 2050–making it even more difficult to feed the world if farmers cannot adopt agricultural technologies that could help boost food production in their regions.
“One of the most significant barriers to global food security is the high cost of food in developing countries... Agricultural technologies used in combinations tailored to the crops grown and regional differences could make more food more affordable – especially for those at risk of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.”
However, based on current projections, stacked technologies could reduce food insecurity by as much as 36 percent. Making this a reality... depends on farmers gaining access to these technologies and learning how to use them...
... Results for Organic Agriculture... shows consistently decreased yields across regions and crops, with small fluctuations around the mean. Yield impacts are most negative for wheat. The literature review and extensive consultations we conducted with experts in Brazil and India suggest that OA is unlikely to play a significant role in the technology mix for addressing food security at the global level....
In one of the most intensively farmed parts of America’s Dairyland, where 29 percent of the county’s private wells test unsafe due to bacteria or nitrates, residents have a new concern: estrogenic well water.
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