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Risks And Benefits Of Agricultural Biotechnology

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Agricultural technique has been discovered and has been around since the beginning of human civilization. The techniques developed over time, and humans endlessly put effort in making better agricultural products. In over a decade, agricultural biotechnology has grown rapidly. Agricultural biotechnology improves plants, animals and micro-organisms with the collection of scientific techniques developed by scientists. These techniques involve around the understanding of DNA. Researchers precisely identify genes that may provide beneficial characteristics, which enhances breeders’ ability to make improvements in crops and livestock. Biotechnology enables improvements that are not possible with traditional crossing of related species alone (1). Some of the agricultural biotechnology techniques used to improve agricultural products are: genetic engineering, molecular markers, molecular diagnostics, vaccines, and tissue culture (2). These techniques have been used to increase nutritional value of the final products; be immune to certain viruses; and be resistant to herbicide. Even though there are so many beneficial outcomes, some researchers are against the use of biotechnology in agriculture due to its unknown risks. Some of the most common concerns are development of unexpected allergens and toxins, loss of biodiversity, and increased usage of herbicide. Despite these concerns, the usage of genetically modified organisms continues to increase over decades.

Agricultural biotechnology has been used to improve nutritional value in foods, and these have been used safely thus far. One of the most significant techniques is genetic modification, it can be used to produce crops that contain higher amounts of vitamins to improve their nutritional quality. Famous ‘Golden Rice’ is an example of genetically altered crops with higher nutritional values. It contains three transplanted genes that allow plants to produce beta-carotene, a compound that is converted to vitamin A within the human body. Vitamin A deficiency—the world’s leading cause of blindness—affects as many as 250 million children. Biotechnology has also been used to alter the content of many oil crops, either to increase the amount of oil or to alter the types of oils they produce. Biotechnology could also be used to upgrade some plant proteins now considered incomplete or of low biological value because they lack one or more of the ‘essential’ amino acids. Examples include maize with improved protein balance and sweet potatoes with increased total protein content. Reducing toxicity of certain foods is also a goal of biotechnology. For example, reduction of the toxic cyanogens in cassava has been shown to be possible and could be produced in the future.

Many plants could get viral diseases caused by viruses, and these can be spread rapidly across a farm by insects. The damage can be severe, and the crops are most likely to end up in landfills. Many different methods have been used to prevent spreading the virus, yet they were not effective nor they were practical. Scientists have developed virus resistant crops, which has been extremely effective. One of the most famous commercialized crops is the genetically engineered Papayas, which are resistant to Papaya Ring Spot Virus, also known as PRSV. Beginning in 1992, a devastating outbreak of Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV) swept through the papaya plantations of Hawaii—papaya production dropped 40% in the course of 5 years. Researchers in Hawaii and at Cornell University developed two GE varieties of papaya resistant to PRSV. Papaya growers in Hawaii have been able to grow GE virus resistant papaya since 1998. Scientists are currently developing virus-resistant crops for Africa, including cassava, maize and sweet potato.

Although genetically engineered virus resistant crops are revolutionary in agriculture, chemical herbicides has been available over decades to improve agricultural production. Chemical herbicides are frequently used to control weeds. Weeds growing in the same field with crop plants can significantly reduce crop yields because the weeds compete for soil nutrients, water, and sunlight. Researchers developed varieties of genetically engineered crop plants to simplify weed management. This means safer chemicals can be used in the field where herbicide resistant crop plants are growing. It is often argued that such GE varieties reduce soil erosion, because they make adoption of soil-conserving practices such as “no-till” easier. Resistance to synthetic herbicides has been genetically engineered into corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beets, rice, and flax. Some of these varieties are commercialized in several countries. Research is ongoing on many other crops. One application of this technology is that herbicide could be coated on seed from an herbicide resistant variety (for example, maize) and while the maize would germinate and thrive, weeds and parasites such as Striga would be killed.

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Given the relatively short time these genetically modified organisms have been cultivated, there are not enough studies about their potential long term effects to the environment and health. One of the most serious concerns is unexpected allergens and/or toxins in the final products. Allergens are proteins in food that cause unusual immune reactions in people with allergies related to those allergens. About 2 percent of people across all age groups have a food allergy of some sort. Food-allergic people usually react only to one or a few allergens in one or two specific foods. A major safety concern raised with regard to genetic engineering technology is the risk of introducing allergens and toxins into otherwise safe foods.

Meanwhile people are concerned with health issues involving GMO, some researchers are perturbed that GMO may impact biodiversity. When a GMO crop reproduces, it may cause genetic contamination. Their transgenes can be spread to non-target species, which will change the genetic code of the non-target species. These will negatively affect the local ecosystem. For example, weed species can become resistant to pesticides [21]. Peru has banned the import, production and use of genetically modified foods. because they want to protect their unique crops like purple corn, giant white corn and the potato [22]. GMOs can have a detrimental effect to local biodiversity. Typically, a variety of organisms on farms can help control pests. In GM farms though, the genetic homogeneity of the crops contributes to the decline in biodiversity and increases the vulnerability of crops to climate change, pests and diseases (10).

Even though herbicide resistant plants were developed in order to use safer chemicals with less frequency, it will be up to the farmers to use the herbicide of their choice with their preferred dosage. If the crop is genetically modified to withstand herbicides, then there is no incentive to lessen the use of herbicides. The reason for engineering such a plant is so that chemical sprays can be applied indiscriminately in broad swaths across the fields. In fact, agribusiness would have free reign to spray crops with more herbicides and wreak more environmental destruction. Another important concern is lack of scientific evidence proving consumption of GMO products are safe. If potatoes are created with a gene resistant to herbicides, there is absolutely nothing to say that the potatoes when consumed will not yield a mechanism that causes damage to the kidneys or liver, hormonal functions or otherwise reacts adversely to humans at the molecular level (7). It may or may not have any negative effect on human body, it is simply unknown. It is for this reason that many countries have full or partial bans on GMO foods and many more have significant restrictions and public disclosure requirements (8).

There are many benefits and risks of using GMO products, and it is difficult to pinpoint if biotechnology in agriculture is either good or bad socially and environmentally. Many of the concerns raised about agricultural biotechnology are speculative and their potential long term negative impacts have not been scientifically proven. However, genetic developments advanced ways of farming, and led to the production of new crops with significantly higher crop yield. Thus far, agricultural biotechnology has been more beneficial than it had negative impact to the world. With more research and more strict regulations toward the use of biotechnology in agriculture, agricultural biotechnology will play great part in improving the lives of global society.

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Risks And Benefits Of Agricultural Biotechnology. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Risks And Benefits Of Agricultural Biotechnology.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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Risks And Benefits Of Agricultural Biotechnology [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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