Rauch, in the beginning of his article, points out several potential merits of agricultural biotechnology such production of transgenic seeds which can counteract the effects of herbicides (2003). This could facilitate no-till farming since the use of herbicides can curtail the growth of weeds. The elimination of tilling process would prevent soil depletion and thereby drastically reduce the use of fertilizers which are harmful to humans as well as all forms of life.
He argues that biotechnology could help curb deforestation, as no-till farming and increased productivity on existing tracts of land would reduce the demand for fresh agricultural land. Rauch feels that these positive developments would help preserve ecological balance. However, Altieri and Rosset cite that a lot of scientists are quite worried about the unprecedented consequences that large scale cultivation of transgenic crops can have on the environment (1999).
Rauch expresses concerns about the need to feed the ever-increasing population of the world and suggests that high-yielding transgenic crops would be the solution to this problem. On the other hand, Altieri and Rosset believe that transgenic crops need to be tested under controlled environments, before they are widely made available in the commercial market, due to the unpredictable nature of the consequences. They also believe that public organizations have not remained entirely unbiased and accurate in releasing research information regarding the effects of genetically-altered crops, due to the generous funding of private corporations.
Since transgenic seeds are produced by gene transfer, antagonists of agricultural biotechnology research often refer to transgenic crops as Frankenfood. Looking at the situation from a socioeconomic perspective, he feels that biotechnology could help eliminate hunger in the Third world countries, by helping farmers increase crop production. But, Altieri and Rosset believe that poverty, improper management and poor food distribution mechanisms are responsible for making people starve in underdeveloped nations.
According their argument, biotechnology would not help the Third World dramatically since the lack of production is actually not the main reason behind their hunger. Although Altieri and Rosset agree about the potential benefits of biotechnology on some level, they are actually more concerned about the real motives of biotechnology corporations. They point out that transgenic crops developed by biotechnology corporations so far are merely aimed at earning more profits by making farmers solely dependent on their products.
They substantiate their claim by citing instances from the past such as Monsanto Corporation’s herbicide-ready crops which were capable of withstanding the harmful effects of only the their own company’s herbicide, thereby forcing farmers to buy their products. Similarly, the introduction of Bt crops capable of developing an insecticide within itself forced farmers to abandon the use of an extremely useful pesticide based on Bacillus thuringiensis.
Rauch affirms that genetically-improved, drought-resistant crops would come to the aid of dry countries facing tremendous water scarcity. Rauch also empathizes with the poor socioeconomic conditions of Third World farmers and emphasizes the need for proper training. Altieri and Rosset also express their concerns about poor farmers’ plight, but charge the big biotechnology corporations of manipulating intellectual property rights to forbid farmers from reproducing and sharing their seeds which has been a tradition as old as agriculture itself.
They also state that monopolization of new agricultural technologies could increase market demands for only a few specific transgenic crops, paving the way for monoculture farming and thereby inviting all its associated negative side effects. It is quite evident that transgenic crops offer a plethora of advantages. Rauch feels that this technology can transform agriculture as well as the lives of poor farmers and nations. Although Altieri and Rosset share these basic values with Rauch, they advocate following a more measured use of technology complimented by social and economic reforms.
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