Agricultural biotechnology generally describes the use of genetic science to improve the quality and efficiency of crops. This is sometimes done directly through genetic engineering, and at other times, it is done indirectly through selective breeding based on an understanding of genetics. Agricultural biotechnology has had a big impact on things like global hunger and lessened the need for pesticide use. It has also caused a considerable amount of controversy because many people think that genetically modified (GM) crops may pose dangers to the planet.
There are many different ways of modifying crops genetically that have been explored by agricultural biotechnology companies. Sometimes crops are made so that the vegetables or fruits are larger, which means they can feed more people. Other crops are modified so that they will grow in climates where they would normally die. One common modification is to make crops that can’t be easily harmed by various insect species, and this is how biotechnology has contributed to decreased pesticide use.
A common fear regarding agricultural biotechnology is that these genetic modifications might spread into the normal plant population. Bees and other insects fertilize plants in fields, and this could potentially lead to accidental genetic crossbreeding. Some people worry that this could potentially lead to an environmental disaster because it is generally impossible to predict what these genetically modified traits might do in a natural ecosystem.
An example of a possible disaster would be if a trait that made plants immune to insect attacks were to spread to other plants in the wild. This could lead to plants that insects couldn’t feed on, which might kill thousands of insects. In the end, this could potentially unbalance the entire ecosystem in an area, which could have far-reaching consequences.
Those who favor agricultural biotechnology argue that precautions have been taken against these kinds of disasters. They also suggest that the benefits of the technology are so great that the risks are worth it. For example, many who argue in favor of agricultural biotechnology have made the point that the benefits to the environment of using less pesticides can potentially make up for any risk associated with GM crops.
There is also some debate about whether or not GM crops are actually safe for people to eat. Most crops sold in stores have been tested for safety, but some opponents don’t feel the testing has been extensive enough. They often worry that GM foods may have negative health consequences, which might not show up until people have been eating the foods for decades.