Introduction to Benefits and Risks of Genetically Engineered Crops

Many different tools are available for increasing agricultural production. These tools include methods to develop new varieties such as classical breeding and biotechnology. Farmers select from agricultural practices including integrated pest management, use of genetically engineered seed, and organic farming. Decisions about using a new tool like genetic engineering are based on looking at both the benefits and risks of the technology. All forms of farming have some impact on the environment. An accurate assessment of farming using genetic engineering(GE) must also consider the effects of any alternative methods if GE crops were not available.

Agricultural biotechnology is a new field of research and application; it will take time to see its full potential. When biotechnology was first introduced, advocates promoted genetic engineering as a panacea for world hunger and malnutrition. Opponents to GE crops have pointed out that highly publicized efforts to help farmers in developing countries and the world's poor have not come into production.

The current uses of GE focus on increasing production by addressing such issues as insect and weed control, but additional applications are being explored. It is believed that GE methods will allow for more rapid adaptation to climate change and plants with increased drought and salt tolerance are in development. The number of acres planted in GE crops has increased dramatically since their introduction in 1996 (USDA chart), indicating that farmers see value in the technology. The second generation of GE crops, which are in the development stage, will provide greater consumer related benefits such as improved nutritional content.

Every technology comes with potential risks and these risks must be evaluated. Opponents are concerned that negative impacts will not be evident until long into the future when changes are difficult to control. These pages provide an overview of some of the benefits and concerns associated with agricultural biotechnology.





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