Economic and Social Benefits of Biotechnology!
Of necessity biotechnology has to be applied for the benefit of human beings, society and the environment. These are not necessarily the same, for the benefit to living human beings may be at the short or long term cost to the environment.
There is a presumption that acceptability of the risk must include an improved quality of life, perhaps as we develop better (or more) food, better health and an environment which is improved in a sustainable manner.
Human usage of the environment in the 10000 years of our exploitation of nature has been relatively benign. In the last 100 years, however, we have made rapid and possibly irretrievable changes to the environment, including the excessive use of fossil fuels relative to their replacement, excessive use of water, production of greenhouse gases etc and even a huge increase in the human population.
Humans are no longer in harmony with their environment, and we have to be aware of an impact on the environment. Where a primary goal was the pursuit of happiness (and the greatest good) we now have to pursue sustainability. These concerns are human centred. Many of those that live in Southern Africa are suffering from severe malnutrition, and drought is causing havoc with and to the environment.
If the application of modern biological techniques could result in food products that can better survive drought and heat, and also is able to provide more food in the right place and the right time, then there are clear benefits that result from its use.
It is axiomatic that food is essential for our survival. Both formal ethical systems and ethical practices in every society presume the necessity of providing those who are able-bodied with the means to obtain food and enabling those who are unable to feed themselves to receive food directly.
We consider it intolerable that more than 800 million people throughout the world, and particularly in developing countries, do not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs. This situation is unacceptable. Food supplies have increased substantially, but constraints on access to food and continuing inadequacy of household and national incomes to purchase food, instability of supply and demand, as well as natural and man-made disasters, prevent basic food needs from being fulfilled.
The problems of hunger and food insecurity have global dimensions and are likely to persist, and even increase dramatically in some regions, unless urgent, determined and concerted action is taken, given the anticipated increase in the world’s population and the stress on natural resources.
It is clear that we need to promote access to the genetic resources for food and agriculture for farmers, farming communities and the consumer. Health is improved where hunger and quality of food is eliminated. Healthy people are empowered in that they are able to participate in society and are more able to live meaningful lives.
The FAO constitution identifies the need to raise levels of nutrition, secure improvements in the efficiency of production and distribution of all food and agricultural products, and better the conditions of those who live in rural areas.
For most consumers in developed countries the choice of whether to eat genetically modified foods or not is not an ethical issue. To eat genetically modified food would not be wicked, even if the individual was concerned as to its safety. If however, that food was proscribed by the society as (for example) not being halal or kosher, then an inability to identify the food as proscribed would be unethical. Where there are people who are starving and where a technology can help to provide for more and nutritionally better food, and it is not made available is an ethical issue.
The industrialisation of agriculture is an issue in many African countries, for it takes away the traditional structures of society and substitutes a more individualist system that may cause harm. This industrialisation may arguably help in providing more and better food at the cost of disrupting traditional belief systems and modifying the way of life of many in rural areas which may result in less food available where and when necessary.
The agreement setting up the World Trade Organisation tries to balance the many conflicting issues that this principle requires – relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development. The WTO and its disputes resolution system have placed the freedom to trade above environmental concerns, but there is recognition of the importance of environmental concerns.