The Meaning of Agricultural Biotechnology!
As in many other areas of technology, the introduction of a new technology such as agricultural biotechnology may depend on the perceived balance between the benefits of the technology and the potential risks to the environment and human health. Biology has been used for millennia to provide food and other products for use by humans.
It is used to make food palatable or safe, and many mechanisms have been .discovered, that enable foods to be modified, using organisms (usually micro-organisms). Bread, beer, wine, cheese, tofu and yoghourt are amongst the modified food products we use all the time.
The wild, undomesticated relatives of all food crops are almost unrecognisable in comparison to that which we grow in fields today. Genetic modification of crop plants has been practised since the crops were first identified. The first human to choose to keep the best seeds for growing in the following season rather than eating them was practising biotechnology.
Modern biotechnology is seen as different to traditional selection, for it permits the transfer of characteristics that could not be achieved naturally. Scientists often argue that the new techniques are simply an extension of the continuum of selection and genetic modification that has been used over hundreds of years.
These traditional techniques have changed markedly during the 20 century as our understanding of the biological processes has improved. Deliberate mutation and many other artificial techniques have allowed selection of characteristics between weakly compatible organisms.
There are many scientists who believe that the transfer of genes between non-compatible organisms is truly different from traditional techniques and constitutes something that is really new. Modem biotechnology that permits modifications that cannot happen naturally has elicited excitement, fear and concern for many reasons, and has been regulated from almost the initial experiments that allowed genetic material to be transferred among unrelated organisms.
Different uses of modem biotechnology to produce transgenic organisms elicit varying reactions in most countries. Genetic modification to provide medicines is not as controversial as the genetic modification of crops for human consumption. Often the genetic modification of animals (especially reproductive cloning) is considered as less acceptable than modification of plants. Modification of the germ line in humans, for example, is usually considered as immoral.
Many opinion polls indicate that the public discriminates markedly between uses of biotechnology. Medicine and horticulture/floriculture are often found to be acceptable whereas the genetic modification of crops for food use, or the modification of animals and humans are less acceptable.
While most Americans say they would be in favour of at least some genetically modified food products, and nearly two-thirds believe that genetically modified foods will benefit many people, more than half (56 percent) say that the issue of genetic modification causes them great concern.