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The Second Green Revolution

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 11 (2671 words)
Categories: Biology,Genetic Engineering,Genetically Modified Food,Genetics,Science
Downloads: 38
Views: 492

Background & History

The term “Green Revolution” signifies the revolution of agriculture, between 1940s and 1960s, in many developing countries which caused considerable increment in the agricultural production. This revolution took place resulting to the agricultural researches, and advancement in infrastructure, which were chiefly initiated and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and other agencies.

In 1968, the Term “Green Revolution” was initially coined by the former USAID director William Gaud, when he said, “[The rapid spread of modern wheat and rice varieties throughout Asia] and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution… I call it the Green Revolution”.

(Gaud, 1968) It has its root in the applied science and technology. The Green Revolution has had some very significant and prominent social and ecological influences, for which intense applause and equally intense critique has been raised.

 

The Second Green Revolution

Many developing countries possess the natural, genetic, and biological resources needed by developed countries; thus, tropical forests with their biodiversity contain an enormous reservoir for new pharmaceuticals.

Making more of these resources in exercising sovereignty over them in exchange for the provision of environmentally sound technologies will be an important asset on the part of the developing world (Pearson, 1992). During the negotiations leading to UNCED’s biodiversity treaty, developing countries, such as Brazil, China, and India, emphasized their need for access to biotechnologies to exploit their biological resources on “preferential and non-commercial terms.” (MacNeill et al, 1992, p. 62)

Biotechnology Industry

Biotechnology involves the use of molecular gene—splicing techniques to optimize living systems to provide better drugs, foods, and other products while reducing or eliminating undesirable features. In the industrial countries, the first two decades of the biotechnology revolution have brought forth a remarkable collection of new diagnostic tools, medicines, and medical therapies aimed at prevention and treatment of human diseases. For instance, human insulin; dornase alpha, a breakthrough treatment for cystic fibrosis; interferon beta, a powerful drug for certain multiple sclerosis cases; activase, a clot—dissolving agent used to treat heart attacks; and a synthetic hepatitis B vaccine free of human blood infections.

Judging by how well these medical products have fared in the commercial markets, one could say that the future of biotechnology looks very bright. The context in which biotechnology developed in the affluent countries, however, is so different from that of the developing world that one can justifiably question the relevance of current biotechnology to the problems faced by the world’s poor. Yet few earthly needs are more urgent than applying biotechnology’s incredibly innovative science to the developing countries’ struggles against poverty and hunger. The affluent world has an obligation to ensure that modern biotechnology does not bypass the poor farmers and consumers of the developing world.

Success of Green Revolution

The revolution of agricultural biotechnology—the Second Green Revolution—is well underway in the industrial countries. Biotechnology research is generating the knowledge that will make possible the production of plants with higher production yields, greater resistance to stresses, and lower requirements for inputs of environmentally toxic chemicals. In the United States, transgenic varieties and hybrids of cotton, maize, and potatoes containing genes that effectively control a number of serious pests are being introduced commercially.

Already in 1996, 1.7 million hectares were planted with transgenic crops worldwide. In 1998, this acreage had jumped to 28 million hectares, about 60 percent of which is in the United States, China, and Latin America. (Sittenfeld, Espinoza, Munoz, and Zamora, 2000) Although no one expects gene technology to be the silver bullet that by itself can save the world from starvation, its potential for increasing the quantity and quality of crops grown in the third world is enormous. This potential and the progress already achieved are reasons why I could confidently write, earlier in this chapter, that the battle against hunger is being won.

In the developing countries, applications of biotechnology research are being targeted to high—priority food—security problems, especially the production yields of grains, meat, and milk. In China a big jump in rice productivity may be just around the corner if current research in Hunan province succeeds in creating a super—high—yield hybrid that promises 15–20 percent increases in rice yields over existing hybrids. (Normile, 1999) Hybrid rice already accounts for half of China’s rice acreage and yields an average of 6.8 tons per hectare compared with 5.2 tons for conventional rice, the increased output feeding an additional hundred million Chinese each year.

Rice is the most important staple crop also in Costa Rica, providing almost one—third of the daily caloric intake. Production costs have been increasing because of growing pesticide and fungicide use, yet yields have remained static. A biotechnology program aimed at increasing rice biodiversity features a strategy that includes the possible use of native wild—rice germ plasm, which may harbor useful agronomic traits for use in crop improvement.

In Thailand the shrimp aquiculture industry saved over $500 million in 1996 through diagnostic DNA research that reduced chronic losses from shrimp viral pathogens. Thailand also produces a high-quality aromatic rice that could be a contender in world markets if low yields caused by blast disease can be overcome. Research is underway to identify genes that would confer resistance to this disease.

In Hawaii, a cooperative project with Cornell University has developed transgenic papayas resistant to the ring—spot virus. As a result of this research, the papaya industry was recently rescued by introduction of a genetic “vaccine” that immunized papaya trees against the ring—spot virus, which was destroying the entire crop. (Gonsalves, 1998) This research is making possible the reintroduction of papaya cultivation to small farms in areas where the crop had previously been decimated by this disease. Similar research on common beans is aimed at breeding resistance to the golden mosaic virus.

Throughout the developing world, genes producing beta—carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, are being inserted into rice to produce a new variety of golden rice that could prevent millions of cases of blindness and death in children suffering from vitamin—A deficiency. (James and Krattiger, 1999) Generated by a Swiss research team, this rice is being distributed without charge to public rice—breeding institutions around the world, which will incorporate the new rice traits into local rice varieties for growing by local farmers. (McHughen, 2000)

These examples show two things. First; that serious efforts are underway in developing countries to apply the industrial world’s biotechnology knowledge to their own pressing agriculture problems. Second; that the scale of these efforts is still minuscule in comparison with the need and with the potential of biotechnology in the developing world. For this potential to be realized, those who are dedicated to a future sustainable world—governments, institutions, enterprises, individuals—should put their shoulders and their wallets behind this enterprise.

The importance of support is underscored by a simple economic reality: third—world farmers live largely outside the market economy and will rarely be able to afford the products of biotechnology research, most of which will be marketed by transnational agribusinesses. If small—scale farmers in the poor countries have a right to share in the benefits of biotechnology, which they surely do, the affluent world is obliged to extend a helping hand.

The Anti-biotechnology Movement

Rather than extending a helping hand to biotechnology, however, some are extending a clenched fist. A strong anti-biotechnology segment of the Green movement seeks to discredit and eliminate the development and use of biotechnology. The opposition to biotechnology is based on exaggeration of the risks of genetically modified organisms and denial of the benefits. In fact, the risks of biotechnology are very small and the potential benefits are enormous. Nor is there anything new about genetically modifying organisms. Almost all of our traditional foods are products of natural genetic mutations or genetic recombination’s.

For thousands of years— ever since human agriculture began—plants and animals have been genetically modified by selective breeding, giving us beef, wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, pumpkins, rice, sugar beets, and grapes, with no evidence of harm to either public health or the environment.

Whatever risks there may have been in traditional selective breeding—and these were very small—the risks from adding specific genes via genetic engineering are even smaller since the products can be much more precisely controlled. In any event, since 1994 three hundred million North American consumers have been eating several dozen genetically modified foods including canola, corn, potato, papaya, soybean, squash, sugar beet, and tomato, grown on hundreds of million acres—with not a single documented problem. (Working Group of Academies of Sciences, 2000)

The genetic modifications (GMs) in these crops have provided a number of benefits to farmers and consumers. GM has, for example, given enhanced herbicide resistance, which decreases competition from weeds and allows fewer herbicides to be used, lowering costs and raising quality. GM has provided increased resistance to insects and diseases, which boosts crop productivity while also lowering costs. GM has been used to delay the ripening process of tomatoes, prolonging shelf life and facilitating harvesting and transport to markets.

In the case of soy and vegetable oils, GM has reduced saturated fat content and, in one soy product, increased the desirable monounsaturated, fatty oleic acid from about 24 percent to over 80 percent. Many other advances are forthcoming, including enhanced flavor, texture, and nutritional value; reduced absorption of fats in frying; increased use of desirable enzymes in food processing and aging of cheeses; lowered calorie content of beets; and reduced allergenic components of foods such as peanuts.

Genetic modification has probably been more thoroughly scrutinized than any prior crop—breeding technology in the history of agriculture. For years the safety of genetically modified food products has been under constant examination by government and university scientists in many countries. Certainly some food products have inherent risks, for example, the risk of excessive toxic alkaloids in tomatoes or allergens in Brazil nuts. But these risks are the same whether the crop is produced by traditional or modern technologies. No specific risks or harm have been identified from the genetic modification process itself. Were there any inherent problems with GM technology, they would almost certainly have been revealed by now. But not one problem has been documented. (McHugen, 2000)

The case of food allergies is interesting, because opponents of genetic modification claim that allergens are a serious risk of GM food. This claim is based on misinterpretation of research results showing that food properties, including allergens, can be transferred from one species to another. No commercial food products were involved in the research. Actually the relationship of GM food to allergens is quite the opposite: scientists’ new ability to identify specific genes responsible for allergic reactions in particular foods can be used to remove those genes. In the future we can expect to see nonallergenic GM peanuts, dairy products, cereals, and seafood on grocery shelves.

In a widely publicized misinterpretation of preliminary laboratory research, an anti—GM advertisement stated: “Cornell University scientists discovered that genetically engineered [Bt] corn pollen killed 50 percent of Monarchs [butterflies] in their test.” (TPP, 2000) In fact, the preliminary experiment referred to lacked controls, and the effect of GM pollen on Monarchs was subsequently found to be negligible under field conditions. (McHugen, 2000) And the Monarchs appear to be doing very well, as measured by the numbers arriving in Mexican sanctuaries in spite of the fact that almost a third of the U. S. corn acreage is now planted with genetically engineered Bt corn. (DeGregori, 2001)

Most scientists knowledgeable about genetic engineering recognize the false assumptions underlying most anti-biotechnology claims, and they are confident that the potential benefits far outweigh possible risks. A petition signed by over twenty—one hundred scientists worldwide, including Nobel laureates James Watson, codiscoverer of the DNA structure, and Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, begins: “We, the undersigned members of the scientific community, believe that recombinant DNA techniques constitute powerful and safe means for the modification of organisms and can contribute substantially in enhancing quality of life by improving agriculture, health care, and the environment.” (Prakash et al., 2000)

In April 2000 a U. S. House of Representatives report concluded that there is no significant difference between plant varieties created by agricultural biotechnology and similar plants created by conventional crossbreeding. (Smith, 2000) And concurrently a U. S. National Academy of Sciences committee concluded, “The committee is not aware of any evidence that foods on the market are unsafe to eat as a result of genetic modification.” (National Research Council, 2000)

Science cannot guarantee absolute certainty. But science can and does allow us to compare the risks of alternative human actions against their benefits. The alternative promoted by most opponents of genetically modified foods—an indefinite worldwide moratorium or outright ban—carries the risk of a world increasingly unable to meet the nutritional needs of all its human inhabitants.

That risk far outweighs any possible benefits of such a ban and, on moral grounds, is unacceptably high. It would be a pity if fear of genetically modified foods were to cause environmentally conscious citizens, genuinely abhorring the plight of the poor, to contribute unwittingly to denying the developing nations in Africa and Southeast Asia access to decades of research and discovery that could help them produce more and better food, in effect condemning millions of the world’s children to continuing malnutrition, hunger, and disease.

Conclusion

In the affluent countries, pharmaceutical and medical diagnostic applications of biotechnology have been enthusiastically received because the public understands and appreciates both their success and the potential for even more remarkable disease—conquering products.

With the continuing accumulation of evidence for the safety and efficiency of biotechnology in agriculture and the continuing absence of evidence of harm to the public or the environment, most consumers in the affluent countries will increasingly welcome the growing array of genetically enhanced food products. But for billions of farmers and consumers in the developing countries, the Second Green Revolution could be much more than a welcome addition to their food menu—it could be the prime agent of a better life and the saver of hundreds of millions of lives.

References

Borlaug, N. E., (1997) Feeding a World of 10 Billion People: The Miracle Ahead (lecture given at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, May 31)

DeGregori, T. R. (January 1, 2001) Genetically modified Nonsense, London: Institute of Economic Affairs,

Gaud, William (1968) The Green Revolution: Accomplishments and Apprehensions, speech given before The Society of International Development, Sheraton Hotel, Washington DC, available at

Gonsalves, D. (1998) “Control of Papaya Ringspot Virus in Papaya: A Case Study,” Annual Review of Phytopathology 36: 415

James C. and A. Krattiger, (October 1999) “The Role of the Private Sector, ” brief 4 in Biotechnology for Developing—country Agriculture: Problems and Opportunities, Focus 2: 2020 Vision, ed. G. Persley (Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.

MacNeill, Jim, Pieter Winsemius, and Taizo Yakushiji, (1992) Beyond Interdependence (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 62

McHughen, A. (September 2000) Biotechnology and Food (New York: American Council on Science and Health.

National Research Council, (2000) Report of Committee on Genetically Modified Pest—Protected Plants, Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

Normile, D. (January 15, 1999) “Crossing Rice Strains to Keep Asia’s Rice Bowls Brimming,” Science 283: 313.

Pearson, Fred (1992) “The Hidden Cost of Technology Transfer,” New Scientist, 1992, p. 27.

Prakash C. S. et al., (2000) “Declaration of Scientists in Support of Agricultural Biotechnology, ” www.agbioworld.org/petition.phtml .

Sittenfeld, A., A. M. Espinoza, M. Munoz, and A. Zamora, (2000) “Costa Rica: Challenges and Opportunities in Biotechnology and Biodiversity,” in Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor, ed. G. J. Persley and M. M. Lantin (Washington, DC: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), 79.

Smith, N. (2000) Seeds of Opportunity: An Assessment of the Benefits, Safety and Oversight of Plant Genomics and Agricultural Biotechnology, report prepared for the Subcommittee on Basic Science of the House Committee on Science, 106th Cong., 2d sess.,

Turning Point Project, (2000) Genetic Roulette (advertisement no. 3 in a series on genetic engineering) Washington, DC: TPP,

Working Group of Academies of Sciences, (July 2000) Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture, Washington, DC, National Academy Press,

Cite this essay

The Second Green Revolution. (2017, Mar 22). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-second-green-revolution-essay

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