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Socioeconomics and Agricultural Biotechnology: The Challenges

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  1. Socioeconomics and Agricultural Biotechnology:The Challenges Lori Garkovich and Valerie Askren University of Kentucky

  2. What is Biotechnology?Common Definitions • Any technique that uses living organisms, or substances from those organisms, to make a product, improve plants or animals, or develop microorganisms for specific uses • Any technique that deliberately manipulates the molecules that carry genetic information What’s the difference?

  3. Why is Biotechnology so Exciting? • Strikes at the heart of many issues! • Incremental versus Disruptive Technologies • Is it simply an emotional reaction? • Does biotechnology blur the line between nature and man-made? • Does it offer enormous power to alter the fundamental character of life? • First and second generation benefits • Importance of multidisciplinary perspectives and bioethics to the physical sciences

  4. Classroom Activity:Think, Write, Pair, Share • If you could clone something or someone, what would it be? What would be the consequences of doing so? • Divide into pairs. Agree to share one genetic trait with another student. What trait would you want and why? How would you expect your life to change?

  5. Framing the Discussion • The way we frame an issue influences how we understand its implications and also how we think about alternatives • Who shapes the framing determines the message’s content

  6. Biotech firms and scientists have framed the issue as one of science and technology applied to enhancing the quality of life Biotech opponents have framed the issue as a profit-driven effort regardless of the risk to human health, social equity or environmental quality Framing the Biotechnology Issue:Creating Polarity

  7. Framing the Issue:Classroom Activities • Have students research a biotechnology issue. Using the internet, collect articles that frame the same “advancement” in different lights. Assess scientific accuracy of claims. • Possible Issues: • Golden Rice • Bt crops and the Monarch butterfly • Terminator gene technology

  8. The Bioethical Challenge Is Biotechnology Morally Acceptable?

  9. Two Kinds of Ethical Arguments Used to Evaluate Concerns Over Biotechnology • Intrinsic objections say the process of biotechnology is objectionable in itself • Extrinsic objections say the possible consequences of some biotech applications are objectionable, but others may be acceptable

  10. The Bioethical Challenge:Classroom Activities • Identify the possible intrinsic and the extrinsic objections related to: • previous classroom experiments • recent scientific breakthroughs, as reported in the popular press and science magazines (e.g., home drug-use testing kits for parents to use to monitor their children) • historical scientific advancements (e.g., the development of dynamite, or cell phone technology and adoption)

  11. The Business of Science Challenge Does the business of biotechnology corrupt the purpose and integrity of the process of the science? Or can business and scientific partnerships be beneficial for society?

  12. The Business of Science • Critics: • Focusing on profits contradicts the purpose of science - to enhance or improve the quality of life • Biotechnology commodifies life and leads to reductionist science • Advocates: • The spiraling costs of R & D required to bring a product to market justifies the closer ties of science and business • This relationship has been beneficial to society and has contributed to the public good

  13. The Business of Science Challenge:Classroom Activities • Questions for discussion: • Should private companies be permitted to use teminator gene technology? • Should farmers in developing countries pay lower price premiums for genetically-modified seed? • Should farmers be held liable for genetic pollution? What is genetic pollution? • Has any scientific development not been corrupted by the profit motive?

  14. The Policy Challenge What public policies related to biotechnology should be adopted and who should decide?

  15. The Policy Issues • What, if any, should be the role of scientists and the public in determining policies related to biotechnology? • Are the questions about the risks associated with biotechnology too technical and complex for citizens to evaluate?

  16. The Policy Issues - Classroom Activities • A public hearing before Congress on a proposal to limit public funding of research on agricultural biotechnology and to prohibit field testing of biotechnology products • Students assume the following roles: • Congressional representatives • Opponents (who would oppose such a proposal and why?) • Proponents (who would support such a proposal and why?) • The press

  17. The Policy Issues - Classroom Activities • Students research the arguments that would be presented by those in their role and prepare a summary of these positions • Students develop two questions that might be asked by someone in their role as to why this proposal should or should not be enacted • Conduct the public hearing • Students evaluate the arguments presented and make a recommendation to Congress in a summary white paper

  18. The Globalization Challenge Is biotechnology part of the solution? Or symptomatic of the problem?

  19. How widespread are GM plantings in the US?

  20. How widespread are GM plantingsin the world?

  21. Globalization and Biotechnology:The Hopes • Improved resistance to drought and salt stress, toxic heavy metals, pests and diseases • Higher yields &/or reduced input use • Enhanced environmental protection • Increase food production • Reduce post-harvest losses • Micronutrients / Edible Vaccines • Increased farm profitability • Greater access to export markets

  22. Globalization and Biotechnology:The Concerns • Lack of appropriate GM crops / cash crops only • Loss of export markets • Endangers indigenous crops / loss of biodiversity • Creation of superweeds • Higher seed costs / licensing agreements • Fear of “terminator” gene technology • Low input use already in place • Gains to wealthy landowners and multinationals • Genomic databases and research are needed • Consumer concerns

  23. Globalization and Biotechnology:Classroom Activities Case Studies: SuperSpud: World Hunger Case Study Native American Culture and Whaling Bangladesh Farm Decision Project Food Aid to Africa

  24. Case Study: Food Aid to Africa • You are an advisor to a leader of a developing nation experiencing famine. The U.S. has donated surplus corn to your country, but it is genetically modified corn. • “Green” groups are warning you that the corn is dangerous to human health. • Others fear that farmers might plant some of these seeds, cross-pollinating with native corn, endangering important export markets and revenue • But, if you don’t accept the surplus corn, many people in your country will die right now from the famine. • What do you recommend and why?

  25. The Challenge of Consumer Choice Does society have an ethical obligation to maximize consumer knowledge and choice?

  26. Consumer Choice – The Issue of Labeling • Advocates of consumer labeling criticize efforts NOT to label food containing genetically modified organisms. They argue: “If biotech foods are safe and risk free, then why are you afraid to let us know what we are buying?” • Consumers with food allergies, vegetarians, and those with religious dietary restrictions have a right to know • Consumers should be able to choose the type and quality of food they consume, and the production system they want to support with their food dollar

  27. Consumer Choice –Opposition to Labeling • Labeling is unnecessary because biotech foods contain genetic material from other natural products - nothing is added that does not already exist in nature • Federal organic labeling standards exist. If you are opposed to consuming genetically modified food ingredients, simply buy organic! • Labeling does not change consumer behavior • Why must everyone pay for the cost of labeling that is demanded by a few?

  28. The Challenge of Consumer Choice:Classroom Activities • Conduct a taste test comparing genetically modified soybeans and conventionally bred soybeans. Tabulate and graph the results. • Classroom debate: Resolved that Congress should adopt legislation mandating the labeling of all consumer products that contain any trace amount of genetically modified components.

  29. The Challenge of Consumer Choice:Classroom Activities • A student survey gauging consumer attitudes towards genetically modified foods. See ,, or for examples of surveys • Students develop and administer their own survey (5-7 questions) to 5 persons each. • Students compile the answers and calculate percent distributions, mean, median, and mode • Students compare their answers to those in national or international surveys and discuss the ways in which who was asked questions and how a question was asked may influence the answers • Some students illustrate the responses using two different types of graphics • Other students prepare a written report on the results

  30. Key Challenges of Agricultural Biotechnology • Can we capture the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology in a fair and equitable way for today’s and future generations? • Can we balance the interests of human society and the environment using biotechnology? • Can biotechnology contribute to sustainable agricultural systems? • How should we frame the biotechnology issue?