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31 Critical Questions in Ag Biotech

November 11, 2015
“In March 2000, Barun Mitra of the Liberty Institute, a progressive free-market think-tank in India, sent questions concerning agricultural biotechnology to the AgBioView listserv, with the hope that expert members of the list would be able to address them.

He received a great number of responses, which he compiled and edited with the help of Andrew Apel and Gregory Conko.”

GMO Answers has posted the except below and linked to the answers from members of AgBioWorld.

The full responses to each of these questions can be found here.

  1. Is genetic engineering (GE) the only way of increasing food production?

  2. Is it possible to deal with widespread malnutrition with genetic engineering?

  3. If food security is primarily a question of distribution insecurity, then how can increased production using GE address the question of food security?

  4. How can GE ensure environmental sustainability as well as increase food production when pressure on environmental resources like land and water is growing?

  5. Won’t herbicide-tolerant and pesticidal GE crops lead to intensified use of agro-chemicals?

  6. How can GE deal with possible environmental threats such as "super weeds"?

  7. How can undesirable "genetic drifts" be controlled?

  8. Shouldn’t biotech companies bear total liability for any harm to environment and public health?

  9. What about the health risks from GE, such as antibiotic resistance?

  10. Shouldn’t it be possible to demand zero risks from GE?

  11. What is the sound scientific basis for considering GE to be safe?

  12. Critics of biotechnology say that while reductionist biologists claim patents on life, they believe that 95 percent of DNA is "junk" (with unknown functions). On the other hand, genetic engineers have to use this junk DNA to get their results.

  13. If GE does not directly benefit consumers, why should consumers bear any possible risk?

  14. Isn’t biotechnology, such as GE techniques, substantively different from conventional breeding methods?

  15. In conventional breeding within species, it is said that "vertical transfer" of genes takes place. However, biotechnology allows "horizontal transfer" of genes across species. Isn’t such horizontal transfer unnatural, and therefore possibly unsafe, as well as unethical?

  16. Is there a difference between applications of biotechnology in agriculture and medicine? Why are the two perceived differently?

  17. Applications of biotechnology range from development of vaccines, to pollution cleaning bacteria, biodegradable plastics, colored cotton, herbicide- and pest-resistant crops, and nutritionally-enhanced crops. Isn’t it possible to draw a line between permissible and impermissible applications of biotechnology?

  18. Isn’t the credibility of regulatory agencies influencing the popular perception of genetic engineering? Is fear of biotechnology a failure of the regulatory agencies or is it a failure of the market and corporate ethics as such?

  19. How can modern profit-driven agricultural biotechnology meet the basic needs of the poor?

  20. Would not the poor farmers in developing countries become dependent on commercial biotech corporations?

  21. How can the interests of developing countries be safeguarded?

  22. Won’t GE crops accelerate the trend towards fewer varieties of crops? Will not such a loss of crop diversity make agriculture more vulnerable?

  23. What are the social and ethical implications of GE?

  24. Shouldn’t consumers have the right to know whether they are consuming GE?

  25. Shouldn’t GE foods be labeled? If not, why not?

  26. Is it fair to grant patents on GE organisms?

  27. Doesn’t patenting life forms encourage violence: first by treating life forms as mere machines and denying their self-organizing capacity; and second, by denying self-reproducing capacity (that is, by allowing patents on future generations of plants and animals)?

  28. When a patent is granted on the basis of a GE organism being novel and not occurring in nature, how can the intellectual property right (IPR) holders then seek to escape the responsibility of consequences of releasing the organisms? How can they treat the issue of biosafety as unnecessary?

  29. Won’t IPR put restrictions on creativity of nature (i.e., inherent to living systems that reproduce and multiply in self-organized freedom) by shifting common rights and excluding intellectual commons’ knowledge, ideas and innovations? Apart from corporate control over minds, IPR may become intellectual theft or bio-piracy?

  30. Doesn’t the emergence of GE threaten to change the meaning and value of biodiversity from life-support base for poor communities to raw-material base for private corporations?

  31. Is there any possible benefits of the so-called "Terminator technology"? Or is it simply a means to exercise control over farmers’ right to grow their own seed?