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The Sustainability of Biotechnology

July 14, 2009
I was reading the blog post, Living Whole Through Sustainable Agriculture, when I came across the blog’s definition of sustainable agriculture:
“Sustainable agriculture is not a singular approach to production agriculture, but rather a range of practices--a system-- including:

  • integrated pest management,

  • organic farming,

  • crop rotations,

  • crop selection,

  • planting practices that reduce soil erosion."

This needs a little clarification. Sustainable agriculture can certainly include organic farming, but it is not limited to organic cultivation techniques. Under the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute, The Leonardo Academy is heading up efforts to propose a National Sustainable Agriculture Standard. Their goal is to find a standard that makes room for any technology that increases agricultural sustainability,according to a statement from the Leonardo Academy earlier this month. This would include agricultural biotechnology.

Biotech crops are more sustainable and better for our environment. They require fewer pesticide applications and enable crops to be grown with less plowing of the land, using farming techniques which improve soil health and water retention. Through biotechnology we have reduced global pesticide applications by 790 million pounds. Biotechnology enables many more farmers to adopt no-till or reduced till techniques, which decrease fuel consumption on farms, reduce soil erosion and lead to greater carbon sequestration. In 2007, the combined biotech crop-related carbon dioxide emission savings from reduced fuel use and additional soil carbon sequestration was equivalent to removing 31.2 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing nearly 6.3 million cars from the road for one year.

There is no question, biotech crops are sustainable.

Readers interested in finding out more about how sustainability can be measured might check out the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture web site, whose new calculator enables farmers to measure the impact of changes in how they farm on sustainability.

Online Resources:
Corporate Social Responsibility Profile of Leonardo Academy

GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2007

Field to Market