Traits in Agriculture

Food safety, food security and food sovereignty are the goals of sustainable agriculture in most societies. For agriculture to be sustainable there must be conservation of agricultural and wild biodiversity, soil and water management that minimizes external inputs, and technologies and practices that respect the laws of nature in all its complexities.

The measurement of productivity is then also holistic, taking into account specific food crop yields, multiple crops as opposed to monocultures, nutrition from wild biodiversity (including fisheries) and the ecological capital of soil, water and seeds. Maintaining a healthy ecosystem and environment is also essential to ensure long-term sustainable productivity.

Agricultural biotechnology, in particular gene technology, is used to introduce various traits into a range of food crops, especially the world’s staple food crops. Crops engineered for herbicide tolerance and pest resistance are the most known, commercialized GMOs. Criticisms have been made that the needs of developing countries are not served by current GM crop plants. However, there are flaws in adopting such a reductionist approach which focuses on specific traits in agriculture, when evidence points to holistic approaches to agriculture and sound ecosystem management as the way forward for sustainable agriculture.

Biosafety concerns over agricultural biotechnology include transgenic instability, the emergence of volunteers and weeds (including “superweeds”), impact on non-target species, pest resistance and transgenic contamination.

Horizontal gene transfer is increasingly recognized as a phenomenon of great concern. Gene-transfer vectors can facilitate horizontal gene transfer and recombination, leading to the spread of antibiotic resistance (through the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes) and new pathogens. An emerging concern is the potential creation of new viruses as a result of probable recombination of the promoter from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) with other viruses. The CaMV promoter is routinely used to drive gene expression in crop plants engineered for herbicide or disease resistance.

These hazards can impact negatively on biodiversity and the environment. Human and animal health impacts of concern include toxic and allergenic effects, as well as probable new diseases.

Thus it is important and necessary to constantly deepen our knowledge and understanding of the consequences of the genetic modification techniques and processes that are used in manipulating traits in agriculture.

[Note: In a separate page on this website, entitled “Agriculture/Organisms” we post articles and reports that discuss a wider range of issues, including socio-economic aspects of biosafety, as they relate to agricultural crops.]

The Ecological and Evolutionary Risks of Novel GE Oilseeds to Terrestrial Organisms

Scientists raise concerns that novel oilseed crops genetically engineered to produce fatty acids could have negative ecological and evolutionary effects on terrestrial organisms. […]

Dicamba Drift Threatens Natural Habitats and Species Across the US

Dicamba drift from the spraying of the herbicide in dicamba-tolerant GM soy farms in the US threatens natural habitats, putting endangered species of plants and animals at risk. […]

Golden Rice 2 Carries High Likelihood of Risks Without Substantial Benefits

An evaluation of the risk assessment for IRRI’s application for food import of Golden Rice 2 in Australia and New Zealand finds flawed data, failure to show any substantial benefits, and a high likelihood of risks. […]

Toxic Formulants and Heavy Metals in Glyphosate-based Herbicides

Formulations of glyphosate-based herbicides are found to be much more toxic on both plants and human cells than glyphosate alone. Toxic heavy metals such as arsenic are also found in these herbicides. […]

Health Impacts of Glyphosate May Include Driving Antibiotic Resistance

Glyphosate resistant crops have led to intensification of glyphosate use, emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds and microorganisms, changes in microbiomes and disease resistance, deteriorated plant and animal health, and increased antibiotic resistance. […]

Cases of Pest Resistance to Bt Crops Increased Five-fold From 2005-2016

A study analyzing global patterns of field-evolved resistance to Bt crops over the last two decades has found that the number of cases of pest resistance to Bt proteins increased from 3 in 2005 to 16 in 2016. […]

Golden Rice: A Perfect Example of GM Unintended Effects

Recent research by Indian scientists has shown that introducing Golden Rice transgenes had severe and unexpected effects on plant growth and yields. […]

Human Exposure to Glyphosate Increased 500 percent Since GM Crop Introduction in the US

A study has found that human exposure to glyphosate through foods has increased approximately 500% over 23 years since the introduction of GM glyphosate-tolerant crops in the US. […]

Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds A Growing Major Problem Worldwide

The overuse of glyphosate has led to a global situation where glyphosate-resistant weeds are spreading rapidly. The worst infestations and greatest economic impact are seen in countries growing GM glyphosate-resistant crops. […]

The Fall of GM Cotton in India

A report explores the rise and fall of GM cotton in India as more Indian farmers return to organic cotton. Worldwide, GM cotton farmers are struggling with increased pesticide use to deal with the emergence of pest resistance and secondary pests. […]

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