Socioeconomics and Agricultural Biotechnology - UK College of ...


Oct 22, 2013 (3 years and 7 months ago)


Socioeconomics and
Agricultural Biotechnology:

The Challenges

Lori Garkovich and Valerie Askren

University of Kentucky

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?

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

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

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?

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

Framing the Biotechnology Issue:

Creating Polarity

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
driven effort
regardless of the risk to
human health, social
equity or environmental

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


Is Biotechnology Morally Acceptable?

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

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
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)

The Business

of Science

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?

The Business of Science


Focusing on profits contradicts the purpose of science

enhance or improve the quality of life

Biotechnology commodifies life and leads to reductionist


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

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?

The Policy

What public policies related to biotechnology
should be adopted and who should decide?

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?

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

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


Is biotechnology part of the solution?

Or symptomatic of the problem?

How widespread are GM plantings

in the US?

How widespread are GM plantings

in the world?

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

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

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

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,
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?

The Challenge of
Consumer Choice

Does society have an ethical obligation to
maximize consumer knowledge and choice?

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

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

Labeling does not change consumer behavior

Why must everyone pay for the cost of labeling that is
demanded by a few?

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.

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

Other students prepare a written report on the results

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?