Subcommittee A Recommendations
Selective breeding and hybridization of crops should continue to be widely used because these techniques offer many benefits for both humans and the environment. Food biotechnology employs the tools of modern genetics in the age-old process of improving plants, animals, and microorganisms for food production. Biotechnology is becoming an important part of the overall effort to produce an abundant supply of better tasting and more nutritious foods. Today, biotechnology holds out promise for many different groups. Consumers find increased quality, safety, and taste in their food choices. Farmers find new methods to improve their productivity and profitability, and governments and non-governmental public advocates can find ways to stave off global hunger, assure environmental quality, preserve biodiversity, and promote health and food safety. Manipulating plant genetics through natural selective breeding and hybridization of crops can have very useful effects. Experts assert that biotechnology innovations will triple crop yields without requiring any additional farmland, thus saving valuable rain forests and animal habitats. Other innovations can reduce or eliminate reliance on pesticides and herbicides that may contribute to environmental degradation. Still others will preserve precious groundsoil and water resources. Thus choosing to selectively breed certain crops for desirable qualities will produce more and better food for the world without causing more damage to the environment, as many solutions would. This does not cause any further degeneration of currently available farmland and provides ways to better utilize any future land that is put into agriculture.
With the population growing at such an alarming rate, it is imperative that the world find a means of increasing food production, and the use of selective breeding seems a likely solution. Although standard breeding naturally leads to a one percent increase in crop yield per year, these modest gains will not be sufficient to account for future population growth. At current production rates, crop harvests will soon be unable to meet the needs of the worlds population. Nevertheless, these food demands can be met through the implementation of modern plant breeding methodologies. These techniques are extremely effective in improving both crop quality and crop yield. Furthermore, they are completely natural and ethical, as they do not involve tampering with plant DNA.
The application of selective breeding requires the maintenance and expansion of existing gene banks. Gene banks are the only remaining supply of exotic plant species, which contain the genes necessary for improving domesticated crops. However, sustaining gene banks will not be cheap. The United States alone, spends nearly $20 million per year on gene banks. These gene banks will not be internationally controlled but rather each country should decide how many they wish to maintain and how they plan to administer them.
In addition to the financial issues, several other problems may arise from the employment of modern plant breeding methodologies. The first issue that will need to be addressed is the question of compensation. If a farmer donates a rare plant seed, which miraculously leads to a doubling of crop yield, then he should be compensated. The question is: what compensation he is entitled to? Another matter to consider is who should finance these gene banks. If only a few countries invest in gene banks, then should every country be entitled to reap the benefits? Perhaps the real question boils down to ethics: do first world countries have an obligation to provide for lesser nations? All these questions are worth considering when determining how gene banks should operate.
Regardless of the difficulties that arise from maintaining gene banks, it seems obvious that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Therefore, it is the policy recommendation of Subcommittee A that gene banks be maintained and exotic plant varieties preserved. Furthermore, the employment of modern plant breeding methodologies in connection with gene banks should be utilized to preserve genetic diversity and meet the worlds growing food demands.
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