The Ohio State University Extension, Extension Agent
Genetically engineered products are not new. Firmer and longer keeping tomatoes were one of the first
genetically engineered products. The controversial, genetically engineered hormone called BST, which
induces dairy cows to give more milk, has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and
has now been adopted my many American dairymen. It is not permitted in Canada. Corn seeds genetically
modified to be resistant to a specific boring insect have been available for several years. However, the most
dramatic adoption of genetic engineering has been by farmers using the Roundup Read soybeans
developed and marketed by Monsanto. More than one-third of the soybeans planted in the United States and
in northeastern Ohio are Roundup Ready. This means that the soybeans have been genetically engineered to
be resistant to Roundup, a chemical weed killer also developed and marketed by Monsanto. More recently,
Monsanto has also developed Roundup Ready corn.
Many are concerned about genetic engineering because it is not natural One main concern is the
healthfulness of the genetically engineered food. There are also concerns about how humane it is to inject
a genetically engineered hormone into dairy cattle so they will unnaturally increase milk production.
Some are concerned that those genetically engineered traits will be transferred to other plants in the
environment. Others are concerned about reduction in bio-diversity as a result of genetic engineering.
The government, (Environmental Protection Agency, EPA), regulates unnatural agricultural practices, such
as chemical fertilizers and weed and bug killers, and the government will continue to regulate genetic
engineering. Chances are if you have been unhappy with the risks allowed by EPA with chemicals in
agriculture, you will not be happy with the risks allowed by the government with genetic engineering.
Those who favor genetic engineering contend that the United States and individual farmers need to adopt
this new technology as quickly as possible in order to maintain their competitive edge. Indeed, we in the
United States pride ourselves in our productivity. Yes, we essentially feed the world and do it more
efficiently and at a lower cost than most of the rest of the world. We do indeed enjoy a competitive edge in
agriculture. We enjoy that edge because of our willingness to develop and adopt new technology, because
of our productive soils/climate, and because farmers fiercely compete against each other. Economists call
our system perfect competition. Ironically, this perfect competition forces out of business those farmers
who can't or won't adopt technology that lowers the cost of production .
With every revolution in agriculture, the less productive farmers have been forced out of business. The
industrial revolution started a long trend of fewer and fewer farmers, with tractors replacing horses and
machines replacing the labor of farm family members. The introduction of hybrid seed corn and plants bred
to yield more with chemical fertilizers further increased productivity, so farmer numbers took another dive.
Herbicides allowed crop production with less or even no tilling of the land, and insecticides assured
consistently higher crop yields. Thus, productivity continued to increase, production costs decreased and
more farmers were forced to leave the farm.
So how will agriculture and the dairy industry change with the adoption of genetic engineering? Farmers
will be forced to adopt the new technology to stay in business, and those least successful with the new
technology will be forced out. Granted, some will find other ways to stay in business, with or without
genetic engineering, such as segregating, marketing and/or retailing their product. However, typical
farmers (who do not directly market to the consumer the commodity they produce) will continue to fiercely
compete with each other, to produce at an inflation- adjusted lower cost, to operate larger farms but own
less of them, and to adopt efficiency-enhancing technology.
SHOULD I USE BST OR GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS? WHETHER OR NOT I USE GENETIC ENGINEERING, HOW WILL IT AFFECT FARMING AND THE DAIRY INDUSTRY?