After completing this chapter you should be able to...
- Describe the global state of food security.
- Compare industrial agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and organic agriculture.
- Define pests and pesticides.
- Detail the advantages and disadvantages of industrial agriculture.
- Compare selective breeding with genetic engineering.
- Explain how plants are genetically modified.
- Detail the advantages and disadvantages of using genetically modified crops.
- Explain the steps of integrated pest management and provide examples of cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical control.
- Describe each sustainable practice that maintains soil quality and explain the additional benefits of these practices.
Progress continues in the fight against hunger, yet an unacceptably large number of people still lack the food they need for an active and healthy life. Food security is dependent on availability, access, and utilization.
Industrial agriculture is the prevailing agricultural system that relies on heavy machinery, synthetic pesticides, and synthetic herbicides. It has led to tremendous gains in productivity and efficiency worldwide. On the other hand, industrial agriculture has put small farms at a disadvantage and caused several ecological issues. It has exacerbated climate change, caused water pollution, degraded soil quality, harmed beneficial native organisms, and led to the evolution of pesticide resistance.
Both selective breeding and genetic engineering are processes of agricultural biotechnology. Selective breeding occurs when humans assist individual organisms with favorable traits in reproduction generation after generation. Genetic engineering refers to lab methods that directly alter an organism's DNA. Advocates say that application of genetic engineering in agriculture has resulted in benefits to farmers, producers, and consumers. While genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have potential to address malnutrition, reduce pesticide application, and combat crop disease, the companies who patent them now have greater control over agriculture. Furthermore, escaped transgenes can create herbicide-resistant superweeds. While members of the public have raised concerns about health impacts of GMOs, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's assessment of over 900 studies found that GMOs do not threaten human health.
Sustainable agriculture is an alternative to industrial agriculture that focuses on preserving natural resources and protecting the environment. It can thus be continued indefinitely. Sustainable agriculture employs integrated pest management (IPM), which relies on a variety of approaches to keep populations of true pests below economically harmful levels. Approaches with the lowest environmental impact are prioritized under IPM. A variety of sustainable practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, terrace farming, and minimal tillage can maintain soil fertility. Many of these methods additionally help regulate pest populations, preserve water quality, and combat climate change. Organic agriculture avoids using synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, hormones, and antibiotics. Organic and sustainable farming practices often overlap. Consumers can promote sustainable agriculture by purchasing local, organic foods and choosing foods with low carbon and water footprints.