Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
Environmentalists (versus the environment)
Finally, in addition to the impact on farming profits and consumer prices, Brookes and
Barfoot (2011), NRC (2010), and Barrows, Sexton, and Zilberman (2013) suggest that the
adoption of genetic pest control has significantly impacted the environment. By increas-
ing yields (output per acre), GM crops tend to reduce the size of the land footprint
required for agricultural production because of the yield effect, and thus tend to reduce
habitat conversion as well as the greenhouse gas emissions due to land-use changes (e.g.,
deforestation and land clearing) and soil cultivation. The herbicide-tolerance trait has
been associated with a switch by farmers to low- and no-tillage soil cultivation practices,
greatly reducing soil erosion and increasing soil organic carbon sequestration and mois-
ture retention (NRC, 2010). Genetic pest-control technologies also reduce, to a degree,
the application of toxic chemicals that contaminate watersheds and harm wildlife (NRC,
2010). There is also a reduction in toxicity of pesticide residues in foods and a reduction
in on-farm risk to farm workers (Hossain et al., 2004).
However, although there is documented evidence of the actual benefit of GM crops to
the environment, the perception is that genetic modification is bad for the environment
due to unknown and unspecified risks, including gene flow, impact on nontarget organ-
isms, and the emergence of resistance among invasive pests and weeds. Avoidance of
unknown risks is the basic logic of the precautionary principle.
Finally, there needs to be a distinction between the interests of the environment and
the interests of environmentalists. The social welfare derived from environmental goods
and services of natural resources can be conceptualized and sometimes quantified, and
is shared at different levels by members of society. Environmental activist organizations
or environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGO) consist of both people who
care about environmental issues as well as environmental groups that have their own
bureaucracy that needs to be supported. Their welfare as organizations is distinct from
environmental welfare per se . The survival and thriving of an activist organization—and
thus the political economy of activism—relies on their ability as an organization to cap-
ture sufficient resources, such as donations or grants, to perpetuate the activities of the
organization (see Byrne, 2006 for a suggestive analysis of activist groups' financing).
Success can be manifested in size of budget and staff, rents diverted to supporters of the
organization, as well as building a reputation or “brand” among those portions of the
public who have sufficient concern about environmental issues to make donations.
Environmental organizations succeed and fail in very real ways, often as a func-
tion of the policy position they advocate and their ability to influence policy out-
comes (Collingwood, 2006). Revenues for such groups are sustained by being
viewed by potential donors and grant makers as effective in at least two ways: (1) col-
lecting and sharing information that may be more complete or more objective than
official government or industry accounts (a “watchdog” or “informant” function)
and (2)  representing the donors' interests in the policy process and ultimately
changing policy to serve those donors' interests (an “advocate” or “representative”
function).
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