Sustainable Development: Land Resources and Ethical Consumerism

Ethical consumption and protection of land resources are some of the most important environmental issues today. Corn is the main commodity purchased by half of the world’s population daily. For this reason, cropland management during this period reflected the play of several deep-seated forces affecting the development of American agriculture. The growing importance and eventual dominance of the yield-increasing technologies based on biological and chemical innovations, which first emerged in the 1990s, was perhaps the most fundamental force. The cost-reducing effects of these technologies enabled American farmers to increasingly penetrate and eventually dominate world trade in grain and soybeans. In the modern world, the main problem is that it is impossible to reduce crops consumption levels but it is possible to improve productivity and protect land resources from degradation.

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The case study by Naeem and Li. (1997) claims that as a result of technological effects, the size of the agricultural establishment expanded greatly and dependence increased on the world market and political forces, over which farmers had little control. Moreover, the reliance of the new technologies on vastly greater amounts of fertilizer and chemical pesticides evoked rising concerns about their environmental effects, concerns that in time would become a force in shaping the pace and direction of technological change.

Tabashnik et al (1997), Thies and Tscharntke (1999) suggest that there has been discussion in economics literature concerning the level of investment in research and development (R&D) and its relation to the appropriability of the innovation in question, this discussion is usually divorced from considerations of the development of appropriability regimes themselves, and the technological options available for addressing any given problem. If the appropriable nature of these innovations supposedly corrects for market failure in terms of R&D resource allocation, it is reasonable to ask whether appropriateness effectively distorts decisions made concerning what gets researched, especially if private sector involvement in research effectively pushes the public sector into a more subservient position. Below, it is claimed that aspects of appropriateness regimes currently in place lead to the ecological misshaping of agriculture. Following these researchers, Rausher, (2001) and Harmsen (1998) underline that ethical consumption discusses lock-in in the context of the many influences on the work of formal agricultural research organizations and the movement of their innovations into use in agricultural production. A stylized chronological picture of the innovation process Admittedly, this is not always followed, since innovation can, indeed should, be a recursive process.

Estruch et al (1997) suggest that the crucial modification that many authors make to ethical consumption theory reflects the belief that technology is shaped by social structures and that it often performs a specific social function that reflects the interests of particular sectors of society. This critique explicitly takes into account the unequal distribution of political resources in society and the implications that this has for the development of agricultural technologies Technical change is not only an instrument in the generation of an economic surplus but also an object and an instrument of social conflicts. Technical change conditions the social control of the means of production, the organization of the labor process, the social division of labor, and the social appropriation of the surplus. Social conflicts affect the rate and direction of technical change at several different levels. Each step towards a tighter specification of the aims of the organization constitutes a de-selection of other approaches to research. As the specification of problems is narrowed, so the related question as to how problems will be investigated, and more significantly, which personnel will be chosen to carry out the research, grows in importance.

Baur et al (1996), Amann et al (1995), and Shelton et al (2000) underline that the choice and the approach are probably closely interrelated through the type of training that the individual or group has been exposed to. Thus, even where the underspecification factor is considerable regarding actual problem choice, the approach may be specified quite tightly through the selection of personnel in an organization. The expansion of crop production must also have contributed significantly to the decline in wildlife numbers. Cropland generally provides a less hospitable animal habitat than forest; therefore, the conversion of several hundred million acres of forestland to crop production in the nineteenth century must have tended to depress wildlife numbers. Moreover, the process of westward expansion severely depleted the number of many species of wildlife. The killing of wildlife for food, commercial use, sport, and to control predators no doubt also was a major factor in the depletion of wildlife populations.

Report of the Committee on the Ethics of Genetics (2002) and MAFF Annual Report (2003) evaluate the benefits of genetic corn and possibilities to reduce land resources. The general policy of the federal government to promote westward expansion must have been of key importance in the conversion of land to crop production in the nineteenth century. Measures to “privatize” most of the public land with potential for agriculture were principal instruments of this general policy, as were federal, state, and local investments in roads, canals, drainage, and other land improvements. Grants of land to the railroads also were instrumental in linking farmers moving into the Midwest and Great Plains with markets in the growing urban centers in the East and with the rapidly industrializing countries of Europe. Initially, objectives were primarily to collect and disseminate data, test soils, and agricultural implements, answer questions from farmers, introduce new plants and animals, and establish an agricultural library and museum. These objectives continued to guide the department into the first decade of the twentieth century, but with a sharpening focus on research in the agricultural sciences. Several decades later, this focus would have profound effects on crop production technologies and land use.

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The main trends in ethical consumption of corn are innovative technologies and production facilities that help farmers to reduce land use and produce more annually. The literature review proves that ethical consumption is closely connected with new technologies and methods of corn production. There is no doubting that there could well be some revolutionary changes about to occur in the way in which the agro-food system functions. Most interesting of all are potential developments in the food processing industry, where some authors have speculated as to the possible emergence of a ‘generic biomass inputs sector’ as a result of technologies that allow biological materials to be fractionated into parts for the final manufacture of food products The implications for commodity markets as they are currently understood could be far-reaching. Farmers will also need to be alive to the possibility, especially when growing outbreeding crops (those which cross-pollinate) of falling foul of patent legislation. It is not clear, given the reverse burden of proof, how the law would interpret a situation where a farmer grew a variety which through cross-pollination, contained a patented sequence.

List of References

Amann, R.I., Ludwig, W. and Schleifer, K.-H. 1995. ‘Phylogenetic identification and in situ detection of individual microbial cells without cultivation’, Microbiological Reviews 59: 143-69.

Baur, B., Hanselmann, K., Schlimne, W. et al. 1996. ‘Genetic transformation in freshwater: Escherichia coli is able to develop natural competence’, Applied Environmental Microbiology 62: 3673-78.

Estruch, J.J., Chilton, M-D., Lotstein, R. et al. 1997. ‘Safety of transgenic corn’, Nature 385: 109.

Harmsen, H.J.M., Gibson, G.R., Elfferich, P. et al. 1998. ‘Comparison of viable cell counts and fluorescent in situ hybridization using specific rRNA-based probes for the quantification of human faecal bacteria’, FEMS Microbiology Ecology 183: 125-29.

MAFF 2002. Report of the Committee on the Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use. London: HMSO.

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MAFF 2003. Annual Report. London: MAFF Publications.

Naeem, S., and S. Li. 1997. Biodiversity enhances ecosystem reliability. Nature 390:507–509.

Rausher, M.D. 2001. Co-evolution and plant resistance to natural enemies. Nature 411:857–864.

Shelton, A.M., J.D. Tang, R.T. Roush, T.D. Metz, and E.D. Earle. 2000. Field tests on managing resistance to Bt– engineered plants. Nature Biotech. 18:339– 342.

Tabashnik, B.E., Y.-B. Liu, N. Finson, L. Masson, and D.G. Heckel. 1997. One gene in diamondback moth confers resistance to four Bacillus thuringiensis toxins. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94:1640–1644.

Thies, C., and T. Tscharntke. 1999. Landscape structure and biological control in agroecosystems. Science 285:893–895.

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