Manuscript accepted on : October 04, 2009
Published online on: 28-12-2009
S. J. F. Hosseini1*, S. Rasouli Azar2 and M. R. Solimanpour2
1Deptartment of Agricultural Extension and Education, Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch Tehran Iran.
2Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch, Tehran Iran.
Corresponding Author E-mail: email@example.com
ABSTRACT: Extension specialists were surveyed in order to explore their perception about the challenges in the production and adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops. The methodology used in this study involved a combination of descriptive and quantitative research. The total population was 120 extension specialists in Iran. Based on the perception of the respondents, 31% of the variance in the perception of extension specialists about the challenges in producing of GM crops could be explained by regulatory and social/cultural challenges. The results show that 26% of the variance in the perception of extension specialists about the challenges in adopting of GM crops could be explained by regulatory and social/cultural challenges.
KEYWORDS: Adoption; Agricultural Extension; Biotechnology; Challenges; SpecialistsDownload this article as:
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Hosseini. S. J. F, Rasouli Azar. S, Solimanpour. M. R. Risk Perception of Extension Specialists About the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Iran. Biosci Biotechnol Res Asia 2009;6(2)
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Hosseini. S. J. F, Rasouli Azar. S, Solimanpour. M. R. Risk Perception of Extension Specialists About the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Iran. Biosci Biotechnol Res Asia 2009;6(2). Available from: http://www.biotech-asia.org/?p=8664
Human population growth and increasing urbanization are putting a massive pressure in demand for food production in developing countries. Biotechnology could significantly contribute to increased global food security while supporting ecologically sound agricultural production.
Proponents of biotechnology tout biotechnology as providing additional food, fiber, and medicines for human populations. Proponents envision biotechnology as providing this additional food, fiber, and medical resources without increasing, and possibly decreasing, human demands upon land and plant-fauna habitats. Transgenic crops often referred to as genetically modified (GM) crops represents promising technologies that can make a vital contribution to global food, feed and fiber security (1).
Although, agricultural biotechnology offers tremendous impacts on increasing production and eventually enhancing the food security in the developing countries, but there are numerous challenges, risks, erroneous ideas and beliefs which impede its progress and development.
As in the case of any complex technology impacting wide range of processes and developments, the gains from modern biotechnology are accompanied with certain negative effects and concerns. The nature and extent of the positive and negative impacts will depend on the choice of the technique, place and mode of application of the technique, ultimate use of the product, concerned policies and regulatory measures, including risk assessment and management ability, and finally on the need, priority, aspiration and capacity of individual countries (2).
Risks are a more prevalent concern with regard to GM foods and processes. This may be due to the overall lack of knowledge of GM varieties and their products. Average levels of agreement indicating a perceived risk associated with GM foods and their production were higher than for organic food (3).
There are at present several issues related to biotechnology and some of these are: health and safety concerns; ethical questions regarding introduction of traits from one species to another; the possibility of resistance developing in weeds, insects, and diseases; the potential for biotechnology to limit farmers’ approaches to crop management; and the impacts on biodiversity so that a wide variety of species is maintained (4).
Any new technology such as biotechnology faced with inherent and transcendent risks. Technology inherent risks include diverse questions of safety, ethics and welfare, but the transcendent risks are social, economic and cultural factors which are outside of the biotechnology realm (4,5).
The risks inherent to genetically modified organisms include the danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in our foods; the possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds: and, in the case of insect-repelling genes, the possibility of killing beneficial non-target pests. Moreover, antibiotic resistance has been used as a marker for selecting genetically modified plants. There is fear that the gene might be transferred to bacteria that cause disease in man (6).
On the other hand, technology-transcending risks as opposed to technology inherent risks emanate from the political and social context in which a technology is used (5). Included under this category are differential access to the new technology leading to a further widening of the economic gap between developed countries (technology users) versus the developing countries (non-users); further disparity in income between rich and poor farmers within the same communities, and the further loss of biodiversity should the new transgenic varieties become too successful and displace other varieties.
There are concerns about risks posed by some aspects of biotechnology. In the context of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, the technology-inherent concerns are: 1) depletion of biodiversity and poor access to tailored genetic resources, 2) adverse environmental effect, and 3) negative effects on human health (2).
Horizontal gene transfer to unwanted sources, leading, for example, to the development of more aggressive weeds or wild relatives with increased resistance to environmental stresses or diseases would cause both genetic erosion and ecological imbalance. The extreme case of GM Bt corn pollen having lethal effects on the larvae of monarch butterflies if it lands on milkweed, the plant upon which they feed, had received wide attention. The loss of fish diversity associated with the escape of cultured transgenic fish and its mating with its wild counterpart appears to be a real threat (7).
However, in the case of technology-transcending risks relating to access, the solution is not to ban the use of the new technology by everybody, but by developing technologies tailor-made for the needs of the poor and by instituting measures so that the poor producers will likewise have ready, affordable access to the new technology. As Leisinger contends, technology-transcending risks mostly materialize because a gap opens between human scientific technical ability and human willingness to shoulder moral and political responsibility (5).
Given the key role that extension specialists in influencing farmer to adopt agricultural innovations, their views on individual innovations may be critical for overall adoption (8). The research question for this study is: what are the perceptions of extension specialists about the risks in producing the GM crops in Iran? The overall purpose of this study was to examine the perception of extension specialists about the risks in producing the genetically modified (GM) crops.
Material and Methods
The methodology used in this study involved a combination of descriptive and quantitative research and included the use of correlation, regression and descriptive analysis as data processing methods. The total population for this study was 40 specialists in the Department of Extension, the Ministry of Agriculture that were involved in the biotechnology research and development.
A series of in-depth interviews were conducted with some senior experts in the Department of Extension of the Ministry of Agriculture and Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI) to develop the questionnaire. A questionnaire was developed based on these interviews and relevant literature. The questionnaire included both open-ended and fixed-choice questions. The open-ended questions were used to gather information not covered by the fixed-choice questions and to encourage participants to provide feedback.
Content and face validity were established by a panel of experts consisting of faculty members at Islamic Azad University, Science and Research Branch and some specialists in the Biotechnology Research Institute (BRI). A pilot study was conducted with 15 specialists who had not been interviewed before the earlier exercise of determining the reliability of the questionnaire for the study. Computed Cronbach’s Alpha score was 92.0%, which indicated that the questionnaire was highly reliable.
Independent variables in the study included perception of extension specialists about risks in producing GM crops. The dependent variables in this research study were the perception of extension specialists about GM crops. For measurement of correlation between the independent variables and the dependent variables correlation coefficients have been utilized and include spearman test of independence.
Table 1 summarizes the demographic profile and descriptive statistics. The results of descriptive statistics indicated that the majority of extension specialists were men, 42 years old on average, and had an undergraduate degree with permanent employment status.
In order to finding the perception of extension specialists about risks in producing GM crops, respondents were asked to express their views. Table 2 displays the respondents’ means about the six statements. As can be seen the highest mean number refers to the danger of unintentionally affecting the basic sources (mean= 3.97) and lowest mean number refers to affecting the biodiversity (mean=3.20).
The perception of respondents about the benefits of GM crops was displayed in Table 3. The highest mean refers to increasing food production (mean=3.60) and the lowest mean refers to improving the quality of food products (mean=3.23).
Spearman coefficient was employed for measurement of relationships between the perceptions of extension specialists about the risks associated with producing GM crops. Table 4 displays the results which show that there were relationship between perception of respondents and the risks associated with producing GM crops. The findings indicated that there was negative relationship between risks associated with producing GM crops and perception of respondents about producing the GM crops.
Table 5 shows the result for regression analysis by stepwise method. Independent variables that were significantly related to perception of extension specialists about risks in producing the GM crops were entered. The result indicates that 56% of the variance in the perception of extension specialists about risks associated with producing the GM crops could be explained by affecting biodiversity and possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds. This shows that extension specialists perceived these two risks negatively affect the production of GM crops.
Biotechnology like other innovations and changes involve complex systems and there will always be trade-offs, there will always be unwanted consequences that come with the gains. It is a matter of weighing the risks against the benefits, of avoiding or mitigating the unwanted consequences and intelligently deciding which aspects of change to accept and which to reject (6).
Based on the results of the mean score, extension specialist indicated that the main benefit of GM crops is to increasing the food production. Qaim, Wheeler and James agreed that agricultural biotechnology offers tremendous impacts on increasing production and eventually enhancing the food security in the developing countries. It also provide farmers with opportunities that increase reliable high yields and decrease the cost by offering farmers better quality product with resistance to diseases, pest and other stress factors (9, 8, 1).
Based on the perception of extension specialists, the GM crops could negatively affect the health of human and animal and eventually cause diseases. Herring reported that in India, worse than agro-economic failure are horror stories of biological externalities, from bizarre skin irritations to dead livestock (10) . Sadeque noted that after grazing on Bt cotton leaves, “[i]n just four villages in Andhra Pradesh, 1800 sheep died horrible, agonizing deaths within 2-3 days from severe toxicity” (paragraph 13). Other disaster reports find leaf wilt, root rot, increased drought susceptibility, and a wide variety of ills.He writes of “allergies not only among farm-workers but also itching and rashes in people wearing clothing made from Bt cotton” (paragraph 9). He notes that Other reports have emerged from India on the ill health effects of Bt cotton on both people and animals. It is being held responsible for causing “untimely deaths, decline in milk quality and quantity, and serious reproductive failures.” Many workers in cotton gin factories have to take antihistamines daily before they can start work. (paragraph 14)
As the regression analysis showed, perception of extension specialists about risks associated with producing the GM crops could be explained by affecting biodiversity and possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds which would negatively affect the production of GM crops. Lutman indicated that the potential transfer through gene flow of genes from herbicide resistant crops to wild or semi domesticated relatives can lead to the creation of super weeds. There is potential for herbicide resistant varieties to become serious weeds in other crops (11, 12, 13).
The extension specialists believed that producing GM crops would possibly kill beneficial non-target pests and eventually affect the biodiversity. Massive use of Bt crops affects non-target organisms and ecological processes. Recent evidence shows that the Bt toxin can affect beneficial insect predators that feed on insect pests present on Bt crops (14). In addition, windblown pollen from Bt crops, found on natural vegetation surrounding transgenic fields, can kill non-target insects such as the monarch butterfly (15).
The results demonstrated that successful production and adoption of the GM crops in Iran will depend on the informing specialists and farmers about risks and benefits of GM crops, and in this regard the authorities should provide accurate and on time information.
In Iran like some of the developing countries, there is not a clear understanding about the role of biotechnology in agriculture sector and policy makers have difficulty in prioritizing the policies and strategies. In this regard, public involvement will enhance the production and adoption of GM crops.
Table 1. Personal Characteristics of Respondents.
|Sex Women (17.5%), Men (82.5%)|
|Age (years) Mean = 41|
|Work experience (years) Mean = 14|
|Degree Undergraduate (75.0%) Graduate (25.0%)|
|Employment status permanent (67%) Contractual (33%)|
Table 2. Means of Respondents’ Views about the Risks Associated with Producing GM Crops (1=strongly disagree; 5=strongly agree).
|Statement||Mean and Standard Deviation|
|Danger of unintentionally affecting the basic sources||3.97||0.928|
|The possibility of killing beneficial non-target pests||3.78||1.084|
|The possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds||3.68||0.933|
|Affecting the Biodiversity||3.61||1.054|
|The danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in our foods||3.39||1.285|
|The gene might be transferred to bacteria that cause disease in animals and men||3.20||1.181|
Table 3; Means of Respondents’ Views about the Benefits of GM Crops (1=strongly disagree; 5=strongly agree).
|Statement||Mean and Standard Deviation|
|Increasing food production||3.60||1.081|
|Conserving the high yield varieties||3.60||0.810|
|Resisting toward pests and diseases||3.58||0.958|
|Decreasing the cost of production||3.53||1.086|
|Improving food security||3.33||1.185|
|Protecting the environment||3.25||1.276|
|Improving the quality of food products||3.23||1.143|
Table 4. Correlation Measures Between Independent Variables and Production of GM Crops.
|Independent variables||Dependent variable|
|Danger of unintentionally affecting the basic sources||Production of GM crops||**443/0-||004/0|
|The possibility of killing beneficial non-target pests||Production of GM crops||*507/0-||001/0|
|The possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds||Production of GM crops||**608/0-||000/0|
|Affecting the Biodiversity||Production of GM crops||**663/0-||000/0|
|The danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in our foods||Production of GM crops||**701/0-||000/0|
|The gene might be transferred to bacteria that cause disease in animals and men||Production of GM crops||**563/0-||000/0|
Table 5: Multivariate Regression Analysis (Production of GM Crops as Dependent Variable).
|Affecting Bio Diversity||-0.569||-0.483||-3.589||0.001|
|The possibility of the newly introduced genes escaping to other organisms by out crossing thus creating super weeds||-0.438||-0.378||-2.811||0.008|
Y323/6 = 569/0- x1438/0- x2
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