Strategic environmental assessment

assessing the environmental impact of biotechnology

Nicholas A. Linacre, Joanne Gaskell, Mark W. Rosegrant, Jose´ Benjamin Falck-Zepeda, Hector Quemada, Mark Halsey, Regina Birner
issue brief

Meeting the food needs of the world’s growing population while reducing poverty and protecting the environment is a major global challenge. Private- and public-sector organizations must decide how to spend limited agricultural research funds in order to achieve maximum impact with regard to finding sustainable solutions to ending hunger and poverty. Considerable funds are spent for public research with the aim of developing genetically modified (GM) crops that serve the needs of the poor. However, past experience with developing new agricultural technologies to combat hunger and poverty—for example, the Green Revolution—shows that it is essential to take environmental concerns into account in order to develop technological solutions that are sustainable in the long run. In order to make commercialization of GM crops possible, considerable efforts are made to assess the economic and social impact of investment in agricultural biotechnology and the establishment of regulatory systems for biosafety in developing countries. Yet few attempts have been made to systematically account for environmental issues when deciding on plans, programs, and research priorities for GM crops. Potentially, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) could be used to ensure that environmental considerations are evaluated in the research and priority-setting process.