Could Biotech Put Agriculture Out of Business?
The San Francisco Gate recently published a post discussing the future of biotech in food production. There is no need to wonder about the angle the post takes. The headline says it all. According to its author, the world would be doomed to starvation if it were not for the biotech sector. The piece goes on to predict that biotech will “save us all” from an inability to produce our own food in traditional ways.
If the assumptions in the post prove to be accurate, biotech will eventually put agriculture out of business. But that is a big ‘if’. Biotech certainly does a lot for food production even now. It is responsible for the genetic engineering that makes agricultural products more resistant to pests, for example. But for biotech food manufacturing to completely replace agriculture and husbandry would require a seismic shift in human thinking and practice.
Necessity the Mother of Invention
We’re all familiar with the idea of necessity being the mother of invention. Necessity is largely responsible for the very existence of the biotech sector. But for biotech to completely eliminate agriculture, there has to be a need to do so. Therein lies the big question: do we need biotech to replace growing crops and raising animals?
There is a certain segment of the global population that believes greenhouse gasses potentially signal the end of human civilization. But not everyone believes in the greenhouse gas and climate change theories. As long as there is enough division between the two ideologies, the agricultural sector is not going to surrender to biotech in order to save the planet.
This is no small matter. At the heart of the biotech and food production argument is a desire to eliminate the greenhouse gasses agriculture allegedly produces. Furthermore, you cannot eliminate the business side of things. There are people who, with all sincerity, fear for the future and want to reduce greenhouse gasses as much as possible. But there are also large corporations who simply use the fear of climate change as a means of selling new technologies. Scare people into believing that agriculture is bad for the environment and then sell them on biotech.
Agriculture and Space Constraints
Proponents of biotech food manufacturing utilize a second argument: the world is running out of land. The San Francisco Gate piece cites statistical data suggesting that half of the world’s habitable land is consumed by agricultural and husbandry activities. That’s a hard statistic to believe. Anyone who has traveled the world by air knows just how much unused land is out there.
Nonetheless, if you believe that land is scarce and agriculture contributes to climate change, biotech food manufacturing might be right up your alley. But before you go down that road, how do you feel about eating genetically engineered foods? Like it or not, that is biotech. There is little difference between genetically engineering corn and creating a bio identical milk in a lab.
From Farm to Lab
Let us assume that biotech food manufacturing does eliminate agriculture. That would mean a ton of new biotech jobs that have little to do with medicine, life sciences, or pharmaceuticals. The jobs would focus on food production. Today’s farmers would become tomorrow’s biotech lab workers and engineers, manufacturing all sorts of genetically engineered food products.
Imagine looking for a biotech job on the Pharma Diversity website, using search terms related to food production. As strange as that sounds, some believe it is the future. Are they right? Will biotech eventually put agriculture out of business? Time will tell. There certainly are some people working toward that end.