Virginia Tech leads global effort to sort out social, economic impacts of agricultural biotechnology

October 15, 2001

BLACKSBURG, Oct. 15, 2001 -- Agricultural biotechnology holds the promise of hardier, healthier, and more abundant sources of food for people around the world as well as new sources for pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology is also likely to produce winners and losers as a result of social and economic impacts, says George Norton. The professor of agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech says sorting out these social and economic effects may be critical to public acceptance of biotechnology. Without that acceptance, he fears, many potential benefits may be lost.

Norton is heading an effort centered at Virginia Tech and including scientists worldwide that will investigate the social and economic effects of biotechnologies. The project is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The scientific achievements of biotechnology have been occurring at such an astounding pace that social and economic assessments have lagged behind, Norton says.

"There are major benefits that can be expected from agricultural biotechnology, but we expect to see distributional effects as well," Norton says. "For example, early adopters of the technology may be in a stronger position than those who adopt it later."

The four-year project will investigate the impacts of biotechnology from a social science perspective. The faculty members involved will be able to draw on the expertise of Virginia Tech researchers who have pioneered key biotechnology procedures, especially in the area of generating human pharmaceuticals from plants and animals.

"We can't look into economics or social issues in a vacuum," Norton says. "We'll have to inform ourselves [about the scientific aspects of biotechnology] as we go ahead, but we also want to keep our perspective. We don't want to be an advocate for any side of this."

Other faculty members involved in the project at Virginia Tech include Brad Mills, Dixie Reaves, and Mike Ellerbrock in agricultural and applied economics; Laura Parisi in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; and Colette Harris in the Office of International Research and Development. Scientists at Virginia State University, North Carolina State University, the University of Tennessee, and at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are also participating.

"The complexity of the issues requires a team approach," says Norton. "Our group brings expertise in environmental mediation, the economics of tobacco and rice production, evaluation of agricultural research, gender issues, international political economy, and the study of the politics and economics of technology transfer and diffusion."

Much of agricultural biotechnology that has been marketed to date has been aimed at enhancing productivity. But increasingly, biotechnology is being applied to add to the value of crops, such as by increasing nutritional value, adding certain vitamins, or in coaxing plants to create substances that can be used in making pharmaceuticals.

The study is concentrating on tobacco and rice because those crops are the focus of much biotechnology research. Tobacco is a plant whose genetics are relatively easily manipulated, making it an ideal candidate for producing compounds for use in creating pharmaceuticals that treat human diseases. Rice is a staple food for much of the world's population, especially the poor. Biotechnology might be a boon to consumers around the globe, and it might help maintain the viability of farms producing the crops.

"We say 'might' benefit because no one really has studied in detail who is likely to benefit and who is likely to lose," Norton says.

He says the research is expected to generate information for policy-makers as well as the general public in the United States and abroad.

The public has been bombarded by hype from both proponents and opponents of biotechnology. "More informed public opinion may help smooth the way for adoption of socially-beneficial biotechnologies, and hinder the spread of ones where the risks appear to be unacceptable compared to the potential benefits," Norton says.

The research will begin by collecting information concerning attitudes of producers and consumers through surveys and focus groups. Researchers will then develop a framework to assess economic and social impacts of agricultural biotechnologies. The group will then develop educational materials about the benefits, costs, and concerns associated with biotechnologies for students and the general public. Those educational materials will be distributed in K-12 educational programs, college courses, and to the general public through Web-based materials.
PR CONTACT: Stewart MacInnis, 1-540-231-5863,

Virginia Tech

Related Tobacco Articles from Brightsurf:

UC studies tobacco use, cancer connection
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have identified new clues into ways tobacco use impacts patients with kidney cancer.

'Best' hospitals should be required to deliver tobacco treatment
A UCLA-led report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine exposes what the authors call a weakness in the high-profile 'Best Hospitals Honor Roll' published annually by US News and World Report.

Small shops, heavy advertisers less likely to ID for tobacco
'Our findings suggest that certain types of stores -- tobacco shops, convenience stores and those with a lot of tobacco advertising -- are more likely to sell tobacco to a young person without checking his or her ID.'

Youth smoking and vaping: What does it mean for tobacco control
New research from PIRE/PRC features analysis of in-depth, qualitative interviews with young vapers in California between 15 and 25.

Truth telling about tobacco and nicotine
In 'Truth Telling about Tobacco and Nicotine,' PRC researchers explain that, although there is agreement among researchers about evidence that vaping can be less harmful than combustible cigarettes, the tobacco control community remains divided about how to communicate -- or even whether to communicate -- information about the relative risks of tobacco and nicotine products.

A 'joint' problem: Investigating marijuana and tobacco co-use
A survey of marijuana and tobacco co-users by Medical University of South Carolina investigators found that co-users with high degree of interrelatedness between their use of the two substances had greater tobacco dependence and smoked more cigarettes per day.

How genes affect tobacco and alcohol use
A new study gives insight into the complexity of genetic and environmental factors that compel some of us to drink and smoke more than others.

Tobacco use linked with higher use of opioids and sedatives
Tobacco is a known risk factor for the misuse of prescription opioids.

Changes in flavored tobacco product use among youth tobacco users
Self-reportedĀ use of flavored tobacco products by middle and high school students decreased from 2014 to 2016 but climbed back up in 2017 in an analysis of national survey data.

Heated tobacco product claims by tobacco industry scrutinized by UCSF researchers
Claims by the tobacco industry that heated tobacco products (HTPs) are safer than conventional cigarettes are not supported by the industry's own data and are likely to be misunderstood by consumers, according to research published in a special issue of Tobacco Control.

Read More: Tobacco News and Tobacco Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to