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As concerns about global food security are on the rise, there are many questions as to how the world will face growing demands for a sustainable food supply. While poverty and food distribution seem to underlie many of the challenges regarding food security, biotechnology in the form of genetically modified seeds could continue to play an increasing role in how food is grown and traded in both developed and less developed countries.
Does patenting seeds create new risks to food security or provide a way of securing the world food supply through centralisation? Are we simply looking at a new way of meeting the demands placed upon agriculture or a new way for chemical corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical and others to place new demands on society? Most importantly, where does this leave farmers and the communities they support?
GM food is perhaps one of the most controversial topics in the history of science and technology. Genetically-modified foods have been restricted by some countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America, but have also been accepted by others within the same regions such as Brazil, China, Spain and India, and are widespread in the US and Canada. What is often left out of the GM debate is an articulate understanding of the cultural and social contexts that have played a major role in making GM technology so controversial in the first place, especially whether or not it should be used to feed the world.
In many parts of the world the role GM will play in agriculture in the future will depend largely on how it is perceived culturally. The science — nuts and bolts of GM — is obviously important for understanding its possibilities and risks, but it too is grounded within its own political and social contexts. Whether it is genetically modified seeds patented by multinational corporations or the attempt to engineer drought resistant crops, GM technology and human values are intertwined. GMFuturos, a new multidisciplinary research project, will explore some of these complex multiple framings of GM and contribute to scientific and policy debates surrounding GM technology. Read more
Governing scientific and technological innovations is tricky business. This is primarily due to the presence of uncertainty, the risks that society must face if it chooses to intervene using methods that could either have damaging consequences, fail entirely or both. Everyone knows it’s a clique of course, but we really do ‘live in exciting times’ as humanity has at hand an array of advanced technologies at its disposal. But climate change is in a sense antithesis to technological development or at least to how it has proceeded thus far, mostly because the world is locked into using fossil fuels as its primary source of energy. Yet the controversial applications of geoengineering may prove a last resort for reducing the temperature of the planet preventing devastating environmental impacts induced by climate change. Read more
The long-term ecological impacts of the BP oil spill disaster may have recently come to light after scientists and fishermen have discovered fish and crustaceans with skin lesions or other abnormalities. The US Food Drug Administration insists that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat regardless of what abnormalities have been found in species so far. BP also maintains that seafood from the Gulf is as safe to eat as before the oil spill. The US government led by Barack Obama is continuing to move forward with offshore drilling plans for oil and natural gas, including in the Arctic Ocean, bringing to question whether lessons have truly been learnt from the world’s largest oil spill disaster in history. Read the rest of this entry »
Land mines and unexploded ordnances are a serious problem in many parts of the world. They are a painful reminder that some of the most deadly and dangerous hazards are made by people. The use of mines in warfare is also far from over. The governments of Israel, Libya and Myanmar have all been confirmed to be laying anti-personnel mines that are designed to kill people. There are also a number of countries (such as Russia, China and the US) who have not signed the Ottawa Treaty (Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention) that was formed in 1997 in Ottawa, Canada to ban the use of landmines.
While the number of casualties caused by mines and unexploded ordnances has gone down since the 1990s when common estimates were 26,000 per year, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, there were more than 5,000 recorded casualties in 2008. In 2009 3,956 casualties were reported and 4,010 recorded for 2010. In 2010, 200km2 of mined areas were cleared by 45 action programmes. More than 388,000 anti-personnel mines and over 27,000 anti-vehicle mines were destroyed during this clearance. This was accomplished by anti-mine programmes in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq and Sri Lanka, which accounted for more than 80 percent of recorded clearance. Also, 80 percent of the world´s nations have signed onto the Mine Ban Treaty. Unfortunately, the US was reported to have slowed down its policy review on the treaty last year. But even for the countries that have signed on the rate of compliance for submitting annual transparency reports was at an all-time low of 52 percent. Read more