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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

College Students’ View of Biotechnology Products and Practices in Sustainable Agriculture Systems


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 37 No. 1, p. 69-73
    Received: June 26, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): william.anderson@uwrf.edu
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  1. William A. Anderson *
  1. Plant and Earth Science Dep., 314 Ag Science Building, 410 South Third Street, Univ. of Wisconsin, River Falls, WI 54022


Sustainable agriculture implies the use of products and practices that sustain production, protect the environment, ensure economic viability, and maintain rural community viability. Disagreement exists as to whether or not the products and practices of modern biotechnology support agricultural sustainability. The purpose of this study was to determine (1) the views of college students enrolled in a sustainable agriculture course related to the acceptability of biotechnology products and practices in sustainable agricultural systems and (2) if their views changed after completing the course. Repeated course exposure to the concepts of sustainability, as well as brief overviews of biotechnology-related topics, provided students with a chance to express their views as they completed homework and exams and participated in discussions. Students completed survey instruments at the beginning and end of the course that assessed their understanding and/or perceptions. In general, students thought that biotechnology products and practices were beneficial to agriculture's sustainability efforts. They supported the use of genetically modified crops, and they did not believe that the products of biotechnology contributed appreciably to food allergy problems or environmental toxin levels. They believed that genetically engineered plants contributed to ecosystem health and sustainability. Students less comfortable with biotechnology noted problems with the decline in biodiversity, safety and reliability, patents, consumer acceptance issues, as well as other environmental, societal, and economic concerns. At the beginning of the course, students’ responses bordered between a neutral view and rejection of any linkage between genetically engineered soybean usage and increasing environmental toxin levels, as well as linkages between genetically modified food and increasing prevalence of food allergies. They rejected both of those potential linkages at the end of the course. Students were neutral initially about organic farms as fully sustainable enterprises, but they rejected that notion later.

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