The USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21) has been charged with helping USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture understand how biotechnology will change agriculture and USDA’s role over the course of the next decade. This is a daunting task. Agricultural biotechnology1 sits at the crossroads of other debates on the future of American and world agriculture, on international trade relations, on biological diversity and the development of international instruments related to its preservation and exploitation, on the role of multinational corporations, and on how best to build public confidence in rapidly emerging technologies in general. And, as all this occurs, the science continues to advance rapidly.
Neither the AC21, nor anyone else, can say with certainty what U.S. agriculture will look like in a decade. But we can try to examine different scenarios. This does not imply that we are predicting or endorsing any given scenario,2 but rather that we are trying to understand the implications of differing outcomes. A range of external forces and factors, some of which can be identified today, will impact the future of technology adoption. To help understand the range of possibilities, we have divided our work into two major components. First, what are the key predetermined factors—the major driving forces—that will likely have a major impact on shaping the future? Second, what are the key uncertainties that may push future outcomes in one direction or another?