Society has got to think in relative terms in assessing/managing
risks, technological progress, agricultural sustainability. I hope genetic
engineering will hasten the day farmers gain the ability to turn worn out,
low organic matter soils into disease and weed suppressive soils, and
perhaps GE will also help breeders develop plants with heightened immune
response capabilities so that, for example, multiple fungicide applications
are not required to deal with late blight in potatoes. Compared to today's
methods/chemical-based technologies, such applications of GE would clearly
be a step forward. This is not to take anything away from the organic
farmer, or other producers who have already established healthy soils and
cropping systems without the benefit of such GE tools/varieties, but ALL
farmers will need new and better varieties and systems to keep ahead of food
demand from shrinking soil and water resources, while also improving safety
and environmental quality.
Many reasons have been expressed by people on this list for opposing
GE. Clearly there is a dark side to GE, as there is to all technology.
Dark side, reductionist applications also happen to dominate the first wave
of products coming into widespread use. This is a failure of public policy,
corporate vision/investment strategies, institutions and the market, not the
technology. But it would be a great mistake to dismiss all GE applications,
for GE offers great promise in understandign complex system interactions and
processes, and will ultimately promote adoption of biologically based
production methods. GE tools are providing the first molecular level
insights into what is going on beneath the ground in organic and other
biological farming systems that seem inexplicably immune to pest attacks,
not to mention remarkable efficient in making use of nitrogen and water.
Probes developed using GE are starting to characterize the microbial
communities that give rise to disease suppressive soils, or the capacity of
plant root and vascular systems to fend for themselves in the hostile
environs of the soil. These are good things. They may not be of great value
to the few farmers already managing their soils in ways that produce healthy
crops with minimal reliance on chemicls; but such knowledge, and new tools
will be very important to many other farmers who, for whatever reason, have
not made the plunge. GE can produce many other postive tools and products,
and hopefully all will be fully evaluated by unbiased scientists, reasonably
supported to carry out both health and ecological research on their impacts.
These will be good things.
Dark side applications of biotech, adverse social consequences,
profiteering by monopolistic industries are all bad things, and should be
challenged on the basis of the negative, unfair consequences they trigger.
But they should not be attacked as unsafe if there is no evidence to support
such a conclusion, GE (and organic systems, indeed food itself) should not
be held to a standard no technology, and very few farmers can met today re
being able to prove irrevocably the absence of ANY adverse impacts and
absence of ANY unknowns re risks and long-term impacts; doing so undermines
credibility when other, science-based claims are made.
Merry Xmas to all.
Charles (Chuck) Benbrook e-mail: email@example.com
Benbrook Consulting Services Voice: 202-546-5089
409 First Street S.E. Fax: 202-546-5028
Wasington, D.C. 20003