Refreshing to hear a voice of reason (Hal's post) in this debate about the
politics and science of new technologies. It is natural for many people to
fear what they don't understand and to be mistrustful of institutions that
have wrought damage in the past (and that care primarily about their profits
is their nature). Still, a balanced, cautious, but forward-looking approach
is what is needed.
People have taken enormous chances in the past, some for good, some not so
good. The issues have never been black and white, but turning back or even
standing still has never been an option. To take the long view, consider the
first people to decide to stir the soil before planting by inventing the
common hoe, and later the plow. The latter has turned out to be one of the
most disastrous "advances" in agricultural history, but we have only recently
come to realize this. The harnessing of electricity for practical uses (light
bulbs, radios, etc.) was greeted with much skepticism and fear by many. And
surely, though its blessings have been mixed most people would not wish to
"uninvent " it. What about the person or persons who first began to
domesticate the wild dog or cattle, and progenitors of wheat, rice, and our
other major "crops"? They unwittingly made major "unnatural" changes to these
organisms. Indeed production of these plants has gotten out of hand and now
dominates much of the earth.
I believe the sustainable ag movement IS largely a political movement, because
many of its concerns are basically social rather than purely technical or
environment. This is nothing to be ashamed of, for the social agenda to
empower small farmers, revitalize rural communities and enhance
consumer-producers connections is part of the ecology of a sustainable
agriculture, just as surely as are the minimizing of environmental damages,
the production of nutritious, safe food, and the care of the land.
All these issues are complex and little is clearly black or white. While we
must keep our eyes on the goals of sustainable, eco-friendly, humanistic
farming systems, we need to be open-mined and inclusive, recognizing that
there will be many "right" approaches, and we will need the best tools offered
by science, tradition and craft to meet the truly enormous challenges of
earth-care and people-care that face agriculture in the coming centuries. To
reject, out of hand, the potential contributions of the market place, the
global economy, genetic advances (whether by traditional breeding or newer
techniques), is to hobble our movement unnecessarily. On the other hand, even
though nothing can be really "proved" to be safe, we will also have to
vigorously and positively exert our influence on the democratic process as it
shapes the regulator environment that is also needed to keep the market,
technology, etc. from getting out of hand.
The price of freedom (and sustainability) is eternal vigilance.
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Content-Description: Card for Ray R. Weil
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fn: Ray R. Weil
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org: University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
adr: Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences & L.A.;;1103b H.J. Patterson Hall;College Park;Maryland;20742;USA
title: Professor of Soil Science
tel;work: 301 405 1314
tel;fax: 301 314 9041
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