Over Memorial day weekend I had a long discussion that was woven of this
same fabric with a scientist friend of mine. I think many scientists feel
that even though there are risks, they are so small and insignificant that
the chance to improve corn X or resistant variety B for the good of human
food supply, outweighs the risk. The point I was trying to get at with my
friend is that the risk, when reduced to one variety in a lab, may seem
small, but when put out in nature with birds, and bees, and wild varieties
of rice, wheat, etc - the risks grow - Terminator genes, for instance, might
mutate and cross over into other varieties and we could lose diversity. -
what would that do in countries where wild rice varieties are crossed and
saved and regenerated for specific traits? Maybe this wouldn't happen
because anything that crossed with the T gene would be terminated itself.
But how do we know for sure? This Life complex...
I talked long about systems research. Scientists see this as very messy -
how do you remain credible? How do you have proof of results? accuracy?
I think something I have in common with my friend is that we both think the
complexity of life is fascinationg all these molecules bouncing around
forming things. The size of an atom..DNA...etc. It's mindblowing when you
start to think about it all.
I vote for continuing to strive for whole systems thinking - having these
kinds of discussions is the first step towards more and more action -
getting to actual models of where it works well. How to do it. (and how to
pay for it)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: email@example.com [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
> Sent: Wednesday, June 10, 1998 3:18 PM
> To: email@example.com
> Subject: Re: That food/chemical/risk thing
> Misha, I just wanted to show my appreciation for the beautifully thought
> out response you gave below. I don't know where you get the time to write
> nuggets like this and all the other good stuff you put out to counter the
> half-truths that appear on sanet so frequently, but I hope you can keep
> it up. Half truths are often perpetrated by people who haven't gotten
> around to appreciating whole systems, and your mini-essay on reductionism
> vs whole systems thinking confirms for me once again how deeply off-track
> reductionist thinking has taken the knowledge business in this country.
> Participating recently in a critical review of parts of the USDA National
> Agriculture Research Plan that covered animal production systems and
> integrated farming systems, I said that while much current research draws
> conclusions that are 'true' in the narrow frame of reference used by the
> researcher, these conclusions are actually damaged goods as regards their
> applicability to the whole systems of the real world. And as you say, we
> must not be tricked into trying to criticise reductionist thinking on its
> own terms
> Karl North
> Northland Sheep Dairy
> "Mother Nature never tries to farm without livestock" --Albert Howard
> "Pueblo que canta no morira" --Cuban saying
> On Wed, 10 Jun 1998 11:26:22 -0700 misha <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
> >Howdy, all--
> >I wanted to react to Bob McGregor's thoughts on "relative risk"
> >and the excerpt from /The New Scientist/. That is, on how there
> >are all kinds of toxins present everywhere, so why should we be
> >worrying about the ones that appear in the tens of thousands of
> >synthesized chemicals, when some of those appear right in foods,
> >or foods have "naturally occuring carcinogens" etc.
> >There is something specious in this argument--which is one of the
> >favorite arguments of folks like Jay Vroom and others in the
> >pesticide and chemical industries and their university/industrial
> >research partners. It seems to appear in its most crystalline and
> >lucid forms when they wish to suffocate systems thinking (about
> >food, chemicals, agriculture, health, social justice, etc.) in a
> >miasm of reductionism.
> >First of all, the "toxins" that appear naturally in foods do so
> >on a whole systems basis. Nutritional scientists have isolated
> >and named things like "vitamins" as beneficial compounds in
> >foods. However, whole foods are whole systems, and are introduced
> >into our bodies on a whole systems basis. When part of a diverse
> >and seasonally and culturally appropriate diet, this is one
> >complex mutha of a system at work--whole webs of life ("food" and
> >"body") interweaving. Think of the history encoded into every
> >cell of, say, a human body--all of the choices and inclinations
> >that have played out over the aeons to eventually comprise, yes,
> >you, gentle reader. :^)
> >It's only recently that humans have begun to fractionate and
> >distil and split whole foods into components, such as the
> >industrial food system has. "Recently" as in, less than a flea's
> >sneeze in evolutionary time. And not to mention, begun to tinker
> >with the genetic text itself, to write a more acceptable story
> >than the one that has written itself.
> >By contrast to this whole-systems food approach, where toxins
> >exist in balance with life-supportive, nourishing compounds, and
> >are consumed in a diverse, regional, seasonal food system, the
> >toxins that appear in pesticides are isolated or synthesized for
> >their ability to disrupt life processes. They are then applied to
> >foods precisely because of these properties. Many of them have
> >strong electrical charges that can wreak havoc at the cellular
> >level, which is why they are such effective technologies of death
> >for "pests." And why they are potentially so good at crashing
> >webs of life at any level of land ecology or body ecology.
> >Particularly when they accumulate and interact.
> >In addition, our bodies have evolved in conjunction with food
> >sources, and with naturally occurring compounds. Yes, there have
> >been significant shifts in the human food pool in the past 10,000
> >years, and agriculturalization has played a big part in that.
> >(When you think about it, we haven't yet gotten around to doing a
> >decent post ante technology assessment of how fire changes the
> >food we eat, and how that impacts on human body ecology, but I
> >digress.) Human bodies have co-evolved with other life forms for
> >how many gazillion years now, on this planet, yet it is only in
> >the past fifty years that these tens of thousands of chemicals
> >have been synthetically created or isolated, and catapulted into
> >the life-stream of the planet.
> >>From a broad-scale view, that's asking a lot of any life-web,
> >evolutionarily. And probably in part accounts for why this era is
> >considered by some evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists
> >to be hosting one of the major extinction events in the planet's
> >history. To hell with fantasies of incoming asteroids or cranky
> >aliens from X; we're crashing life at the cellular level like a
> >spun glass robot with a BFH and an auto-self-destruct program
> >running in an infinite loop on a Pentium 9000.
> >If you take a teeny-weeny-microscope view, and look way down at
> >the reductionist level at this compound or that compound and then
> >argue in journals for decades about whether it is or isn't risky
> >according to some pre-defined definition of risk, you might come
> >up with some conclusions such as the reductionist thinkers have.
> >Is Naturally Occurring Toxin A more RISKY than Synthetic Toxin A?
> >Uh, yes. No. Yes. Maybe. What was the question again?
> >If you take a broad-scope, evolutionary view, from a systems
> >level, the researchable questions--and the focus of action--and
> >the emergent answers--are very different. Then the question isn't
> >"relative risk" or "economics" of risk. (That latter goes back to
> >Jeff Bump's comments of last week.) It becomes one of how we can
> >recreate food systems from the ground up, and human social
> >systems that are sensitive to the carrying capacity of the land.
> >We didn't invent the game-plan, we're playing it out. And my
> >guess is that it's a tad premature for us to be assuming as a
> >species that we can out-think that which brung us to where we're
> >at--evolution, or god/dess/es, or karma, or physics, or the dao,
> >or Ralph, or whatever your name for it is. We might have some fun
> >trying...but my guess is, it's having much more fun with us, and
> >its fun is going to last far longer than ours if we don't play by
> >the rules.
> >I'd urge people in sustainable ag not to get unduly confused by
> >reductionist viewpoints like the one expressed in /The New
> >Scientist/. These viewpoints are part of the entire fabric of
> >what we are questioning in the first place. Just spiffed up and
> >expressed in more complex language than, say, in the '70s, when
> >what we were questioning was reductionist field/production
> >practices (like spray and pray).
> >Part of the power of reductionist arguments is that they can't
> >easily be countered on their own terms. One of the geniuses of
> >reductionist science is that it requires such a huge level of
> >resources to sustain itself. Once you grow an elephant, socially
> >speaking, it gets to say where it sits for dinner. An offshoot
> >of this: if Corporation X has 70 badillion dollars to spend on
> >proving that Chemical Z isn't risky/also appears in potatoes/is A
> >Good Thing, it's probably going to take about that much to
> >"prove" otherwise. And add to that immense pool of
> >self-justifying institutional resources things like: the
> >peculiar self-assurance with which these reductionist viewpoints
> >are expressed, and the entire scientific/PR culture which carries
> >and asserts Authority so well. They have the money and power and
> >suits and haircuts to make any counter-argument on their turf
> >sound bozoid. In fact, the mere *existence* of dissent is enough
> >to discredit it, since they represent Reason, and anyone who'd
> >argue against that must be UnReasonable, right?
> >I suggest we simply continue to insist, as a movement, that the
> >terms of the argument be shifted away from reductionism wherever
> >possible. Just as sustainable ag shifted the terms of the
> >argument in the 70s, and as Rachel Carson did in the '60s...and
> >she, amazing being that she was, was making her observations and
> >writing about them first in the 50s. It's been through most of
> >this industrializing century that reductionist interests have not
> >wanted these whole-systems ways of thinking to prosper...or even
> >to be allowed to continue. I vote for continuing. And in a few
> >weeks, when I'm wearing my pointy UW hat again, I will report in
> >on some research developments that should be of interest to you
> >all around this.
> >michele gale-sinex
> >ranting on her own nickel for a change, and it feels really good
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