Re: what is "natural" (was GMO Byproducts ...)
Bob MacGregor (email@example.com)
Wed, 03 Feb 1999 16:44:33 -0400
But, isn't this really just a description of the impact of any agricultural innovation? This is particularly true with modern methods of communications and transport. Any innovation that looks good can be adopted across millions of acres over a period of just a few years. If plant scientists breed (conventionally) a variety which is resistant to attack by a serious pest, you can bet that variety will be in big demand and will show up on a whole lot of acres (assuming it retains good yield characteristics, of course). This case doesn't seem any different to me than the scenario you painted.
I just finished reading a couple of articles in the Dec. Scientific American about transgenics, one about cloning animals and one about engineering pests to be less harmful (or using GE to enhance biological control). How many cattle producers in the southwest or in Mexico would say the sawfly control program -- using radiation-sterilized males to eradicate the population -- was undesirable because of the potential ecological effects?
Similarly, if a scientist came up with a way to make malaria mosquitoes incompetent carriers of malaria (ie, unable to pass it on to humans), how many of us would mourn the passing of this part of the ecosystem?
We walk a line all the time. Agriculture is artificial; it requires constant attention to keep it going against the onslaughts of nature. Even the most benign, organic agriculture tends to have a strong monocrop component -- certainly pronounced enough to favour pest explosions from time to time.
The story you tell is likely correct to a large degree. Still, as soon as these newly-formulated genotypes are introduced, nature goes to work readapting all the attendant organisms (through differential survival, of course). The huge acreages that go into some new variant are, in my view, a much greater risk to the crop itself, than to the ecosystem. Any widespread limiting of the genotype like that is ripe ground for epidemic. This happened in the early 70's to the midwest corn crop (before GE), and can easily happen again.
The GE tools are increasingly powerful. Mistakes can, and probably will happen -- just as they have in conventional agriculture and forestry. Who knows, maybe some form of "terminator" technology will turn out to be useful in lessening the concerns about escape of novel genes into the wild -- (yeh, I know Pollyanna could probably see this silver lining, too).
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