Organic foods or bio-tech foods – for solving world hunger and helping the environment?
Posted Nov 16 2009 10:00pm
Some anti-genetic engineering activists “talk of defending the ‘intrinsic integrity’ of crop-plant genomes,” writes Stewart Brand in his new book, Whole Earth Discipline. “What integrity? Crop plants have no integrity of their own…. Botanist Klaus Ammann points out that good old wheat, fashioned through good old breeding, has modifications that include ‘the addition of chromosome fragments, the integration of entire foreign genomes, and radiation-induced mutations.’” Next to this orgy of gene swapping, biotechnology offers a precision that makes genetically engineered food look downright tame.
On the mitigation front, they are creating grains that require less water and that utilize nitrogen more efficiently—a boon for the atmosphere, the oceans, and farmers’ bottom lines. And on the adaptation front, they are developing drought-resistant maize varieties for sub-Saharan Africa, rice that can tolerate flooding in Southeast Asia, and rice that can grow in China’s increasingly salty soils.
Next month, when experts from across the globe convene in Rome for the annual World Food Summit, … how to diminish the number of hungry people in the world, which according to the FAO, rose to an alarming 1.02 billion this year. A vital part of their conversation will be to what extent biotechnology can—or should—play a role in these efforts.
For the rest of us “foodies,” now is the time for some deep soul-searching, to decide whether we will allow ideology to win out over evidence, particularly when the goals of biotech are increasingly aligned with many of the values the organic community allegedly holds dear.