When I hear the term “genetic engineering” I cringe.
Could anything good come out of tweaking the DNA of plants and animals, and maybe someday humans too?
Is it safe—is it wise—for humans to play with evolutionary fire?
A recent New York Times op-ed by a professor of agricultural economics and a physician from the Hoover Foundation warns that humans would be fools not to try to engineer wheat and other crops in order to tailor them to our rapidly changing environment.
Given that drought is going to be more common in the future, as aquifers are depleted and erratic weather patterns take hold, why not tweak the DNA of wheat and other crops essential for human survival, so that they are more likely to withstand the harsh conditions that will become the new normal?
I don’t want to be a knee-jerk Luddite, but really now—can we be sure that it will be safe to alter the genes of a plant that took thousands, if not millions of years to reach its present incarnation?
I actually think it might be possible to do genetic engineering of food crops in a safe and sustainable way. But as long as Monsanto remains in control of agricultural genetic engineering, I cannot be trusting. The track record of that company is just too abysmal.
According to the NYT op-ed, “Monsanto recently said that it had made significant progress in the development of herbicide-tolerant wheat,” which “will enable farmers to use more environmentally benign herbicides.”
Is there such a thing as an environmentally benign herbicide?
Monsanto, along with its henchmen in government, academia and think tanks, is still stuck in the old 20th century idea of unlimited growth.
In that mind-set, we have to grow as much wheat as we possibly can to feed our burgeoning population. No matter how many birds, butterflies or bats have to die under the plow of “progress.” No matter if natural biodiversity is chemically poisoned to make way for the mono-crop.
What if Monsanto had its way and all the wheat planted was drought-resistant. And what if that year it never stopped raining? Where would we be then?
We are fortunate to have seed-saving champions like Vandana Shiva who are working hard to make sure that our human heritage of genetically diverse, tried-and-true seeds are not totally lost in the rapacious maw of Monsanto.
What we need is a true agricultural revolution that has nothing to do with genetic engineering and everything to do with returning to local, regional food production.
To withstand the crazy weather that lies in our future we need more biodiversity, not techno-modified mono-cropping.
Or if we’re going to tweak those genes, just because we can, let’s do it in ways that tailor crops to small regional environments, and forget about the herbicides!