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A dikdik, one of the smallest and most graceful antelopes.

Welcome to Eco Wild!

In this issue:

1. The GM Green Revolution, Reader Feedback
2. Did you know that...?

1. The GM Green Revolution, Reader Feedback

On October 24, I looked at the origins and definition of genetically modified (GM) food, how GM food started commercially and some of the concerns raised about it. Last week I explored more critical points of view, discussed some pro-GM points of view and outlined some possible solutions, such as capitalism and a global, neutral GM council. If you missed these issues of Eco Wild, please email anne@eco-resorts.com and I'll send you another copy.

This week we are going to look at some reader feedback on the topic. I got some great comments over the past two weeks! Talk about a hot topic! Here are two of the many comments I received:

What's the real issue behind the GM food scare you ask? It's lack of knowledge. People are afraid to things they know nothing about. Your definition of GM food as being "food that has been genetically altered to achieve specific results" is very misleading. Everything we eat has been genetically altered for specific results. How often do find wild corn growing in the woods, or wild soybeans growing in the prairie? You don't find them because the "wild relative" of these crops have been bred and inbred for thousands of years. Whether you do it in the laboratory or via breeding, the result is the recombination of genes. Every apple, every steak, every green bean you have ever eaten or will ever eat have and has been genetically modified for the specific results of palatability, yield and often other cosmetic appearances.

Furthermore, the GM revolution did not start with the goal to advance mechanical farming and the development of agricultural chemicals. Its goal is to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and allow the crops to protect themselves. This is often done by using genes from a plant's natural relative. The problem is that humans have been breeding crops for yield, taste, and appearance, which has lead to a decrease in the plants ability to defend itself. There are many reasons for this loss of self defense, but one simple way to view it is that resistance to pathogens takes energy that would otherwise reduce yield, and has therefore been selected against by breeders since agriculture was invented. Most of the bio-technically modified crop plants being studied today are for resistance to fungal, bacterial, viral, and nematode pathogens. Insect resistance and drought resistance is a VERY small piece of the puzzle.

I believe people should be scared. We are faced with a tough choice. We either use pesticides that poison our environment, "new" GM foods that could poison our environment, or starve to death. In my view, there is no real good choice. Crop losses from pathogens are in the billions of dollars every year, and this is using all the current technology we have now. We have to do something or millions of people would die. There are real concerns about the safety of GM foods, but there are also some real potential benefits. Being 100% for or 100% against will not give us the best solution to our problems.

You mentioned that we maybe should focus on world population growth instead. It is easy to say that when you're not the one who is at risk of dying, or of losing loved ones. Go to a poor country where they need multiple pairs of hands to keeps their family alive by working from the age 5 because the pay is so low and food costs so much, or to harvest the field by hand because they are so poor they can't afford all the nice equipment we have. It is shameful that people in wealthy countries have the gall to tell the poor how easy it would be to change the world if they would just stop having babies.

Another one of my readers commented:

Apart from whether or not GM foods can address the food shortfalls of Africa or any other region, there are at least several critical issues:

1) Like any other technology, we need to adopt a precautionary approach given that the risks and impacts are not yet well known. We are already hearing evidence that the pro GM companies (e.g. Monsanto) have been less than truthful about the results of certain trials. So even the information that has been used as a basis for calculating risk may have been misleading.

2) Related to this is the fact that if a precautionary approach is warranted for the developed world, why then should it not be warranted for the developing world. Of course the latter has much more pressing priorities like living and avoiding starvation. On that basis the GM foods might be adopted in the developing world under de-facto trials and imagine what criticism that would bring from many sectors.

3) All consumers should have the right to choose. If I want to buy yoghurt without food colouring and flavouring I should be able to. Likewise those who wish to avoid GM foods should have the option. Unfortunately the systems in place at the moment are not fail safe. Take for example the recent discovery that taco shells in the US were found to contain (be contaminated) with a variety GM maize that had not even been approved for human consumption.

One point that might be worth making is the difference between genetically modified foods and transgenic products. Genetically modified foods have been around ever since farmers started selecting different grass species and cross breeding to produce modern grains. At what point you draw the line of unacceptability between the rather slow and haphazard approaches to genetic improvement and the quicker more targeted approach that operates at the microscopic level is difficult to define.

Transgenic products on the other hand are really quite different where genes from one organism are introduced into a completely different and unrelated organism (e.g. bacteria into cotton to increase resistance to moths). I think it is this approach that conjures up most Frankenstein images but often the distinction is not made.

Thank you to everyone for their comments and input on this controversial topic! I appreciate your time and efforts to help all of us understand this sometimes confusing issue. I hope you have enjoyed the last of this series on GM foods; I'm picking a less controversial topic next week! My laptop is still burning from the email flames! :)

2. Did you know that...?

....San Francisco, USA is opening the EcoCenter, a showcase for green-building technology? This state of the art "green" building includes: florescent lights hooked to light sensors that dim lights during the day, safety flooring on wheelchair ramps made from recycled car tires, interior walls finished with non-toxic paints, employee work stations and office furniture made from rice straw, wheat straw and other agricultural waste that otherwise would have been burned. When can we open a center like this in East Africa?!

....plastic soda bottle usage jumped from 14.6 billion in 1994 to 23.4 billion in 1998? During these same years, the recycling rates for plastic bottles actually fell from 48% to 35% as the smaller size bottles are being thrown away instead of recycled.

....there has been a fourfold increase in childhood asthma during the past 20 years? The most frequent trigger for an attack is air pollution and air quality (both indoor and outdoor) and exposure to biological and chemical contaminants.

....not only is GM food an issue to consider, but GM forestry is also under debate? GM trees are being tested around the globe to produce cherries in unusual colours, apples that don't turn brown after being sliced for several hours and grow quickly to meet the demand for lumber and paper products without logging existing forests. However, more research needs to be done to determine the environmental impact of these trees in the ecosystem.

I hope you enjoyed this week's issue as much as I enjoyed writing it; now I encourage you to take some action and go wild about East Africa, wildlife and ecotourism!

If you find this information valuable, please share it with a friend!

Thank you for your support!

Anne Article ideas, quiz ideas, general feedback and other suggestions are always welcome! Please send them to: anne@eco-resorts.com.

If you would like to join the Eco Wild email eco forum discussion group, please send an email to: ecowild-subscribe@egroups.com. If you would prefer not to receive any more copies of the Eco Wild newsletters, please email anne@eco-resorts.com with "unsubscribe" in the subject line (sniff! !).

For permission to reprint this or any article from Eco Wild (formerly HMS corporate newsletter), please contact Anne Loehr at: anne@eco-resorts.com.

Copyright 2000 - All Rights Reserved Anne Loehr

Anne Loehr
P.O. Box 120
Watamu, Kenya

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