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 email@example.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
....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
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