Sunday, February 28, 2010

Food Shouldn't Be Engineered by Gene Splicing -- A stronger Critique of GMO's

Boy, Bio-tech gets glossed over by writer who gets book published by Harvard University Press. But thank goodness for Jill Richardson and a legion of organic, sustainability, and Ag in the Middle folk, even Organic Valley, for fighting these giants of the morphed genes, the split DNA, and all else that adds to their profit line. A critique of Monsanto is now deeply ingrained in conservative ag programs throughout the land, not just those so-deemed rabblerousers like Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan.

From Robert Calson's blog on his book, pictured on the left.

"In general, as we shall see, there is no reason to think that any country's lead in developing or using biological technologies will be maintained for long. Nor will the culture and experience of any given country dominate the discussion. Access to biological technologies is already ubiquitous around the globe. Many countries are investing heavily to build domestic capabilities with the specific aim of improving health care, providing fuels and materials, and increasing crop yields.

Research efforts are now accelerating, aided by rapid advances in the technology we use to manipulate biological systems. It is already possible to convert genetic information into electronic form and back again with unprecedented ease. This capability provides for an element of digital design in biological engineering that has not heretofore been available. More important, as measured by changes in commercial cost and productivity, the technology we use to manipulate biological systems is now experiencing the same rapid improvement that has produced today's computers, cars, and airplanes. This is evidence that real change is occurring in the technologies underlying the coming bioeconomy.

The influence of exponentially improving biological technologies is only just now starting to be felt. Today writing a gene from scratch within a few weeks costs a few thousand dollars. In five to ten years that amount should pay for much larger constructs, perhaps a brand-new viral or microbial genome. Gene and genome-synthesis projects of this larger scale have already been demonstrated as academic projects. When such activity becomes commercially viable, a synthetic genome could be used to build an organism that produces fuel, or a new plastic, or a vaccine to combat the outbreak of a new infectious disease.

This book is an attempt to describe a change in technology that has demonstrably profound social and economic implications. Some parts of the story that follows I know very well, either because I was fortunate to witness events or because I was in a position to participate. Other parts of the story come in because I had to learn something new while attempting to paint a picture of the future. Delving into details is necessary in places in order to appreciate the complexity of biological systems, the challenge of engineering those systems, and the implications of that technology for public policy, safety, and security. Whatever else the reader takes from this book, the most important lesson is that the story is incomplete. Biology is technology, and as with any other technology, it is not possible to predict exactly where the project will go. But we can at least start with where that technology has been.


Even this pretty open ended look at bio-tech, ag and the elements of biodiversity gives us a deeper look at the bio-tech field.

Effects of Biotechnology
on Agro-biodiversity

By Bert Visser

Various biotechnologies have been developed which can have both a positive and negative effect on agro-biodiversity. The socio-economic context in which these technologies are developed and utilized will determine which applications, and thus which effects, will dominate.

Since the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed in 1992, the value of biological diversity in general, and agro-biodiversity in particular, has gained recognition world-wide. Agro-biodiversity can be defined as the total of components, structure and functions in agro-ecosystems relevant for agricultural production. Agro-biodiversity is first of all of vital importance for the food security of future generations. This diversity can be exploited to overcome new pests and diseases, to cope with climate changes and a growing world population, to react to changing consumer demands and to make production more sustainable. Furthermore, agro-biodiversity is related to cultural values and traditions. Finally, many believe that diversity has an intrinsic value and that mankind is responsible for the survival of ecosystems and all that constitutes these systems. Technology in general has had an impact for ages on the development of agro-biodiversity. Utensils in agriculture, food processing technology and seed storage systems, for example, have always been developed in close interaction with the diversity present in agriculture. This includes the genetic diversity of landraces and varieties within crop and animal species, the diversity of different crops and animals at the farm and the diversity within the entire agro-ecosystem. Some technologies, like fermentation technology, have influenced the properties that farmers consciously selected for their crops and animals. Others, like seed storage and fodder production, have resulted in conscious as well as unintended selection in landraces and animal breeds. The adaptation of crops and animals to the available technologies has determined their role in the farming system. And finally, the development of the farming systems has greatly influenced the agro-ecosystems in which they function, as is evident from the current discussions on the sustainability of high-external-input systems. Biotechnology, like all preceding technologies, has influenced and will further influence agro-biodiversity. In this article an inventory will be made of the likely or potential effects of modern biotechnology on agro-biodiversity.

Common effects of agriculture and biotechnology on biodiversity Both agriculture and biotechnology make use of biodiversity and thus show us the value of biodiversity. Likewise, both agricultural practices and biotechnology impose a threat to the existing biodiversity on which they depend. Modern agricultural practices, stemming from the rise of a modern breeding industry and from the Green Revolution, have caused massive genetic erosion, the disappearance of many diverse populations of crops maintained by farmers and adapted to local circumstances. The application of modern biotechnology may result in a wider use of genetic diversity, whether present in wild or domesticated species, for the benefit of future food security. However, it may also potentially result in the further narrowing of the genetic base of our food crops, because of the high costs of biotechnology and, consequently the tendency to focus on few varieties or breeds only. It may even result in the introduction of novel organisms which form a risk to the (agricultural) environment. Genetic erosion, now commonly regarded as a negative development, was caused by the rise of the modern breeding industry and marketing decisions of that industry, and did not form a natural necessity. The socio-economic context in which biotechnology is developed and applied includes competition, research structures, seed markets and intellectual property rights. It will also determine which applications and, consequently, which effects of biotechnology on the conservation and utilization of biodiversity will dominate. For a number of biotechnologies the picture of positive and negative potentials, depending on the socio-economic context, begins to appear.

Finally, a quick review of Jill's book DailyKos on :

"Richardson, who first discovered her talent for writing about food issues here at Daily Kos as OrangeClouds115, has turned in a terrific book in Recipe for America, managing to organize into one smooth narrative information as disparate as employing undocumented workers and the lobbying that goes into the Farm Bill. Under her educated eye, the pieces of the enormous puzzle of legislation, policy, science and environmentalism are woven together in a book that can serve as an introduction to those unfamiliar with the sustainable food movement, while expanding the base of knowledge of those who've been reading on the topic for years.

"This is no small feat. Juggling the needs of newcomers to a topic without losing the interest of the already informed is a problem that many writers with many more books under their belt than Richardson have failed to solve."

We really need to develop stronger resolve in understanding how insecure our food and farming communities are, and bio-tech and genetic engineering and all those fossil fuel and toxic inputs are just not doing the world any good anymore.

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