Friday, March 19, 2010

My Continuing Education

Well, it looks like my vague idea of writing conservation gardening articles for my local paper might become reality soon! Ironically I won't be able to share the results with Wildlife Gardeners. Too bad.

But they wouldn't have appreciated the following, anyway. In an effort to broaden my horizons, I'm trying to look more at the other side of various environmental and farming issues. At the top of my list: genetically engineered foods, and the companies who make them.

My previous assumption was that Monsanto was the Evil Empire. However, that assumption was based almost entirely on other people's opinions - and rather left-wing opinions, at that. As a favorite teacher of mine used to say, "get to the source". To that end, I have been following one of Monsanto's blogs.

Okay, so for the most part the articles there smell like highly sanitized corporate tidbits - but no large company with half a brain would publish a blog of anything *but*. However, the most recent post caught my eye.

Some months ago there had been rumors going around that Monsanto was actively squelching outside research on their products. This originated with an article in Scientific American, which in turn originated with a group of disgruntled scientists. And it turns out, those scientists made a mistake.

Oops! So Monsanto is not squelching research - or if it is squelching research, it at least isn't doing it in the manner that was reported by Scientific American.

There are other scary issues with Monsanto and GE foods and plants that I need to look into yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of them are similarly based on mistakes, slanted journalism, or poor journalistic research.

1 comment:

GBMF-Matt said...

In the course of your continuing education, check out Food, Inc.

The biggest problem is that Monsanto has intellectual rights to the genetic modifications they've made. That would be all fine an dandy, but plants don't work like that. Plants breed, and when they breed, that genetic modification will be passed on to some of the offspring. Well, what happens when your neighbors Monsanto corn pollinates your non-GMO corn and then you save your seed for the next season? You've stolen their intellectual property and they can sue you. It's kind of ridiculous. (Obviously you wouldn't want to save seed from corn when your neighbor is growing a different variety anyway, but it illustrates a point).

That aside, there's also the environmental impact of some of their modifications. One of the potatoes they created has a chemical in its leaves that kills a beetle that feeds on potatoes. If these potatoes are in heavy use, it's possible that that species of beetle will be made extinct. And there's no telling what birds or other animals rely on that beetle as a food source... so then those animals will die.

As a case in point, GMOs are one suspected cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (30-90% reduction in the number of honey bees, which are necessary for pollinating food crops).

I'm not conclusively against genetic modification, it's just a question of what's done with it. I haven't seen anything intelligent done with it yet. Pesticidal abilities are obviously a bad thing to imbue in a plant because it could cause unnecessary extinctions. Herbicide-resistant species could become invasive. Making them grow faster or larger? What's the trade-off? Do they need more fertilizer or water?

There's always a trade-off. I've yet to see a trade-off from genetic modification that wasn't highly disruptive.

But hey, it could happen.