Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Take on the GMO Question


I got back in the saddle yesterday evening and photographed some more streets in our postcode for Bleeding London. And I hit a gold mine, to mix my metaphors. I got several shots I really like.

I also read that GMO article in The New Yorker that we've all been talking about here in blogland. It seems to me that the author of the article took great pains to make GMOs seem benign, and to discredit one particular anti-GMO activist. But he didn't allay my suspicions about them. Common sense tells me that it is hazardous to splice genes from a bacteria or other unrelated organism into a plant, and that allowing corporations to own and control the rights to certain seeds -- the only seeds likely to become widely available -- is bad for farmers, especially in the developing world. I realize GMOs are already commonly grown, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to question them.

Besides, as I wrote recently in a comment on another blog -- to what end are we humans engineering our food supply? So there can be even more of us? It sounds cruel, but a limited food supply is one of the factors that keeps the human population in check (since we are so utterly unable to control it ourselves). I realize I'm not hungry and it's easy for me to say, speaking from a position of privilege, but I have to wonder about our ultimate goal in growing more food more economically. Where do we intend to go with that goal? Do we want to pave the planet? And what happens if variables within the system (climate, or resistance to genetically inbred herbicides or pesticides) shift and our carefully engineered food production collapses?

Seems to me we'd all be better off if we work within the limits of the natural realm. (Admittedly, that cat is out of the bag, given all our chemical fertilizers and pesticides -- but tinkering with genetics beyond simple hybridization takes supernatural farming to another level entirely.)

As they used to say in those margarine commercials, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

(Photo: Yesterday evening, just off Kilburn High Street.)

7 comments:

Ms. Moon said...

I'm agreeing with you here Steve on the GMO thing. And frankly, on the population thing as well.
And you know what? That picture is AWESOME!

Sharon Anck said...

Great photo. I hadn't really given the whole GMO thing much thought. Thanks for the insight.

37paddington said...

I tend to agree about the GMO thing (without having read the article) but I'm not sure I'd link it to the overpopulation issue. Might as well say, let's not give medicine to any sick person so we can control population growth. This is a tough one for me, because as you note, wealthy societies will always have enough food and medicine. It's akin (in my mind) to saying we don't have a responsibility to take care of the poor. Granted that's a whole other debate and not everyone agrees with my sense that we DO have a responsibility to the poor. All the threads are so tangled. I get exhausted sometimes considering it all. Thanks for this post.

ellen abbott said...

I believe we can feed the world with conventional farming techniques. Over-population is a real problem though and it will be the cause of humanities collapse. well, one of the causes. the other cause is our tendency to 'shit in our own yard' as it were.

Steve Reed said...

Angella: Interesting that you mention medicine. I thought about that myself when I was writing this post. I have to emphasize that I do NOT want people to be hungry -- nor, of course, do I want them to be sick. In fact, that's exactly what I am trying to avoid. I'm hoping that people who feel some pressure to produce their own food (or their own community's food) will consider that pressure when deciding whether to have more children. Instead, we have countless people across the globe sustained by factory farming that artificially lowers the cost of food and makes it more available, thus encouraging fertility beyond what the natural characteristics of their countries would allow. (I'm thinking of Niger, where women are having an average of eight children, in an arid Sahel environment.) At some point, that kind of food production is a recipe for disaster.

What I would most wholeheartedly advocate is food dispersal and medical care supported by health education and family planning. But I'm not sure anyone's really talking about family planning anymore. So many charities have been frightened away from the subject, either by religious backers and agendas or cultural concerns.

It is a huge, complex topic, and one I worry about constantly.

Elizabeth said...

You're very persuasive, Steve, and I agree with you, pretty wholeheartedly. I don't remember where I "read" it, but I understand the food situation on this planet to be pretty dire more because of inequity in how it's distributed. I had thought we raised enormous, grotesque amounts, actually, of grain -- enough to feed the planet but actually meant for cattle that only feeds a fraction of the planet. I'm not sure how true that is and how it enters into this argument, but I'd wager the complexity is far greater than big chemcial companies practicing voodoo and perpetuating the ability of very wealthy nations to sustain themselves in the manner to which they're accustomed.

Steve Reed said...

Elizabeth, I've heard that, too. Meat is definitely one of our least efficient food sources. Ideally we could feed many more people much more comfortably on all the grain that now goes to cows. But again, in some ways that would perpetuate the larger problem, wouldn't it? I'd ideally love to see a planet where we all eat more plant-based food, but also have fewer children and make lots of room for the continued existence of wilderness.