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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Beware the Frankenfoods

To the incredulity of our Canadian friends, the two party political system really works swimmingly. It just so happens that half the country loves money and hates Mexicans and the other half loves philanthropy and hates everything else. Our haughty liberal heads might burst, however, if we try to reconcile our hatred for “”Frankenfoods”” and big agri-business with our desire to feed the world, because one might indeed be the answer to the other.

“”Frankenfoods”” is the favorite invective for genetically modified (GM) crops. As explained by former Science and Technology Advisor Nina Nina Fedoroff in an August 2008 interview by the New York Times, “”Genetic modification is the basis of all evolution.”” Scientific tools and breeding have been used to select for certain traits in food throughout the 20th century. However, she says “”now we’ve invented techniques that introduce just one gene without disturbing the rest, and some people think that’s terrible.””

She is right about that. Everywhere you look, food conspiracy theories abound. The Organic Consumers Association is calling for a moratorium on GM organisms, claiming that “”by virtue of their ‘superior’ genes, some genetically engineered plants and animals will inevitably run amok.””

OCA also believes that Monsanto, the premier agricultural biotechnology corporation, has diabolical aspirations to create herbicide resistant plants in order to boost sales of even stronger herbicides. Supposedly, they are also planning to release “”Terminator Technology, that will render seeds infertile and force hundreds of millions of farmers to purchase evermore expensive GM seeds.””

It’s possible. It’s also possible that once developers of photovoltaic technology monopolize the energy grid, they will boost sales by blocking out half of the sun.

The truth is that biotechnology currently gives us almost all of our corn, cotton and soybeans. The insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops have increased productivity and sustainability and are found on 300 million acres in 25 counties, according to an article by Fedoroff, published this month in Science. She also points out that thus far, the world has been consuming these foods without incident.

Americans have largely met our food production needs, and we have the body-mass indexes to prove it. Thanks to agricultural science, this is accomplished with only 2 percent of the population living on farms. This is in stark contrast to African countries, where, according to the book “”Starved for Science”” by Robert Paarlberg, two-thirds of all people are farmers and one-third are not even able to meet their own nutritional needs.

The moral and intellectual dissonance presented by the modern scenario of farming and simultaneously starving is overwhelming.

Paarlberg argues that our wealth, as consumers, affords us the luxury to complain about methods of food production and to take our business elsewhere. Revolting against factory-farmed animals and genetically engineered plants is fine, but, as our interest in agricultural science wanes, so does our interest in helping less fortunate countries.

As Paarlberg points out, “”U.S. foreign assistance to agricultural science in Africa has fallen by 75 percent in the past two decades.”” To make matters worse, countries all over Asia, Central America and Africa have adopted the American and European “”imperialism of rich tastes”” and enacted the same stifling legal regulations.

The idea of building super organisms by installing one plant’s promoter into another’s chromosomal DNA is certainly to be taken seriously and handled carefully. But with a crop yield one-tenth as high as America’s, Africa has an entirely different set of problems, and neither excessive chemical use nor the ‘un-coolness’ of mass produced veggies ranks among them.

— Andrew Busch is a graduate student in physiology.

He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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