There’s a debate going on in The Economist. Pamela Ronald is defending the proposition that biotechnology and sustainable agriculture are complementary, not contradictory, which is weird: agriculture is biotechnology, and just breaking ground with a sharp stick and throwing some seeds in is an example of an ‘unnatural’ human practice. I don’t understand how the opposition can make a case, especially when this is their opening statement:
Biotechnology is not a system of farming. It reflects no specific philosophy nor is it guided by a set of principles or performance criteria. It is a bag of tools than can be used for good or evil, and lots in between.
Yes? And? It’s a tool, sure, but that can’t possibly be an objection to a tool being unusable for sustainable agriculture. And focusing on genetically modified plants is odd: all of our crops are genetically modified, often beyond recognition. Modern corn looks almost nothing like teosinte, and is the product of thousands of years of human meddling with crops…this argument reduces to a complaint that the very subtle fine-tuning of specific genes with modern molecular techniques is somehow more troubling than the wholesale radical modification of a whole species by extreme artificial selection. I just don’t get it, unless it’s just some crazy Luddite bias. There are legitimate complaints about how agribusiness can use genetic modification to lock up strains for selfish economic reasons, but the topic of the debate isn’t about abuses of the technique — it’s about the potential for genetic engineering to improve sustainability.
Anyway, it’s a debate with an internet poll attached to it, and so far the kneejerk organic anti-GMO side has a slight edge, 54% to 46%. Read, assess the arguments, and vote yourself.