Thursday, July 8, 2010

The future of farming: charming!

Amy sent me  a link to this interview of Dr. Roger Beachy, chief scientist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in Smart Planet, in which he talks about the new plans for the USDA. Among these is what I see as an increased reliance on GMOs.

"[In the scope of] maximizing food production and reducing the use of agrochemicals, biotechnology is a piece of the toolbox. The bigger question is, how do you fight the challenge if nature doesn’t give you all the diversity you need? If you can’t find the right variety of crops to withstand a drought or to fight a virus, do you stop growing the crop? It’s been largely the purview of the agrochemical companies. At the same time, some scientists are under the conviction that this can be done through genetics.

With a greater number of people, we’re going to have to have more crop yield per acre. If we don’t, we’ll have to expand [agriculture] to our parks, forests and golf courses. When you increase production, plants are closer together and you have to adjust their genetics to be more resistant to diseases or drought or flood. We need to be ready to use safe and effective technologies and genetic engineering."

Here's what I had to say about it (I sent this to Amy in an email)

 I was recently amazed that people in the UK like Tim Lang who does a lot of work on sustainability and sustainable food systems see no problem with GMOs, except, as he put it, corporate control. Corporate control is of course the front line, as it has tremendous implications on local food production and especially on the control of seeds and other inputs, but there is another problem, aside of the obvious bio-ethical one of manipulating genes across species. Claiming that the solution to so-called food scarcity lies in putting more (marginal) lands into production with higher yielding cultivars in order to feed Africa is a way of saying that the food problems of the world are purely technical, and that the ingenuity of scientists (funded by corporations) will solve everything. Food problems of the world are deeply political, and have to do with local and global politics closely enmeshed with economic power.

And I also have to add that the Obama tenure has been characterized by tremendous contradictions. He has appointing people from all over the place, often with conflicting agendas and ideologies. O. himself has contradictory ideologies: look at the way he dealt with offshore drilling.

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