I would like to address the six points recently posted by Allan Hruska [11 November]:
> POINT 1. Neither transgenic crops nor other biotechnologies will solve world hunger etc. ....
While I certainly agree with this statement, I am put off by the unstated implication that the *critics* of transgenics are responsible for placing the debate in the context of world hunger. The reality is quite the contrary: we are responding to a virtual drumbeat from private industry, and those they fund in academia, which repeats over and over again that we should set aside our doubts in the name of transgenics as the only or best way to combat hunger.
> POINT 2. ....Why shouldn't we explore all possible avenues to increase the quantity and quality of food etc. .....
If all else were equal I would agree. But all else is not equal. Not at all. In today's world, public sector agricultural research is worse than a zero sum game, as funds are cut, and then cut again. It is in this context that we see genetic engineering (GE) research acting as a gigantic resource sink in institution after institution, in both the North and the South. GE is literally orders of magnitude more expensive than other lines of agricultural research, with each innovation carrying a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars. Because it is so expensive, it draws scarce resources away from other perhaps more promising (I believe) lines of research, such as biological pest control, integrated pest management (IPM), agroecology, organics, etc. Unfortunately, university deans and directors of national research institutes have been seduced by the idea that biotech is "where the money is," and have massively shifted resources in that direction. When I survey the wreckage that has been left in "non-molecular" fields, I feel that a great crime against humanity has been committed. When I add to that the way the products of GE research are privatized and sold to the highest bidder, though they may have been paid for by the public sector, using tax payers money, and then rushed to market without the most minimally aceptable health and environmental safety testing, then I *know* a crime is being committed (or multiple crimes).
> POINT 3. Are transgenics the only way to increase the quantity and quality of food? No. There are many ways and they should all be explored.
Yes, other ways offer greater potential returns. The best case scenario estimates of industry are that GE crops might increase yields by 25-30%. But that is scant compared to the massive investment they require, and to the proven potential for far greater prodction increases from far cheaper (and safer) agroecological alternatives. For examples, see: http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/twr118g.htm
> POINT 4. Don't transgenics pose health and environmental risks? Probably. They should be studied, understood, and minimized.
This is exactly what we are fighting for. Unfortunately 1% of total research funds spent on transgenics currently go toward risk analysis. Unanswered questions remain, concerning both environmental and health risks.
It seems to me that all reasonable people might agree to a moratorium on further commercial use of transgenic crops until such time as each product has passed widely-agreed-upon health and safety testing. There is certainly *no compelling need* for these untested products to be in our food and our ecosystems *today.* We actually have the luxury of being able to take a time out for testing (unless, of course, we are investors in biotech companies).
> POINT 5. Do transgenics pose greater risks than other crop production tactics? etc....
It is a false dichotomy to suggest that there are only two alternatives, transgenics vs. chemicals. Industry tries to confuse us with this suggestion, but we know better: that the fields of IPM, biocontrol, agroecology, organic farming, etc., offer abundant other alternatives.
> POINT 6. Why do transgenics generate such strong negative emotive reactions? Because what's really being fought, under the guise of transgenics, are two major battles: fears of corporate control and trade issues. The issue of corporate control is what truly makes blood boil, not transgenic plants. It would be far more interesting to directly discuss the root causes of the disagreements, rather than looking for ecological arguments to argue against corporate control of agricultural technology.
It is ludicrous, and perhaps even insulting, to cast aside concerns about research priorities under resource contraints, and about environmental risks and health, in such a blithe statement. What is not ludicrous, of course, is that transgenics do also raise issues related to trade (IPRs, TRIPS, Biosafety Protocol, etc.) and to growing corporate concentration, as chemical companies take over seed companies, and then merge among themselves.
Peter M. Rosset, Ph.D.
Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy
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Oakland, California 94618 USA
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