Mary Mangan’s 500 Words | What do I want from ag biotechnology, including (but not only) GMOs?
It’s important to me to see as many people on this planet fed as possible, with the best nutrition, using the smallest land area we can. This reduces the loss of wild areas and benefits biodiversity. I want everyone to have culturally-appropriate foods of their choice–not to be just told “let them eat kale” for more vitamin A if they don’t currently grow and eat it, or have someplace to store kale.
I hope the most productive seeds and tools get into farmers’ hand for local food security. Farmers should be able to choose which technologies are appropriate for their region and communities. I hope local researchers are trained in current and future technologies to enable excellent cooperation and support for the farmers.
I want the systems to respond quickly if they have to: a new pathogen, a sudden event, or a creeping threat like salinization (think tsunami, cyclones, sea level change), or drought or flood. In times of climate instability, moving faster may be even more important.
I hope farmers will need to do less work in the fields such as weeding–especially enabling more women and children to be off-farm if they choose, and children to attend school. Labor-intensive farming is not ideal. There’s a lot of back-to-the-farm nostalgia clouding impressions of how demanding this work actually is.
I want to reduce the need for chemical and other inputs as much as possible–aiming at target pests specifically whenever it can be done. This makes farming safer for farm families and workers. Reducing spraying or other applications (synthetic or organic) of broad-spectrum compounds benefits biodiversity and reduces run-off. Lowering application frequency also saves energy.
That’s just what I want for the crops and the farms specifically. This does not preclude the need for other support: extension services, transport, storage, markets, and all of the associated political and social structures. No one is saying that also doesn’t need to be fixed, but those need to happen for any production system. Fixing distribution or waste aspects are great, but a longer term goal with additional infrastructure burdens.
In some cases GMOs may be the right tool. In others, no. No single plant, tool, or strategy will do everything, but together they can all contribute. But how can you know if you don’t explore and test them? Then why are we here now if it’s so cheap and easy compared to GMOs?
But I can’t imagine withholding tools, technology or strategies from anyone else. I’m having trouble understanding people who think they have the right to do that. Would you really withhold the virus-resistant culturally-important bean developed by the Brazilian government that benefits small holder farms? Decades of other strategies didn’t solve that, but a bit of cloning did. Do you have the right to keep GMOs from the Amish? Golden rice from malnourished kids? I just don’t think you do have that right.