4 comments on “Agribusiness, Genetic Engineering, and Where to Draw the Line

  1. To be frank with you, John, I did a absolutely terrible job presenting my case on the show. I’m not a radio guy, and aside from a few podcasts on less controversial subjects, I’ve have never done an on-air debate of this sort we had here. This was, simply, not my home turf.

    You say that the show’s engineer “snatched that stick and broke it to pieces”. In reality, he used his advanced on-air experience to throw out a few words of scientific terminology that sounded convincing but completely missed the point. I would tear his argument to pieces were he to engage me on the subject in print. Radio is a different ballpark, and I know now that being able to write the facts on paper does not mean knowing how to debate them on air. I should not have accepted the challenge.

    If I were actually “more concerned about my career as a writer,” I would be writing what people wanted to hear, not confronting people on a subject which they’ve already made up their minds about. I’m convinced that the anti-GMO cause continues to press an absolutely preposterous case, and I’ll continue to call out their propaganda when I see it.

    • Hi, Frank (if that’s who you prefer to be with me), thanks for reading the blog. I don’t agree that Michael is so much better at radio than you are, and since you chose not to address the points he raised, here, where you could have done it in print, Michael’s point stands.

      I don’t think that either you or Eric Kirk have enough of a background in science, especially ecosystem ecology, to talk intelligently about the risks of genetic engineering. Eric is an attorney, and I think he could do a better job of talking about the legal ramifications of a food supply dominated by, and an ecosystem contaminated with, patented organisms, and who will be on the hook for the unforeseen consequences of this technology. My guess is that the companies that own patents will make money up front, and future generations will be stuck with the consequences, with no legal recourse.

      As ridiculous as some of the rhetoric against GMOs has become, I think you advocate an untenable position when you claim that genetic engineering is no worse than other technologies used in modern agriculture. The technologies used in modern agriculture have an awful track record for destroying ecosystems, wiping out sustainable human cultures, and making humanity more dependent on powerful corporate interests.

      Both the agricultural revolution that gave rise to civilization, and the green revolution that doubled food production after the second world war, have had devastating effects on the global ecosystem, and compounded the problems of human overpopulation. They have not solved anything. Quite the contrary, science has compounded and magnified the ecological problems we face globally.

      It’s not a matter of “good” science vs “bad” science; it’s a matter of corporate technology vs the natural ecosystem, and the record shows that corporate technology does not ever improve on the natural ecosystem. In fact, the biggest threat to the natural ecosystem comes from unbridled corporate technology.

      Good luck with your writing career.

      • Thanks for the reply. We’re in agreement on the majority of what you’ve said here, and if GMO skeptics could stick to that subject (ag reform in general) I think you’d have a stronger case. Fighting corporate interests in agriculture is something most of us are on board with. But opposing all forms of GM research (such as this attempt to fight dengue fever by modifying mosquito genes: http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-25/brazilians-welcome-genetically-modified-mosquito-help-fight-dengue-fever) is as immoral as opposite stem cell research or climate change regulations.

        I wish it were possible to have a serious discussion about the differences between polyploidy and GM technology. But whenever GMOs come up in discussion among my friends, it’s usually along the lines of, “Look at this weird looking nectarine I bought, must be GMO.” In raising the alarm that 90% or so of processed foods contain GMOs, we’ve obscured the fact that most individual fruits and vegetables have not been modified.

        There’s a vast information gap on the subject, and I agree with you that Eric Kirk and I are not the best people to take on that responsibility. But until Neil de Grasse Tyson jumps in, someone’s got to.

      • The rise in dengue fever can be traced to development and agriculture, and I don’t agree that modifying mosquitoes is moral or even a good idea.

        It sounds like you have some stupid friends. You have my sympathy. You should hang out with brighter people. Good luck with that.

        Neil de Grasse Tyson huh. Why him? Did you see him on TV? I don’t think he’s an ecosystem ecology guy, but apparently he knows how to work an audience. I recommend Paul Ehrlich, John Terborgh and others in the field.

        One of the big problems with our technological society, is that so few people really know how anything works anymore, outside of their own narrow field, so we continue to adopt inherently dangerous technology based on an irrational, unfounded faith in technology.

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