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What's all the to do about the concept of a genetically modified seed that would carry a drought-resistant gene? Do we even need one? I say no for three reasons. First, how can the poor, who truly need to be able to grow their own food, afford this "technology"? With the millions of dollars involved in the cost of research, development, testing, and approval, it is unlikely that any company would develop this trait and not charge handsomely. The world's poorest farmers will surely have to pay a high price that they can ill afford. Meanwhile, proprietary rights will be closely held, watched, and if history is any indication of this industry's behavior, legal action will be taken against seed saving or re-propagation. When it comes to agribusiness feeding the hungry, benevolence will be forsaken to self-interest and corporate profits. Second, after decades of GMO's (genetically modified organisms) on the market, there has never been an engineered seed shown to improve overall crop resiliency. GM seeds may be herbicide resistant, but millions of dollars in research have failed to produce effective drought, or disease, or broad based insect resistant traits. As a result of this shortcoming, seed companies have begun stacking genes to try to fulfill these "needs." This new designer trait is one of the reasons that the triple stacked Bt, Roundup Ready, and YieldGard corn seed is costing farmers up to $300 for a single bag (80,000 count) of seed. In comparison, we are paying as little as $98 for hybrid corn seed at our farm this season. And we produce just as much with this less expensive seed. We know our farm is not graced by any magic potions or special natural circumstances; we even farm without outside inputs. What's the difference? Just good management, organic farming management, that builds soil health and provides natural resistance to these problems — except weeds — which do just as well on our farm as those treated with a chemical-based approach. It just takes different management.
Third, when you build soil with cover-crops, green manure, or compost, you build soil organic matter. Doing so brings improved fertility, healthy structure, and water holding capacity to the soil. In fact, soil organic matter holds 10 to 1,000 times more water and nutrients than the equivalent amount of soil minerals. This is true drought resistance that is not patentable, it is free to everyone, and can be implemented by everyone: big American farmers in the Midwest or a small African farmer on the Sahel. Not only do these powerful methods encourage natural drought resistance, but organic practices also help to regenerate aquifers. And that is something that a gene transfer can never do.
If we move beyond motivations of corporate profit, what's all the fuss? In the face of daunting issues such as hunger and nutrition, it seems unethical to be promoting a genetic "solution" when these temporary fixes can only treat the symptom at best. Rather we should insist on solving the root cause of the problem: degraded soils. Building healthier soil through organic farming is a free and un-patentable real solution that stores more water and liberates farmers world-wide from more expensive seed.
More On GMOs:
Friends of the Earth International: Q&A; Who Benefits From GM Crops?
Do You Know What You Eat? Greenpeace's Ads Against Genetically Modified Organisms
The Argument Against GMO
New GMO Tomato has 31% Larger Price Tag
What Do You Think About Genetically Modified Foods? Have Your Say In Our Forum:
Is Genetically Modified Food "green"?
Can GMOs Increase Our Food Supply?