Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Frankenfoods?

Bill McKibben is writing again in opposition to genetically-modified food, this time for use in malnourished countries such as Zambia. Bill is the author of the bestselling books The End of Nature and Enough and a valuable and articulate commentator on environmental issues.

Much of what he says about American influence around the world is spot on, but I'm not sure he has it completely right about why Zambia resists GM-food from the US. He makes only fleeting mention of the vehement -- I would say hyper-irrational -- public resistance to GM-food in Europe, which is Zambia's most important export market.

He quotes from a book of essays edited by Brian Tokar, and Naomi Klein, both well-known anti-GM activists. He might have been better served by the more balanced and scientific reflections of Jennifer Thomson's Genes for Africa: Genetically Modified Crops in the Developing World. (U. of Cape Town Press, 2002), or for that matter Alan McHughen's Pandora's Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foods, (Oxford University Press, 2000).

While, like Thomson, I have urged caution with regard to GM-foods, I know of no evidence they have caused harm to humans or significant damage to the environment. Meanwhile, I look out my window in this traditional agricultural community and see the rampant use of polluting artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and diminishing biodiversity.

GM crops and animals can play a vital role in feeding the extra few billion people expected to be born in the next quarter-century, but they are no panacea. They must be applied with local understanding and support, and in ways that complement rather than supplant traditional agriculture.