Re: Biotechnology & Pesticides


I'm inclined to agree with your suggestion that we avoid a
"Dark Ages type approach," rejecting modern science and its
potential for reducing pesticide use, not to mention its
potential for increasing understanding of how plants themselves
deal with pests (see for example Charles Benbrook's recent posts
on this).

That said, I think it's important to keep two points in mind.
The first isn't new, but bears repeating, while I haven't seen
much discussion of the second.

1.  Resistance to plant-produced BT *will* occur.  It's just a
matter of time.  Monsanto and the other biotech companies know
this, so it's hard not to think they are intentionally squandering
this resource for short-term gain.

2.  I'd be interested in hearing Peter Drucker's thoughts on this,
because I too think the population argument for increased engineering
is specious.  Monsanto knows this too, and here's how I know
they do:  as a plant molecular biologist, I have the opportunity
to attend seminars and symposia on the subject.  At one
symposium last year, a scientist from Montsanto gave a talk that
focused on impending population growth and food shortages,
and connected these problems with Monsanto's work on engineering
plants for herbicide and disease resistance.  After he was
finished, I raised my hand and asked, "where, in Monsanto's
vision of how we're going to feed all these people, is the
food going to be grown?"  The speaker, who happened to be
from India, knew exactly what I was asking, and he became
very flustered, giving basically a non-answer to my question.

I'm not convinced engineering is the answer to the world's food
problems because plant production isn't the only problem that
needs solving.  What about soil loss and desertification, to
give just one example of another serious problem.  Monsanto's
vision seems to be that the US will grow traditional US crops
for sale to the countries with the increasing populations.
How will the countries pay for the food?  There are examples
of scientists who are earnestly working on engineering plants
that are actually grown in the countries that need/will need
food the most, but Monsanto appears to have no real interest
in that direction.

Immense resources in both academic science and industrial
science have been brought to bear on the goal of genetically
engineering plants for increased productivity.  I just wish
I were more convinced that focusing on this one issue, at
the expense of many other worthy ones, was truly the answer
to the problem.

Steve Verhey
Washingtion State University