Biotechnology & Pesticides

Steve Verhey wrote:

<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.

Agreed. We already have BT resistance where BT is used like a conventional 
insecticide -- e.g. diamondback moth in cabbage. There is also evidence for 
European corn borer resistance to BT.

My memory is that when the BT toxin genes were first cloned into plants it 
was meant more to be a test of the technology of genetic engineering than a 
prelude to mass marketing BT genes. Right now it looks more like an 
experiment in real life. I am not sure that this is all bad. With every 
technology you have to start some place, and in this case it looks like BT 
will be sacrificed to get the real world data. 

There are many other insect pathogens out there, most not so well known 
outside the realms of insect pathologists and biocontrol specialists. I 
think that the tradeoff for the loss of BT needs to be funding to develop 
these other microbial alternatives. Perhaps some sort of set-aside scheme 
where the BT-replacements will not be used for genetic engineering. Thus, 
preserving a microbial reserve for farmers.

The trick will be to get the farmers to use these other microbials wisely. 
Even among organic farmers, too many that I have met use microbials like BT 
and other natural products in the same way that many farmers use chemical 
pesticides. i.e. they spray far too much, thinking that because it is 
organically approved it can be used three times per week.

<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.  

The fulltext of the Drucker interview article, as well as the Monsanto 
biotech article can be found on the Forbes web site or the Forbes 
Compuserve site [GO FORBES]. It is the 10 March 1997 issue. As I reread the 
article, Drucker seems to be referring more to the population trend in the 
industrialized world, e.g. Europe, Japan. I don't what his thoughts are on 
the so-called developing countries.

According to Forbes magazine, Drucker says: "The population is already 
peaking. It's beginning to decline. By the end of the next century there 
will be no Italians left. Very few Spaniards -- and very few 
Japanese...These are official forecasts, not mine. The birthrate is not 
increasing. The reproductive rate is down to almost 1 in southern Europe 
and about 1.5 in Japan...There won't be enough people to work. There'll 
only be older people. There won't be enough producers. The main reason for 
the decline in births is the enormous burden on people of working age 
supporting older people in retirement who are hale and hearty." BTW, 
Drucker is 87 years old and still active.

Joel Grossman
independent writer and former pest control adviser