Friday, February 04, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

This week, there's some good food-related news to report. As anyone who's read this blog for any length of time knows, I'm implacably opposed to genetically engineered crops like Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soy. But the idea of hybridizing plants for human benefit is a sound one, and we've benefited greatly from it over the years.

Now, a bioengineered rice from West Africa has demonstrated that biotechnology can improve crop hardiness and yield, without having horrible effects on human health or the environment:

NERICA mixes African rice (Oryza glaberrima), which is highly resistant to drought and local pests, but has a very low yield (which in turn leads to widespread "slash and burn" style farming), and Asian rice (Oryza sativa), which has a very high yield per plant, but is much more sensitive to environmental conditions (which leads to increased use of pesticides). These two species of rice do not cross naturally or with traditional hybridization techniques; the genetic differences are just too much. Jones began a biotechnology-based program in 1991, and by the mid-1990s had developed different strains of a hybrid rice combining the best aspects of both parent species.
Note that unlike Monsanto's GE crops, there's no transfer of genes from one species to another; these plants don't produce their own insecticide, tolerate pesticides, manufacture pharmaceuticals, or have built-in self-destruct mechanisms. And yet, NERICA provides pretty much all the social benefits that agribusiness promised but never delivered. Go figure!

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Rice Growers Association approved legislative efforts to ban the growing of pharmaceutical rice. And the Vermont State Senate passed a bill that would make agribusiness firms liable for contaminating organic crops. I'm always happy to see more nails getting pounded into these coffins!

In other news, Near Near Future has a link to Visible Food, a database dedicated to educating consumers about the external costs of global food production, including GM crops:
The VisibleFood project is a website and database created to expose the hidden costs of the globalized system that produces, processes and distributes our food. These costs are not accounted for in corporate balance sheets or in reports on national economies, but are deferred - either to the future or to people somewhere further down on the food chain.
Much of the site is still under construction, but have a look anyway. We've needed a one-stop online source for this information for a long time; it's a daunting task, and I hope VisibleFood pulls it together. This kind of knowledge is a very powerful catalyst for activism and change.

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