One Response to Biotechnology and Food Production in Africa

  1. Larry April 1, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    I think that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a technology, like any other technology. There are benefits, as well as potential risks. I’d like to comment on two points alluded to in the article, and on one related point that’s come up elsewhere.

    First, there’s the concern of allergies. Many years ago, I worked with a bloke who had severe food allergies. Eating several roasted peanuts would probably kill him. Yet one of the biotech companies wanted to genetically modify soybeans, by adding some Brazil nut DNA. Why? To boost the concentration of sulfur-containing amino acids, which are a limiting factor in this relatively high-quality protein.

    My understanding is that the ‘nutty’ idea was eventually killed. But if it hadn’t been, then some people in the U.S. would have been killed instead. We don’t require GM food to be labeled as such. For example, the maize tortillas that I had at lunch today were probably GM, but the label gave no indication, one way or the other. And people with severe allergies can’t use the label to determine if their familiar, safe food has been diddled with.

    Second, there’s the issue of ‘terminator’ seeds. Some view this as a capitalist conspiracy, as in getting Third-World farmers to become dependent on your product, and then ‘exploiting’ them.

    On the other hand, there’s the concern about cross-pollination of GM crops and native varieties of the same plant. This is already happening in Mexico, the cradle of maize. In this situation, ‘terminator’ seeds would have eliminated the cross-pollination problem.

    Most GMO problems are failures of government, rather than failures of technology. Biotech needs intelligent government regulation. But it takes time for the law to catch up with technology. This is especially true in countries like the U.S., where most Congress critters are at the mercy of one or more large corporations, who help finance their political campaigns, and where, prior to the current Bush Recession, government regulation was a four-letter word. The Western European, Luddite-inspired “Frankenfood’ scare is not a viable approach.

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