Reprinted from dailykos.com
I will admit that in the past, I was opposed to GMOs entirely, without equivocation. I even peddled my fair share of fear mongering anti-GMO memes. In the past year or so, I have moderated my position.
I no longer oppose all GMOs. I would rather see that each proposed genetically modified organism be properly assessed for its impact on our health and the environment. That said, I still oppose almost every GMO in food production or forestry.
Because GMOs address symptoms of at best poor, but oftentimes destructive, land use practices. GMOs do not target the root causes of the symptoms. Instead, they are marketed to the general public as a wonder-tech that will somehow overcome the failures of poor management. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the industry, dollars that we are constantly reminded are limited in number...
My main issue with GMOs, in general, is that they represent a great diversion of resources; resources that could be spent supporting farmers and other land managers to adopt new methodologies and techniques that address underlying, fundamental challenges facing resource management.
A biotech industry website, GMO Answers, was set up to provide a forum for the public to ask questions directly to participating members. Their response to a question regarding the cost of development was as follows:
A survey completed in 2011 found the cost of discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology trait introduced between 2008 and 2012 was $136 million. On average, about 26 percent of those costs ($35.1 million) were incurred as part of the regulatory testing and registration process. [Emphasis added]Let that sink in for a minute. $136 million dollars as the average cost for introducing "a new plant biotechnology trait."
Interestingly, many of the traits being developed will need continual research and adjustment due to one simple factor: time.
Time equals evolution. Evolution means adaptation to environmental changes. We are already witnessing the evolution of glyphosate resistant "weeds." Those antiscience scientists over at the Union of Concerned Scientists had a decent article on the issue in which they write:
There is a better way to help farmers combat superweeds, through public policies that provide incentives for "healthy farming" practices based on the science of agroecology. These practices include rotating crops and planting cover crops. If implemented, such practices could reduce herbicides use by more than 90 percent, while keeping weeds in check and even increasing farmers' profits.I happen to agree with the UCS that agroecology is a better way to prevent superweeds. I also happen to agree with the United Nations on this issue as well.
UCS recommends increased funding for the USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program, which offers financial incentives for farmers using sustainable weed control methods. More resources should also be directed toward multidisciplinary research on integrated weed management strategies, and technical assistance to help farmers adopt them. The new generation of herbicide resistant crops should not be approved without adequate safeguards to protect the public and reduce the possibility of more resistant weeds. [Emphasis added]
In 2013, the UN's Center for Trade and Development released a report, which I diaried about here:
TER13, entitled Wake up Before it is Too Late: Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate was released on 18 September 2013. More than 60 international experts have contributed their views to a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and the most suitable strategic approaches for dealing holistically with the inter-related problems of hunger and poverty, rural livelihoods, social and gender inequity, poor health and nutrition, and climate change and environmental sustainability - one of the most interesting and challenging subjects of present development discourse. [Emphasis added]Keep note of the words "holistically" and "inter-related problems."
Two years before that, the "UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food" had this to say about agroecology (which I also diaried about here):
"To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available," says Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report, entitled "Agro-ecology and the right to food."Interesting that major international organizations like the UN and its bodies are repeatedly stating their approval for agroecology as a means of dealing with our 21st century problems (which actually stem way back into human history, but that is another topic).
"Today's scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live -- especially in unfavourable environments," he added.
"However, despite its impressive potential in realizing the right to food for all, agroecology is still insufficiently backed by ambitious public policies and consequently hardly goes beyond the experimental stage," he points out.[Emphasis added]
Yet, there is little to no coverage of the issue in the media. All we get is the ongoing debate between GMO proponents and opponents that regurgitates the same arguments over and over. That isn't to say that potential health concerns, market capture for seeds, and other typical issues aren't important. The thing is, this circular argumentation by both sides masks deeper issues.
What gets lost in the debate is that GMOs and seeds are but one very important component of a much larger issue.
Even the supposedly independent and free thinking blogosphere routinely ignores agroecology and its advances.
In my opinion, agroecology doesn't fit well into the media narrative because there isn't much to sell other than knowledge. Integrated pest management, water harvesting techniques, nutrient cycling, diverse farms with integrated livestock, silvopasture, and the development of local seed varieties and domestication of new plant species simply isn't sexy. On one hand, you have the biotech companies that cannot patent any of this and once farmers begin to use the techniques they realize that many of the products being pushed by their dealers aren't exactly necessary. On the other, we have an environmental movement that has a problem: it knows what it is against, but rarely champions what it is for.
If GMOs could address "the inter-related problems of hunger and poverty, rural livelihoods, social and gender inequity, poor health and nutrition, and climate change and environmental sustainability," wouldn't the UN be behind it?
The fact is, there are many reasons to be opposed to GMOs. The allocation of billions of dollars into the biotech industry does come at the expense of direct investment in the education and implementation of agroecological techniques by farmers themselves.Allow me to get back to that 136 million dollars for one trait figure. What could investment in agroecology produce?
Take a look at the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project that I have diaried about here. The documentary also covers two other large scale projects that have directly improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over thousands of square miles.
There were actually two projects involved there that cost a total of 252 million dollars.
252 million dollars is less than the cost of two GMO traits (based on the industry reply given above).
What did the project achieve? According to The World Bank:
More than 2.5 million people in four of China's poorest provinces -- Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu, as well as the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region -- were lifted out of poverty. Through the introduction of sustainable farming practices, farmers' incomes doubled, employment diversified and the degraded environment was revitalized.Additionally, another 20 million people are estimated to have benefited through replication of the processes throughout China.
That's right, millions of people had their lives directly and positively impacted by the investment in the landscape.
There does not exist any one seed, or any tens of seeds, that can achieve the same results as the implementation of resource management aimed directly at the heart of our environmental problems.
I oppose almost every GMO because I would rather have the money and resources spent directly helping people. Take a look at those links again where "during the second project period, per capita grain output increased from 365 kg to 591 kg per year." The improvement in ecological health also improves the yield of any other plant, animal, or fungi cultivated in the system.
As time progresses, the yields will continue to improve. Biodiversity, air quality, soil carbon, water quality, and general quality of life will continue to increase through the direct investment in the land and people. Because the benefits derive from addressing root causes of problems, the investments will not be made obsolete by the passage of human scale time. Unlike GMOs which typically need to be updated as evolution seeks to overcome the traits developed to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.In Conclusion
Investment in agroecology lifts all boats. At a time when we are told financial resources are limited and climate change is accelerating, what do you think is a wiser course of action?
Dumping tens of millions of dollars into GMO research or directing investment into the land and people? I'm going to go with the latter no matter how often I'm called "anti science."Additional Resources
Sept. 14 2013. Introduction to Agroecology: Is it Anthropogenic or Bovigenic Climate Change?
Sept. 21 2013. Agroecology: "Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double [...] agricultural land."
Sept. 29 2013. Agroecology: "...Outperform[s] the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production..."
Oct. 6 2013. Agroecology: "Wake up before it is too late"- UNCTAD's TER13 Report.
Oct. 27 2013. Agroecology: 1- Study Nature. 2- Facilitate Natural Functions. 3- Rediscover Abundance.
April 9 2014. Agroecology: Ray Archuleta from NRCS: "The Soil is Naked, Hungry, Thirsty, and Running a Fever!".
June 12, 2014. Introduction to Agroecology: Soil Life Theory (Me on video!)
July 8 2014. Taking applied ecology to the seas: Philip Hoare on Whales and Climate Change.
George Monbiot's "Feral." Link.
Cowspiracy documentary. Link.
Large Scale Damaged Ecosystem Regeneration [Diary]:
Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit.
Another good article by John D. Liu. Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration.
Seth Itzkan has put together a very good reference list for Holistic Management, here.
The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology [diary]), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here.
There are some excellent video presentations from 2011's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from Spring 2013. If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence.
[Above links may be broken]
Also, check out Permies.com and Richsoil.com/permaculture for Paul Wheaton's permaculture empire.
Here is a list of diaries I wrote that covered some of the very basics.
Plants for a Future. Absolutely massive database for useful plants.
The first diary of this series revolves around three documentaries.
The first is a TED talk by Willie Smits about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods. Not only was the project highly successful, but climate moderation was demonstrated via satellite imagery.
The second, The Rebel Farmer, is about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian who practices his own version of permaculture. He has also written numerous books in addition to being in demand across the globe.
The third presents "Greening the Desert"- which covers both sites in Jordan where Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute have been applying permaculture with great success.
In no particular order:
John D. Liu: pioneering large scale damaged ecosystem restoration.
What If We Change: John D. Liu's project to inspire others to share their efforts to combat climate change and other problems.
Whole Systems Design: operating from Vermont, Ben Falk's permaculture design firm. Excellent site overview and talks on agroecology. Also a must see video from Hurricane Irene.
Permaculture News: PRI's YouTube branch
Permasolutions: Offering permaculture inspired solutions to problems
Toby Hemenway: Author of Gaia's Garden and permaculture designer. Great talk on horticultural society.
Al Baydha: Pilot project in Saudi Arabia to regenerate "bare bones" landscape for Bedouins.
Eric Toensmeier: Author of Perennial Vegetables, coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, and plant guru. Has an upcoming book on perennial agricultural solutions to climate change.
Paul Stamets: World famous visionary mycologist who will change the way you see the world. You'll never forget fungi after his speeches regarding their potential use and place in the ecosystems.
My favorite books:
Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. George Monbiot. Allen Lane, 2013.
The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Ben Falk. Chelsea Green, 2013.
For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List.
The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.