Food and Business
Post from Andrew Aple
May 5, 2001
In his response to my previous post, Chuck Benbrock missed my points
entirely, and perhaps on purpose.
- I am not frustrated over why the food industry and consumers "have not
seen the bright light of biotech as illuminating the one and true path."
Biotech is a tool for improving the efficiency of agriculture, and such
tools are largely irrelevant to food companies and consumers unless
targeted by scaremongers.
- The "new science" Mr. Benbrock refers to is irrelevant to food
companies and consumers. It might be relevant to farmers, except for the
fact that the Roundup Ready system is still a very efficient way to
produce soybeans. The "pounds per acre" argument he uses regarding
herbicide applications in the Roundup Ready system has been debunked so
often here and elsewhere that I won't bother with it.
- I lament the delays occurring in the commercialization of maize
designed to combat the rootworm because the delays cost farmers millions
of dollars for pest control, while resulting in continued use of
pesticides which have effects on non-target species. The argument that the
Bt toxin in this type of maize is expressed in plant tissues where they
are "likely to hammer nontargets" is worthless. Any insect that eats any
part of a crop is a pest and it should die if it does so. Such a system
(which amounts to giving crops the insect protection enjoyed by simple
weeds) is vastly superior to chemical sprays, which affect any insect
unlucky enough to find itself in a farmer's field. Any claims regarding
the effects of Bt crops must be compared to the use of chemical sprays to
be worthy of any attention.
- The only "profound structural question" regarding genetically modified
crops is that crops with agronomic traits are the weak link in the food
marketing system. Consumers and food companies are merciless in their
disregard for the farmer, which makes the farmer an easy victim of
scare-mongering and makes agronomic traits an equally cheap target.
Because of these factors, maligning improved crops and the companies that
produce them is similarly cheap and easy.
- In the US, the indifference to the farmer and the way our food is
produced (coupled with the fact that we have the world's safest food
supply) runs so deep that there is no ``loss of public confidence`` in
crop improvement. Surveys show that scare-mongering has distorted the
outlook of those prone to food phobias, but otherwise, the public doesn't
- I shouldn't even need to take the time to respond to Mr. Benbrock's
comments, when the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the
Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), said to be well-funded and
overflowing with expertise, could do far better. Sorry, folks, but slick
commercials about engineered pharmaceuticals with lush crops for a
backdrop is pretty lame and your Žnet presence is undetectable.
- Charles Rader has an excellent idea - - making GM seeds available to
the home gardener. I live in the agricultural heartland, where the use of
chemicals over the years has bred the most ferocious insect pests
imaginable, and controlling them in a garden with chemical sprays would
require that the vegetables be so severely fumigated that it's hardly
worth the bother. We even have an insect larva that bores up the inside of
the tomato stem, killing the plant outright. But being inside the stem,
sprays can't reach the critters. Theoretically, one could soak the soil
with a toxin that the roots would take up and suffuse the plant, killing
them. Fine, but I'd rather not eat the resulting tomato. Monsanto
developed a Bt tomato that would solve the problem, but I asked, and they
wouldn't sell me any seed. And I'd gladly sign their contract.
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