Monday, June 9, 2008

Organic Farming AND Genetic Engineering

Excellent interview in U.S. News and World Report from two of the (currently) sparse chorus arguing for a realistic appraisal of best agriculture practices drawing on both organic farming and the emerging science of genetic engineering. Kicker quote:

What I've found is that when we talk to the organic farmers themselves, they are pretty intrigued by the possibilities. I think that's because they're experimentalists and understand the difficult hurdles all farmers face. I think they feel that there's been a lot of hype against genetic engineering. It's the people from the political organizations—and the urban dwellers—that tend to be the most actively against the idea.
The interview is with Pamela Ronald, a plant geneticist, and her husband Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer. Pamela blogs at Tomorrows Table on the Nature Network. This is the conversation that I would like to see happen in the community of people concerned with environmental issues. We're facing some large environmental challenges in the coming decades, and I don't think we can address them without a levelheaded appraisal of real metrics related to farming such as crop yields, ability to farm marginal land, drout resistance, amounts of pesticides applied, etc. These metrics are not ideological, they are simply measurable in the finest traditions of science. We can integrate easily measurable metrics with more complex concepts, like the importance of local food systems, but we need to keep our ideologies flexible with regards to the tools at our disposal, which is where some applications of genetic engineering come into play.

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