What is in this article?:
- Coexistence between conventional and organic growers ought to be possible, but it will take both sides to make it work.
- Organic consumers and producers need to separate the physical from the cosmological. Quackery is quackery. Promulgating medieval nostrums about plant nutrition is constitutionally protected religious expression, but it is not science.
- The United States can remain in the top tier of countries in carrying out responsible and useful GM crop research, including research into the risks presented by this new technology; or we can abdicate our place, and let other nations and individuals do as they please.
Philip Bowles, Bowles Farming, Los Banos, Calif.: "The future of agriculture is not a return to the 17th century. New technology will be required to feed the billions coming, and this progress cannot be stopped. The cat is long out of the bag."
Whatever growers decide to do should not interfere with the practices of neighboring growers, within reason. Sometimes, incompatible practices cannot coexist, and one or the other must be heavily restricted. For instance, in many states production of weasels or ferrets is outlawed because of the risk to the poultry industry; the fishing industry as we speak is attempting to balance the needs of fish farmers and wild fish harvesters. Cotton can be grown as a semi-perennial crop, but the practice is prohibited (at least in California) in order to disrupt insect pests’ life cycles.
Coexistence between conventional and organic growers ought to be possible, but it will take both sides to make it work. On the conventional side, the pesticide use and reporting rules in California ought to be implemented nationwide. Our system allows everyone to know what material was applied, when, where, how, and why. On a more local level, simple neighborliness ought to suffice. For their part, the organic industry and its consumers need to separate myth from reality. There is nothing wrong with growing crops without the use of herbicides and pesticides. All home gardeners ought to follow these practices. As with fly fishing instead of gill-netting, it may be a little more trouble, but can be very rewarding and informative. Fly fishing will not feed the billions, however.
People who grow and consume organic produce are driven by concerns over the safety of their food, and the dangers they feel conventional agriculture presents to workers and the environment. While to many of the rest of us the risks seem negligible, the concerns themselves are certainly ones that any thoughtful human ought to share. Pesticides and herbicides are dangerous chemicals; we can discuss the science about whether and how they ought to be used. However, organic consumers and producers need to separate the physical from the cosmological. Quackery is quackery. Promulgating medieval nostrums about plant nutrition is constitutionally protected religious expression, but it is not science. The hysteria over the perceived dangers from GMO crops is nearly as unsupportable. Bacteria (yes, even those found in organic cheese) and viruses have been happily exchanging DNA for eons. Creatures in nature such as Malacosteus niger are transgenic: this fish makes chlorophyll (probably from ancient genetic material borrowed from an algae) not for photosynthesis, but for vision in the red spectrum. Our own human genome contains the remains of ancient viral invaders; as we decode more genomes, and increase our understanding of infectious and inherited diseases, I suspect we will find that most, if not all, life forms contain genetic material not only from other species, but even from other orders, or possibly higher taxonomic ranks.