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Who's Afraid of GMO's? I am!

In your recent article about genetically engineered crops, the article title asks, "Who’s Afraid of GMOs?". I’m raising my hand out here—“I am! I am!”

On page 4 of the same issue, a student group is shown uprooting an invasive plant that competes with a native species. The serious disruptions caused by invasive—but non-GMO—species ought to be lesson enough in the dangers posed by widespread, unsupervised tinkering with genetic codes. The potential harm from genetic pollution is simply too great, and too irreversible, to be accepted.

Your researcher Peggy Lemaux says that the justifications for continued development of genetically engineered crops are “to relieve hunger and lighten the significant environmental impacts of current agricultural practices.” But these goals can just as well be met by other, less dangerous means, without the fearsome risks posed to the natural world by GMOs. Food shortages, for example, are commonly traceable to poor economic and trade policies. And why not ease the negative environmental impacts of currentagricultural practices by encouraging more sustainable farming techniques, such as organic husbandry?

It’s clear the real push to develop GMOs comes not from altruistic motives, but from large corporations who stand to profit by controlling the sale and distribution of the new, “improved” organisms. Do we see groups of Third World farmers clamoring to buy seed from Monsanto and Syngenta? Is it really necessary to expose the natural environment, our common genetic heritage, to such great risk for the private profit of a few corporations?

Thanks, by the way, for your great little magazine! Very challenging and thought-provoking.

-Joel Hamilton, Ph.D. (ARE, '71)

To imply that researcher David Quist (along with Ignacio Chapela and my adviser, Miguel Altieri) are “afraid” of biotechnology does a disservice to them as scientists and to the science they practice. Far from being afraid, a word associated with ignorance and timidity, these scientists have examined the potential impacts of agricultural biotechnologies—in terms of agronomic, ecological, social, and economic indices—and concluded that the technologies are highly problematic and, in most cases, just plain unnecessary.

So instead of asking “who’s afraid” of agricultural biotechnologies, you might consider instead publishing a more nuanced evaluation of their costs and benefits, and compare those costs and benefits with other, less technological approaches to improving the sustainability of food production.

-Josh Miner, M.S. (ESPM '04)

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