Frankenfoods and the environment

Can genetically-modified foods help us clean up the environment? Jonathan Rauch says yes. We will need fewer herbicides, less irrigation, and we will have less need to farm on environmentally sensitive lands. By limitating habitat destruction we will support biodiversity.

Molecular biologist Don Doering goes further:

[He] envisions transgenic crops designed specifically to solve environmental problems: crops that might fertilize the soil, crops that could clean water, crops tailored to remedy the ecological problems of specific places. “Suddenly you might find yourself with a virtually chemical-free agriculture, where your cropland itself is filtering the water, it’s protecting the watershed, it’s providing habitat,” Doering told me. “There is still so little investment in what I call design-for-environment.”

Rauch goes out on a limb:

I hereby hazard a prediction. In ten years or less, most American environmentalists (European ones are more dogmatic) will regard genetic modification as one of their most powerful tools. In only the past ten years or so, after all, environmentalists have reversed field and embraced market mechanisms–tradable emissions permits and the like–as useful in the fight against pollution. The environmental logic of biotechnology is, if anything, even more compelling. The potential upside of genetic modification is simply too large to ignore–and therefore environmentalists will not ignore it. Biotechnology will transform agriculture, and in doing so will transform American environmentalism.


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