Monday, April 21, 2008

Andrew Pollack* writes in The New York Times that the current grain shortage is causing some rethinking about genetically engineered foods.

The concluding paragraphs are interesting

Because about half of America’s wheat crop is exported, farmers and processors feared foreign buyers would reject their products. Facing resistance from American farmers, Monsanto in 2004 suspended development of what would have been the first genetically modified wheat.

But some farmers and millers now say that the lack of genetically engineered wheat has made growing the grain less attractive than growing corn or soybeans. That has, in turn, contributed to shrinking supplies and rising prices for wheat.

Milling & Baking News, an influential trade newspaper in Kansas City, Mo., said in an editorial that companies that used wheat were now paying the price for their own “hesitancy, if not outright opposition” to biotechnology.

In other words, people's reluctance to eat genetically modified food has caused a shift in production from food for humans (not GM) to food for cattle (GM OK). Also for grain for flour (contains the modified genes) to seeds for oil, starch and corn syrup (does not contain DNA). Finally, biofuel no problem. Burning modified genes is OK feeding them to hungry people is not.

Thus, depending on your point of view, you can say that genetic engineering has contributed to the world grain shortage or that irrational fear of genetic engineering has contributed to the world grain shortage. Like Pollack, I favor (privilege in semi translated French) the second explanation.

* Style note: *Andrew* Pollock not the shameless hack. I will not go all rigid and call him Andrew Hack or speculate as to whether he is related to the abstract expressionist Jackson Hack or the Italian astronomer Margherita Pollock

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