Thursday, August 02, 2007
Frankenforests and You: A Slight Meditation
The problems of this philosophy and approach to creating specific crops are manifold and already known. Only humans could blind themselves to their hubris in the name of profit.
As the biotech industry continues to lay the groundwork for genetically engineered crops -- poorly tested, widely debated and yet plugged as a technological wonder -- a potentially greater threat to biodiversity has begun to emerge. Pushed forward by biotech and the multibillion-dollar timber industry, genetically engineered trees are the latest invention.
"The industry has tried very hard to keep it quiet, or tout the technology as benign and beneficial to the environment," says Anne Petermann, co-founder of the Global Justice Ecology Project, a nonprofit established to advance global justice through ecological awareness. "The technology is moving forward very quickly, outpacing regulations. There are no controls in place to properly address or assess the risks -- which are major."
GE trees are planted in monoculture forests, which look more like plantations, and pose serious risks to the ecosystem. Trees live decades or centuries longer than plants, and their seeds can travel hundreds of miles, increasing the likelihood of gene contamination to wild species. The technology was created to optimize the manufacturing process, but environmentalists worry that it will open an ecological Pandora's Box and threaten the health of the forests we depend on for survival.
Because this kind of development ignores and/or discards many traits to pursue only a few of capitalist value, the ramifications may be unknown until they manifest with tragic consequences. Past mistakes of deliberately introducing foreign species like kudzu in the US south or the Cane Toad to Australia spring to mind.
Boosters of GE (genetic engineering) often claim what they are doing is just an accelerated version of natural selection or what humans have been doing for thousands of years: picking traits to breed for and doing it. However, the practical difference is huge due to the concentrated regime, the ability to globally distribute the results, and, most importantly, the introduction of genes which would be impossible to marry to the stock without genetic splicing and intervention.
Perhaps I've become a doubter of science's beneficence in all cases. I just think the possible mistakes are multitudinous and I trust not the captains of industry to choose with the good of the planet or even the human race in mind.
Profit often drives all other concerns into neglect.