Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Genetic Engineering -it's a tool.

And given the problems with feeding the worlds population over the next 50 years, it's one that shouldn't be ignored. To be sure, it's not going to get us out of the pickle we'll be in by itself, but it is one of the tools we should be using. There's a nice summary in Scientific American from a week or so ago, running through the basics of what we can do, what the problems we will be facing are and why we should be using it. It uses a lot of the arguments I've been using in conversations recently, someone else wrote it, but it sums up a lot of teh things I've been saying lately. Such as population growth, limited food supplies, targeted gene transfer as opposed to the haphazard methods of traditional breeding, many years of use (for food) with no safety issues, environmentally friendly with the reduced use pesticides and so forth.

I do find it rather interesting that when you present these arguments there are, generally speaking two main responses. The first runs along the lines of "oh, well, yes, that's fine, but what about evil monsanto locking farmers into buying seeds?" Which is a business practice rather than genetic engineering itself. Fine, object to the use of the tool, that doesn't make the tool evil. And I'm pretty sure that if you do some digging, you'll find those stories about evil monsanto making crops that didn't seed properly and had to bought anew every year, are old. The schemes didn't work. Not because monsanto weren't trying, but because the plants kept producing seeds.
The second response is "yeah, genes from one wheat to another wheat, that's fine, but crossing species boundaries (human genes into goats) is icky". I'm not sure that's a worthwhile response. Yes, it creeps people out. Why though? And I never really get a better response than "I just don't like it". Which annoys me. If someone is going to object to something, that could be a useful tool for all sorts of things, "I don't like it" doesn't really cut the mustard as an excuse to ban it. Especially when we have that history of use that strongly suggest when used sensibly, it's not harmful.

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