ALTERED HARVEST: Agriculture, Genetics, and the Fate of the World's Food Supply by Jack Doyle

ALTERED HARVEST: Agriculture, Genetics, and the Fate of the World's Food Supply

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A timely, readable, levelheaded discussion of the promise and potential pitfalls of the genetics revolution in agriculture, told with a populist slant. Heretofore most concern about genetic engineering has focused on what ""killer microbe"" might be unleashed upon a hapless world. Doyle (of the Environmental Policy Institute) claims biotechnologies could improve food production and environmental quality if--a big if--they were developed with some greater good in mind than the bottom line. The individual elements of this analysis of modern agriculture are not news: the loss of genetic diversity and resultant vulnerability to disease and pests; the concentration of economic and political power; the proliferation of toxic pesticides, crops designed more for business convenience than human health. Biotechnology, Doyle contends, could be used to boost the nutritional quality and genetic diversity of foods and to design crops requiring no pesticides and less water and fertilizer. Nations would thus find it easier to feed themselves. Farmers would benefit as costs and capital outlays were reduced. However, the very chemical and pharmaceutical companies that have created current health and environmental problems are consuming the small, visionary agri-genetics finns. Heavily invested in the chemicals/machinery/capital model of agriculture, they are unlikely to herald the dawn of a hightech agrarian utopia. Moreover, there is no government apparatus to regulate the new designer genetics, and the heated international race for biotechnological preeminence makes controls increasingly unlikely. Add to that the disappearance of academia as a neutral fount of wisdom (because of corporate funding of genetics research on campus) and the outlook is less than sanguine. Doyle's idea that societies everywhere may now be in a position to renegotiate the technological covenants of modern agriculture offers a rosier alternative than seems realistic to expect; corporations, like crabgrass, have a stubborn and persistent outlook on self-interest.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking