There are no easy answers to questions about genetically modified foods, but environmental journalist Jenkins lays out the promise and the peril of the contemporary industrialization of food production.
Jenkins (English, Journalism, and Environmental Humanities/Univ. of Delaware; What's Gotten into Us?: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World, 2011, etc.) chronicles his interviews with scientists, farmers, and activists across the country in his exploration of the safety of genetically modified organisms, their sustainability, their potential to feed a booming world population, and the hazards posed by the accompanying system of industrialized agriculture that is wiping out small farms. It can be argued that the problem is not the technology but rather the industrial farming system’s widespread use of pesticides and herbicides. The safety question remains open with plenty of research still required, but the author points out that nearly all of the billions of cows, hogs, chickens, and turkeys consumed for the last couple of decades by Americans have been raised on GMO grains. Throughout, the author puts a human face on the controversy over GMOs with anecdotes about, and quotes from, individuals with a variety of viewpoints. An example is the story of the industry-saving development of a genetically modified papaya in Hawaii and the fierce fight in that state between pro and anti–GMO forces. Jenkins makes the point that while genetic engineering offers the potential to improve nutrition globally, large biotech food corporations have so far focused their attention elsewhere—e.g., in North America on highly profitable commodity crops like corn, soy, and canola. Jenkins clearly favors a kind of middle way of farming in which enlightened local farmers use technology on a scale that minimizes the hazards of industrialized agriculture. Perhaps not surprisingly, the author concludes with scenes of people cultivating their own gardens, including his students, who find joy on a local farm pulling weeds and hoeing beans.
Impressive research into a complex situation presented in a highly readable form.