by Janno Lanjouw, Dutch journalist and citizen
(first published in Dutch at HetEetcafe.eu)
Our foodsystem is that of agriculture. That is not as obvious as it may sound: historically, agriculture is quite recent. Humans go back about 150.000 years and for most of this time they were hunter-gatherers. Only in the past 11.000 years they have cultivated food crops.
What did they start? Agriculture is domesticating wild plants and animals; a time consuming affair. A wild cabbage may be an ugly plant with wiry stems and droopy leaves. Selective crossbreeding resulted in a wealth of nutritious vegetables: all types of cabbages and also broccoli and brussels sprouts. In fact, none of the vegetabe varieties are ‘natural’, in the sense that they are manmade. Without a priviledged treatment or protective environment, they will not make it. In general, domesticated animals have smaller brains and weaker senses compared to wild kinds. They are not as antsy and less programmed for fleeing predators. Good traits for the farmer, but a large disadvantage in nature. About the last wild animals we eat, are fish.
Looking at it from this perspective, the idea that agriculture should work with nature, instead of against nature, is a contradiction. Modern agriculture after the Green Revolution is a war against the chaos of nature in which every species has to fight for its survival and only the strongest, fastest, toughest or cruellest suvives. In this perspective the Green Revolution can be seen as a succesful blow by the farming human against Nature. The use of chemicals for crop protection, mechanisation and fertilizer resulted in a large production boost. Finally, after tenthousand years of fighting hard, now farmers who have the means, can now take it relatively easy…
And then suddenly appears a group of people, many not even farmers, who claim that agriculture should be different, that we have abandoned ‘Mother Earth’ and what not. And they are not all hippies with dowsing rods, even people who normally trust science are opposing agriculture.
A good example is genetical modification. Whoever types into Google the letters G, M and O will see a lot of controversy. Almost all that emerges about genetical modification of food is negative. And I can tell you: most of that is rubbish. This is why last year I chose to make GMO the main theme of the public debate which concludes the Food Film Festival. Since then the theme GMO has my interest.
This is by no means a plea for GMO. I am not much of a fan OR fierce opponent, -my interest is mainly in how people discuss genetic modification. And it looks like this is changing. The icy polarization is slowly melting. I think.
Recently a leading newspaper in the Netherlands wrote about a GM-tomato which actually has added value -more healthy substances- to offer consumers. Or the New York Times about the quest of a Hawaiian politician to the truth on gentech. Small notifications on the science pages of newspapers bring you to articles about a massive review of existing research on safety of GMO. The great horrorstories, such as those of the Indian suicides among farmers, are hoaxes.
The melting of the polar positions is important, because defenitely GMO is not ‘all cleared’. Especially the increasing concentration of means and power by a few large firms in the seed and chemical industry is scary and potentially threatening. There are some villains out there. But filtering the nonsense from the facts helps to put focus on the real issues.