Two interesting articles. The first is on the question – “Does Nature Have Economic Value?” and is very relevant to this post of mine, and the debate thereon. The second is an interview with the father of the “Green Revolution” (not MSS of the Indian revolution) – Norman Borlaug-
Reason: Environmental activists often oppose road building. They say such roads will lead to the destruction of the rain forests or other wildernesses. What would you say to them?
Borlaug: These extremists who are living in great affluence…are saying that poor people shouldn’t have roads. I would like to see them not just go out in the bush backpacking for a week but be forced to spend the rest of their lives out there and have their children raised out there. Let’s see whether they’d have the same point of view then.
I should point out that I was originally trained as a forester. I worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and during one of my assignments I was reputed to be the most isolated member of the Forest Service, back in the middle fork of the Salmon River, the biggest primitive area in the southern 48 states. I like the back country, wildlife and all of that, but it’s wrong to force poor people to live that way.
Reason: A lot of activists say that it’s wrong to cross genetic barriers between species. Do you agree?
Borlaug: No. As a matter of fact, Mother Nature has crossed species barriers, and sometimes nature crosses barriers between genera–that is, between unrelated groups of species. Take the case of wheat. It is the result of a natural cross made by Mother Nature long before there was scientific man. Today’s modern red wheat variety is made up of three groups of seven chromosomes, and each of those three groups of seven chromosomes came from a different wild grass. First, Mother Nature crossed two of the grasses, and this cross became the durum wheats, which were the commercial grains of the first civilizations spanning from Sumeria until well into the Roman period. Then Mother Nature crossed that 14-chromosome durum wheat with another wild wheat grass to create what was essentially modern wheat at the time of the Roman Empire.
Durum wheat was OK for making flat Arab bread, but it didn’t have elastic gluten. The thing that makes modern wheat different from all of the other cereals is that it has two proteins that give it the doughy quality when it’s mixed with water. Durum wheats don’t have gluten, and that’s why we use them to make spaghetti today. The second cross of durum wheat with the other wild wheat produced a wheat whose dough could be fermented with yeast to produce a big loaf. So modern bread wheat is the result of crossing three species barriers, a kind of natural genetic engineering.
Reason: But the Cornell researchers went ahead and published their paper on the effects of BT corn pollen on monarch butterflies in the laboratory.
Borlaug: Several of us tried to encourage them to run field tests before it was published. That’s how science gets politicized. There’s an element of Lysenkoism [Lysenko was Stalin’s favorite biologist] all tangled up with this pseudoscience and environmentalism. I like to remind my friends what pseudoscience and misinformation can do to destroy a nation.
Reason: Do biotech crops pose a health risk to human beings?
Borlaug: I see no difference between the varieties carrying a BT gene or a herbicide resistance gene, or other genes that will come to be incorporated, and the varieties created by conventional plant breeding. I think the activists have blown the health risks of biotech all out of proportion.
Reason: What do you think of organic farming? A lot of people claim it’s better for human health and the environment.
Borlaug: That’s ridiculous. This shouldn’t even be a debate. Even if you could use all the organic material that you have–the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues–and get them back on the soil, you couldn’t feed more than 4 billion people. In addition, if all agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions of acres of forests.
At the present time, approximately 80 million tons of nitrogen nutrients are utilized each year. If you tried to produce this nitrogen organically, you would require an additional 5 or 6 billion head of cattle to supply the manure. How much wild land would you have to sacrifice just to produce the forage for these cows? There’s a lot of nonsense going on here.
If people want to believe that the organic food has better nutritive value, it’s up to them to make that foolish decision. But there’s absolutely no research that shows that organic foods provide better nutrition. As far as plants are concerned, they can’t tell whether that nitrate ion comes from artificial chemicals or from decomposed organic matter. If some consumers believe that it’s better from the point of view of their health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay a bit more. It’s a free society. But don’t tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertilizer. That’s when this misinformation becomes destructive.