Monday, April 19, 2010


No, this has nothing to do with General Motors. In this case, the initials stand for "genetically modified". When some folk see those words, their hackles rise. They are absolutely opposed to genetic modification of agricultural products. They stress that (for example) designing corn that incorporates a pesticide can upset the balance of nature. If the bugs can't feed on the corn, then the birds that depend on the bugs can't survive either. If a GM crop is grown in a field adjacent to one containing unmodified crops, the latter can become contaminated. Of course, I am not saying there is nothing to these and other points raised by opponents of GM food.

At this point, I should disclose that, many years ago, our stockbroker bought some Monsanto shares, and that company and its ubiquitous pesticide "Roundup" are seen as the chief villains. Notwithstanding our minor investment in this company, I'll try to remain objective.

There is a strong case that we need GM crops to help feed a hungry world. Those who express this viewpoint sometimes consider their opponents as latter-day Luddites.

As you might expect, I am somewhere in the middle! On balance, I believe that the advantages of GM agricultural products outweigh the disadvantages. However, in one respect I am 100% in agreement with Barbara. Food often doesn't taste as good as it did when we were growing up. One of the most obvious cases is that of the strawberry. The huge red berries one can buy at the supermarket seem virtually tasteless. We look for smaller berries, often to be found at local Farmer's Markets.

Another example is the tomato. These look great, being firm, beautifully curved, and attractive. Yes, and often virtually tasteless. A partial exception to this judgment is the so called "Cherry Tomato". We almost always use cherry tomatoes in our salads these days.

Related concerns apply to animal husbandry. There is a move toward larger sizes and standardization. I have another concern: When we breed such a bird as the turkey into obesity, we increase the poultry farmer's profits, but are these waddling creatures leading as happy a life as their ancestors? I don't know, but I do have my doubts. We have even learned to raise the offspring of some creatures by cloning. This and other breeding techniques can produce a standardized product welcomed by the purveyors in the marketplace.

My beloved elder sister, Evelyn, who died over twenty years ago, was a supporter of "British Breeds", a society whose objective was to ensure reproduction of many types of domestic animals in their original form. The motives of those who supported this movement were varied, but all felt it was important to maintain established breeds for future generations.

I think that such a concept is equally important for fruit, vegetables, and other agricultural products. I hope that growers who concentrate on GM agriculture will maintain a supply of seeds, etc. of the original product.

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