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Usually, enthusiasts for organic farming come down against genetically modified foods, or to be more precise, genetic engineering. Genetic modification has been done for millennia, with growers deliberately bred and selected plants for desired traits. This was and can be done without one having to know anything about genetics. Genetic engineering works to alter the genetic make-up of the crop. The former is considered natural and the latter not. This distinction is false. There is nothing natural, on a strict definition of this word, about most of what we grow and eat. But the issue is less to do with science nowadays than the culture wars. This book steps into the crossfire.

It is written by a husband-wife team: one an organic farmer, and the other a plant scientist who has created flood-resistant variety of rice. This is an interesting combination, and presumably as a rare a combination as marriage between an Israeli and a Palestinian. The authors argue for the benefits of organic agriculture as well as genetically-engineered technology but go further than that: they argue that GE crops complement the ideals of the organic movement.

Critics of GE foods claim that the technology is no panacea to the problems of population and food supply. So it isn’t. But neither is organic farming or simply cutting down on waste or redistributing consumption. There is no magic bullet. But the authors convincingly show that GE can be one of the tools we can use to deal with the problem. Crops that can be bred to require less pesticide and water, than can survive greater extremes of heat and cold, and produce better yields and nutrition, are all good things. They can be done and should be done. Such things can be done and the technology has proven benefits elsewhere. Because of GE, we no longer have to kill calves to extract rennet from their stomachs to make cheese. This can be synthesised using a fraction of the energy consumed to raise and kill a baby cow, and without having to harm anything.

The potential benefits of the technology are easier to demonstrate than the potential risks. The positives are certainly based on better evidence than the negatives. But all is to take a cost/benefit analysis of the issue. Unfortunately, given that the opposition to GM is often less to do with the science and more to do with values and culture, which belong to the realm of absolutes which are not up to negotiation or trade-off, the authors’ judicious, rational and cool-headed attempt to engineer (so to speak) a meeting of minds is unlikely to be heeded by inveterate opponents of GE.
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on 28 June 2012
I read this book to add more arguments to both sides of an exam essay on GM crops, and it was very helpful. It is a good book for people who do not know much about the subject in detail, and can be used for oneself to balance those chinese whispers that are heard when topics of such controversy are discussed online by anonymous people with no solid knowledge. There is a nice balance between scientific detail and storytelling, making it easy to read. A controversial connection between two technologies (organic and GM agriculture) is suggested, and by reading about it, much is learned about both pro-GM and anti-GM arguments. Read this!
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on 17 August 2011
very interesting, however I really dislike the diary-like style of the book, full of emotional meanderings, descriptions of wheat fields flowing in a sunny afternoon etc. Grates after a while, however the content is interesting and informative. Lots of info on methods of both organic farming and GMO production and thoughts on the prejudice and fears ingrained in people.
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